EAST LONGMEADOW – Even when donning the maroon and white of the University of Massachusetts (UMass), Frank Vatrano’s blood ran black and gold.
So when the Boston Bruins came calling at the close of the soon-to-be 21-year-old East Longmeadow native’s redshirt sophomore season, it was like a dream come true.
“I’ve been a bruins fan my entire life,” Vatrano told Reminder Publications. I've wanted to be a part of this organization as long as I can remember."
Vatrano signed a contract with the Bruins on March 12, two days before his birthday, foregoing his junior and senior years of college eligibility, ending what was, at times, a trying journey to the professional ranks.
“It’s still kind of surreal right now. It was kind of unexpected,” Vatrano said just hours after putting pen to paper. “As the season wound down, I took a look at my options as teams started to show interest and I think [the Bruins] were a great fit for me.”
Vatrano initially announced his deal via social media.
The Bruins officially announced Vatrano’s signing on March 13 and assigned him to the Providence Bruins of the AHL.
Vatrano attended Cathedral High School for two years and played for the Boston Junior Bruins from 2007 to 2010 before enrolling at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, MI, to join the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNT).
Playing with USNT from 2010 to 2012, he earned silver and a gold medals in the IIHF 2011 World U-17 and 2012 World U-18 championships, respectively.
Despite the strong credentials Vatrano’s college career got off to a sluggish start. He committed to play at Boston College, but due to what was reported by local media as an issue with admissions, officially enrolled at UMass in January 2013. Forced to sit out the 2012-13 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, he returned to the Junior Bruins for one more season, then joined the Minutemen the following season.
However, in September 2013, Hockey East announced it had determined Vatrano would be ineligible for the 2013-14 regular season as well. He could participate in practice and team activities, but didn’t make his first appearance in a collegiate game until the Minutemen’s opening round loss to Vermont in the Hockey East Tournament on March 7, 2014. His only other action was in a 5-2 exhibition win over the USNT U-18 team on Jan. 12, 2014.
The 2014-15 season proved worth the wait for Vatrano and the Minutemen as he led the team in goals with 18 and was second in scoring with 28 points. He was named Hockey East’s December Player of the Month and was included on the initial 59-player ballot for the Hobey Baker Award.
“I was here for 2 ½ years and only got to play for one. I think during that time I had an opportunity to learn and understand the system here and what was expected of me,” he said. “When it was my time to play, I think that experience led to the success I was able to have.”
He admitted feeling some extra satisfaction in signing a professional deal knowing the challenges he had faced, but he won’t rest on his laurels.
“It shows that all of the time and effort my team, my coaches and my family put in was worth it,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to stop until my goal was reached. I still haven’t reached my goal of playing in the National Hockey League, so I’m still not going to stop.”
Addressing his family, Vatrano said they were extremely supportive through the process and he valued the way they trusted his judgment.
“They told me to follow my heart and they were behind me 100 percent,” he said. “They know what it took for me to get here more than anyone and supported what I wanted to do.”
One of Vatrano’s enduring memories from his amateur days was of the last – a 4-3 victory in five overtimes over Notre Dame in game one of the first round of the Hockey East Tournament.
Vatrano assisted the game-tying goal with two seconds left in the second period, and was on the ice when Shane Walsh snapped home a rebound past Notre Dame goaltender Cal Peterson to end the game after more than 151 minutes and 42 second of game action, an NCAA record. Notre Dame eventually eliminated the Minutemen, winning the next two games.
“That was a game I’ll never forget,” Vatrano said. “At the end of the game, it was an amazing thing to be a part of.”
With a statement that epitomized his college career, he added, “We stuck with it, right to the end.”