Family thrilled for Bruins' Bartkowski
The biggest thrill for Beth Bartkowski was opening up the game-day program and seeing her son Matt's photo on the Boston Bruins roster, a parent's pinch-yourself moment during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Wearing her custom-made white Bruins T-shirt with “Mama B” and Bartkowski's No. 43 on the back, Beth Bartkowski reminisced about her son's rise from playing hockey in Mt. Lebanon to playing against the hometown team in the Eastern Conference final.
“He's not a Pittsburgh boy anymore,” Beth said. “He's truly Boston through and through. That's his team. The jitters are gone. He's fitting in. Now, Matthew is coming on the ice as a true Boston Bruin.”
But Bartkowski was a healthy scratch for Game 1 Saturday at Consol Energy Center as the Bruins pulled him in favor of veteran Andrew Ference.
The Bartkowski family sat in Section 113 at Consol Energy Center, with Beth joined by her husband, Rick, Matt's grandfather, Rich, and former Mt. Lebanon assistant coach David Dorsey, who was excited to see the first Lebo player in the NHL but was still rooting for the Penguins.
“It's tremendous, especially in a game of this magnitude,” said Dorsey, who bought the custom T-shirt for Beth Bartkowski at Game 3 of the second-round series against the New York Rangers at Boston's TD Garden.
“Let's just hope he does well this series and the Pens win. I'm not rooting for the Bruins. I'm a Penguins fan. I'm rooting for Matt, but not the Bruins.”
Bartkowski's best friend, Josh Mandic, wore Matt's old Amateur Penguins sweater to the game, while Jordan Hogan and Jessie O'Hara wore his home and away Mt. Lebanon jerseys with his No. 12. Bartkowski's younger brother, Stephen, is in training at West Point Military Academy, and couldn't attend.
“Just to have him come back home and play against the Penguins in the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Rick Bartkowski said, “it probably doesn't get any better than this.”
That wasn't lost on Matt Bartkowski, a 24-year-old rookie defenseman who played in only 11 regular-season games for the Bruins but has played in seven playoff games. A seventh-round pick by Florida in 2008 before being traded to the Bruins in March 2010, he was amazed by the attention he drew from reporters after the morning practice.
“You can't beat playing in your hometown in playoff hockey,” he said. “Your family and friends are able to come and watch and you're able to play playoff hockey. It's like a dream you have as a kid.”
Beth Bartkowski remembers her son pointing to the television while watching the Stanley Cup playoffs as a 3-year-old and saying, “That's what I want to do.” The Penguins, coincidentally, were playing the Bruins in the 1991 Wales Conference final on their way to winning the Stanley Cup for the first time.
“If we were in Vancouver, it would be the same: Our son is in a Stanley Cup playoffs game. How unbelievable is that?” she said. “He started in third grade, and this was his dream.”
Beth Bartkowski also recalled watching Matt play hockey between periods at Civic Arena, squirting a drink of water out of every bottle from the Penguins' bench during the intermission.
“I think he was trying for Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr's DNA,” Beth joked. “Who would have ever thought he'd be playing here in the playoffs?”
Now, his family is thrilled that he is playing against the Penguins.
“It's the greatest thing in the world,” Rich Bartkowski, of Baldwin, said of seeing his grandson play against the Penguins. “I couldn't be prouder.”