The BioSteel All-American Game had many special moments in its first nine years, but it had never seen overtime. Rutger McGroarty changed that.
McGroarty, who had picked up an assist earlier in the game, found himself just ahead of the defensive pair, racing up ice with Team Blue trailing in the final three minutes.
“We were hemmed in the D zone there for a little bit and everyone was doing their jobs,” McGroarty said, describing a situation Team Blue faced frequently while being outshot, 36-24, in regulation by Team White in the Jan. 17 game at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich. “Everyone was locked in and eventually one of their guys turned it over and Jimmy Snuggerud hit me with a great area pass.”
McGroarty’s work in the defensive zone may have helped contribute to the puck coming loose high in the slot. His role in finishing the play that got the game into overtime, where Team Blue pulled out a 4-3 victory, was unmistakable.
McGroarty got to the outlet pass, came racing down the right center of the ice with a defender on his left shoulder. He cut left, sealing the defender on his back, and flipped a shot back to the right over the goalie’s glove.
“It was a move I felt pretty comfortable with,” McGroarty said. “I do it in practice a lot.”
A lot of practice time is something that has always been part of McGroarty’s hockey life. His dad, Jim McGroarty, is a hockey coach and former professional player. When the younger McGroarty was asked to assess the benefits of having a hockey expert in the family with how that balanced against the challenges of growing up in Nebraska, McGroarty had only positives things to say.
“The benefits were obviously that my dad had the keys to the rink,” McGroarty said. “That was unbelievable. I loved every second of that.
“I was in the USHL [Lincoln Stars] locker room every day when I got school called off or at the end of the day when school ended. I’d hang out with those guys, so that matured me quicker than a normal 7- or 8-year-old, so that was awesome.”
McGroarty said there was nothing to regret about starting out in Nebraska, before moving to Michigan as a youth player. His father is now the general manager of the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
While he may not have been surrounded by as many young hockey players as a boy in Minnesota, Michigan or New England, he had a source of advice at home, older players to look up to and ambitious friends to help him quickly grow his game.
“I feel like my time in Nebraska made me who I am today,” McGroarty said. “I feel like I didn’t miss out on any opportunities, being a kid from Nebraska.
“My two best friends from Nebraska, Ashton Christman and Jackson Beach, we went to the rink every single day. They’re two really hard-working kids, even though we were 7, 8, 9 years old; we all wanted to get better and be NHL players.”
What McGroarty is today is a University of Michigan commit, the captain of the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad and the 18th-ranked North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting’s Mid-Season Rankings for the 2022 NHL Draft.
“It’s very special,” McGroarty said of landing the captain’s role earlier this season. “It’s a really cool opportunity for me and it’s awesome that my team voted me as captain. But I don’t try to change anything even though I have a letter on my jersey.
“There’s a lot of guys in our locker room that don’t have a letter on their jersey that are great leaders.”
Those players were split onto the two teams along with the best of the rest of the U.S.-born draft eligible players in the United States Hockey League for the BioSteel All-American Game.
McGroarty’s goal with 2:37 left in regulation, and his earlier assist, helped land him recognition as the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Green Bay Gamblers’ defenseman Damien Carfagna scored the game-winner on a two-on-one in overtime. Team Blue had trailed, 3-1, heading into the third period.
“They had us in the D zone a couple of times there and we’d bend, but we didn’t break and then when we got our opportunities, we finished on them,” McGroarty said. “Then, Carfagna absolutely sniped in the overtime, so that was good to see.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.