First Posted: 12/30/2014
Shavertown’s Patrick McGrath made the Christmas Day drive back to West Virginia and got on a bus to South Carolina with his Wheeling Nailers teammates before learning his boyhood dream had come true.
McGrath signed a professional tryout agreement with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Dec. 26 and became the first northeastern Pennsylvania native to play a regular-season game for the American Hockey League team the next night.
“As soon as I got to South Carolina, they said ‘you’ve got to fly back, you’re going to Wilkes-Barre’,” said McGrath, who made his debut, playing a wing and wearing number 13 in a 5-0 loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the Mohegan Sun Arena. “I was pretty pumped up.”
McGrath has two goals, an assist and 69 penalty minutes in 20 games in his second season with the Nailers in the lower-level ECHL.
A series of call-ups by the parent Pittsburgh Penguins left Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in need of more players. McGrath was part of the least experienced lineup the team has used this season for the Dec. 27 loss to Bridgeport.
“It was a pretty awesome experience,” McGrath told reporters in a postgame interview that was posted online by the Times Leader sports staff. “It’s something you dream about as a kid growing up here.
“I’ve always wanted to play here so it was an honor to be able to do that.”
McGrath, known for his toughness, said he has been working hard in Wheeling “to be a complete player.”
The 21-year-old Lake-Lehman graduate left the area to play Canadian junior hockey setting up his chance to play professionally in Wheeling as well as attending training camp and playing preseason exhibition games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
McGrath’s regular-season AHL debut was part of a tough night for the East Division-leading Penguins. He had one shot on goal and was minus-2 – McGrath was on the ice for the last two Bridgeport goals, including one with 12 seconds left – while picking up 12 penalty minutes for a tripping minor and a 10-minute misconduct.
It was hard to celebrate the first with the team struggling, but McGrath was back on the ice with the Penguins for a win Sunday, Dec. 28 when they defeated the Norfolk Admirals, 2-1.
In the win over Norfolk, McGrath had two more shots on goal. He was not on the ice for the goals by either team.