Leafs were close on Gilroy

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

NEW YORK -- No, Matt Gilroy didn't look across at the Maple Leafs jerseys lining up across from him at Madison Square Garden last night and wish he was wearing one.

Yes, he admits, the Leafs were a very serious player in the sweepstakes to sign him last spring when he was a highly-coveted free agent out of Boston University.

But in the end, Gilroy says, the decision came down to several factors, including the fact he grew up a Rangers fan.

According to Leafs officials, cold hard cash played a significant role as well. The two-year, $3.5 million US deal handed out to Gilroy by the Rangers was more guaranteed money than the Leafs were willing to offer.

Because Gilroy turned 25 over the summer, the slick puck-moving defenceman was not subject to an entry-level contract like fellow U.S. collegians Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak were when they signed with the Leafs for the maximum allowed.

As a result, Gilroy was an unrestricted free agent, one the Rangers were eager to gobble up.

"I couldn't be happier here," Gilroy said. "Playing for John Tortorella, it has been a perfect fit. Playing here at the world's most famous arena too -- I couldn't be happier."

Gilroy grew up in Bellmore, N.Y., a hamlet on Long Island that is just a 45-minute drive from Madison Square Garden. As a boy, he skated a handful of times with a couple of older Long Island NHLers -- the Leafs' Mike Komisarek and forward Christopher Higgins, now one of his Rangers teammates.

"Toronto was right there the whole time," Gilroy said of the Leafs efforts to recruit him. "But I had to go with my gut.

"It has been great. They have allowed me to be creative with the puck out there."

Gilroy's resume is indeed impressive. He co-captained the Boston University Terriers to the NCAA Frozen Four title and won the Hobey Baker award as the top player in U.S. Division I college hockey.

During his time as a Terrier, Gilroy went up against a tall, speedy forward from the University of Vermont named Viktor Stalberg, who now is a member of the Leafs. While Stalberg has started skating again, he did not accompany the team to New York for last night's game against the Rangers after having his bell rung by the Ottawa Senators' Anton Volchenkov last week.

"I played against him for two years," Gilroy said. "He's going to be a heckuva player in this league. He's so big, so fast."

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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