When you have 10 children, keeping track of everyone can be quite challenging.
For Frank and Peggy Ann Gilroy, the message to their children growing up was pretty simple:
“We don’t care what you do, but you better do something. And you have to be committed to it.”
For one of the Gilroy children, being committed to the sport of hockey has led him to achieve a lifelong dream: playing in the Olympics.
Matt Gilroy, a 33-year-old defenseman, recently suited up as an assistant captain for Team U.S.A.’s men’s ice hockey team at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This crowning achievement of his hockey career was even more special, since he wore his brother’s No. 97 on his back.
Matt’s younger brother Timmy died at the age of eight following a bicycle accident in August 1993. As a nine-year-old, Matt vowed to wear his brother’s number from then on, instead of his own No. 98. Both numbers were in homage to the No. 99 worn by Wayne Gretzky, “The Great One.”
Matt wore 97 at St. Mary’s H.S., Manhasset, L.I., where he captained the hockey team to two state championships. He wore 97 at Boston University, when he won an NCAA championship his senior year to go along with the Hobey Baker Award as the top men’s collegiate ice hockey player in the country.
He also wore 97 for parts of five NHL seasons with the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers. Moreover, Matt has worn the number in his international hockey career. He now plays in the Kontinental Hockey League for Jokerit, a club based in Helsinki, Finland.
Finally, after all those stops, 97 made its way to the Olympic Games.
The sports tradition in the Gilroy family starts with the father, Frank, who grew up in Whitestone playing multiple CYO sports at St. Mel’s, Flushing. He starred in basketball at Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, before playing for Lou Carnesecca at St. John’s University, Jamaica.
The 1981 graduate was a team captain for the Johnnies and is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. After college, he was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA draft, but he instead chose to attend graduate school at St. John’s. He currently works on Wall Street for Susquehanna Financial Group.
Frank knew that from an early age, his son Matt had a passion for sports. Though his expertise was in basketball, Frank let Matt choose his own athletic path.
“I started playing hockey around the first grade,” Matt said. “Since I was young, we were always outside playing all different kinds of sports. I never was a kid who stayed inside and played video games or watched TV.”
Matt said he was honored to wear his nation’s colors on the global stage in Pyeongchang, calling it the best experience of his time on the ice. His parents, a few of his siblings and his wife Jenny – a Fox Sports reporter based in Los Angeles – made the trip to South Korea to show their support.
“You can play for your high school, and your high school is going to root for you,” Frank said. “You play college, and the college and alumni will root for you. You play on a pro team, and the fans of that pro team are going to root for you.
“But when you put on the U.S.A. or whatever country’s uniform at the Olympics, the entire country is watching and rooting for you, and there’s no greater honor than that. Seeing him (Matt) represent his country at the Olympics, I don’t know if it gets better than that.”
Actually, there’s one thing that was better for Frank: Seeing Matt represent his country at Olympics while continuing to keep alive the memory of his brother Timmy.
“I think for Matt, walking into that locker room and seeing the number completed the circle,” Frank said. “He’s taken it everywhere. He’s taken it through high school, college, the NHL, around the world playing overseas, and now he took it to the Olympics.”
Just like Frank and Peggy Ann had a simple message for their children to fully commit themselves to whatever they chose to do, Matt now has a message for his brother:
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.