October 15, 2021

The Pipeline: A conversation with Rutger McGroarty

Get to know the future superstars of the NHL long before they reach that stage. The Pipeline Show is the premier podcast covering Major Junior, the NCAA, Jr. A and international tournaments like the U20 and U18 WJC, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and more.

The Pipeline Show host Guy Flaming catches up with US National Team Development Program forward Rutger McGroarty, No. 8 in FCHockey’s Preliminary ranking for the 2022 NHL Draft.

Guy Flaming: What’s the feeling like around the dressing room early in the year? 

Rutger McGroarty: Right now we’ve just got the excitement to be back, be back around the boys and play some games. Summer, it’s some good time off but we’re ready to get back at it. The energy is great right now and we’re really excited to be back.

GF: Are things pretty much back to normal for the way you operate on a daily basis? I know the last 18-20 months for most people has been turned on it’s head. What about for you guys as hockey players with your training and going to school? Is everything kind of back to normal?

RM: For us, everything is 100 percent normal except for online school. Me personally, I’ve done online school since sixth grade, but for the other guys that’s probably been a little bit of an adjustment. All the training, on ice, everything is normal. That’s awesome.

GF: On the ice, things are looking good. You’ve played seven games and have 10 points this year. I know a couple of those were preseason games, but you’ve got to be happy with the early start to the season for you. 

RM: It’s a good start, but to be honest it’s been pretty cool…I think right now we’re 6-0-1. I would say the most important part is that team record. 

GF: 6-0-1, some of that is USHL opposition, a couple games against NCAA Division I opponents as well. You’ve got four games coming up in the next couple of weeks against college opponents as well. What do you like more? A lot of people don’t realize you play about a third of your schedule in the USHL, about a third against Division I opponents, and then you’ve got that other third that are international games. Is there one of the three you like the most?

RM: To be honest it’s all a blast. The college games are obviously fun. It’s kind of like playing your older brothers. They don’t want to lose to their younger brothers and we obviously want to beat them. I would say everything kind of has it’s own feeling, vibe. To be honest, I couldn’t really choose my favorite. I love playing hockey. Every game we get to play in is awesome.

GF: I have to ask you about that U15 year. 160 points in 63 games. Is that goaltending optional in that league or what’s going on there?

RM: It was a really fun year. I got to play with some good players. My teammate Hunter Bruskevich, I’ve been with him since I was 10 years old. That was a fun year going through wanting to want to make NTDP and OHL Draft year. It was pretty cool to go through that ride with him.

GF: How old were you when you first started playing? Do you remember when you first put the skates on and got into playing hockey?

RM: To be honest I went to my first hockey game when I was three days old. It’s actually kind of a funny story. My birthday is March 30, and I think my mom was due April 1st, maybe. But my dad had a playoff game that night, and they got an early option to go in early and get it done and my dad was like, ‘yeah, Cindy, I think we should really take that, take the option.’ He wanted to go to his game. Turns out I went to my first game at three days old. 

GF: In 2004, he was playing for the River City Lancers if I’m reading that correctly. Were you born during a road trip? That you were born in Lincoln? 

RM: I was actually born in Omaha, but at a very young age my dad started to coach in Lincoln so my whole childhood has been in Lincoln. 

GF: Have you always been a forward? 

RM: Yeah, I’ve always been a forward, but sometimes in summer tournaments my dad would throw me on the back end to play some D. Honestly, I respect defensemen so much more when you play the position.

GF: I’ve talked to a lot of players over the last 17 years who are in the position you’re in being your draft year, and I always like to ask the guys when you’re six, seven years old…did you have to take your turn in net, throw the pads on every once in a while?

RM: Yeah. This is actually another funny story. I played in a game when I was eight years old, and I actually won the game 16-15, and the other team had 16 shots on net. So I made one save. But that save was the one that won it all. That’s when I realized the position wasn’t for me. 

GF: The Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, about the program, when did the program kind of come on your radar?

RM: It really came on my radar around 13 when I was truly old enough to realize what it was all about and the development that you would get from it and obviously just wearing your colors. That’s unbelievable to do that every single day. I would say about 13, that’s how old I was when I really wanted to make this team and wanted to spend two years here.  

GF: When did it become feasible in your mind that you might be able to make a career out of playing this sport?

RM: To be honest I don’t really know. I’ve never really looked at it as like making a career out of it. It’s just the sport I love and I just love going into the rink every single day. I don’t really try to think about that stuff too much. If I could do this for the rest of my life I would love that.

GF: Let’s talk about the draft, and everyone seems to have you ranked inside the first round and a lot of people inside the top-10. Does it matter to you? It’s a long time between now and the draft, but where you end up being taken, does it really matter?

RM: To be honest, our coaches always say to block out that outside noise. It doesn’t matter when, where you get drafted. It’s what you do from there and I totally agree with that. It’s great words. But I would say it doesn’t really matter what round, what overall, what team. It’s just what you do from there.

GF: So it’s not necessarily a pride thing where if you’re a first-round pick it’s great, if you’re a second-round pick it’s terrific, you’re drafted, you’re not going to be disappointed you’re not a first rounder — and everyone seems to have you pegged as a first-rounder at this point so it might be a moot point anyway.

RM: Honestly it’d be pretty cool. I’d love that. That’d be awesome. But to be honest it truly doesn’t matter. 

GF: You’re another guy going to Michigan. The Wolverines have been mining the high-end prospects the last couple of years and you’re following in the footsteps. Easy choice when you look at all the guys who have gone to the program here in the last few years?

RM: Just all the guys that have gone before me, and the relationship I have with the coaches. Brandon Dorado just got hired there. I’ve worked with him at TPH for the past four to five years. Just having that trust, seeing all the people that have came before me, it was super hard to turn down.

GF: What kind of player do you see yourself as?

RM: I see myself as a skilled power forward that is extremely competitive and not afraid to get his nose dirty, and I think I have a strong hockey IQ. 

GF: You are playing in the middle. You’re the guy that takes the faceoffs?

RM: I’ve played a little bit at NTDP but I’m playing more left wing right now. 

GF: Is that an easy transition to make from the middle to the wing?

RM: I can play any position puts put me in, besides goalie obviously. I would say it’s a pretty easy transition. In-game it doesn’t really affect you as much because you’re playing hockey and it’s just the position off the faceoff that’s a bit different.

GF: Are you a guy that sets statistical goals for yourself at the beginning of the year? Do you do those types of things?

RM: For me, I’ve never really been that way. For me, it’s just more being consistent. Last year I had a bit of a consistency issue. I think coming into this year I really wanted to work on my consistency. That’s about it, though.

GF: Outside of consistency, are there things in your game…I don’t know if it’s shot or skating…but things you need to fine-tune? 

RM: To be honest, I love to work on every aspect of the game, no matter if it’s tipping pucks, my shot, my skating. I just love getting better, honestly. 

GF: So practice is a labor of love for you. 

RM: I love practice, especially practicing with my team. The competitiveness and everything, it’s a blast. 

GF: With your team, you know half of your roster is going to get drafted this year. Is there some internal competition at all? There will be a lot of you probably in the first 45 picks. Do you ever talk about that?

RM: No, we never really talk about that stuff. Obviously it’s the best 23 players in America. There’s going to be a little bit of competition. I think the boys love it. We’re extremely competitive. It’s honestly a blast. 

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