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More than just a fighter

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Nothing quite compares to wasting time on YouTube.

Millions of people make their way to the site every day; some to watch movie trailers, others to pick up cooking tips, and so on.

Manitoba Moose defenceman Zack FitzGerald isn’t a regular visitor to the site, but he does cruise by it occasionally. After all, YouTube contains some of his greatest hockey moments.

“I think it’s funny those are on there,” said FitzGerald, in reference to the numerous clips of his hockey fights that can be found on the site.

FitzGerald’s fisticuffs have been viewed nearly 22 thousand times, so while goal scorers get their recognition on TSN, hockey enforcers are front and centre on YouTube, which puts a smile on the 22-year-old’s face.

The 2007-08 American Hockey League season hasn’t been kind to FitzGerald, though, as a few minor injuries prevented him from dropping the gloves for the first part of the year. But he’s feeling good now and the 6’1”, 214-pound bruiser is ready to add to his personal collection of Rock’em Sock’em highlights.

“I’m out there to protect my teammates and if something needs to get going, I’m there to do that,” said FitzGerald, who was traded to the Moose this past summer. “I’m not going to shy away from anything. I’m not afraid, that’s part of my job, so I take pride in that.”

FitzGerald, St. Louis’ third choice, 88th overall, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, may be ready to get back into the ring, but Moose head coach Scott Arniel likes how FitzGerald’s game is growing beyond spending time in the penalty box. Call-ups and injuries have left Manitoba’s blue line a tad thin at times this season, so he’s been an important part of the team’s defence.

“He’s had an opportunity to play and play regularly and his game has been very good,” said Arniel, prior to his team’s mini holiday break in late December. “He’s been very responsible in our end of the rink, he’s done a great job of making that first pass and you can see he has confidence because he’s playing a lot. I think what he’s trying to do is show people that he’s more than just a fighter.”

With 74 penalty minutes to his one goal through 21 games this season, shedding the tough guy image isn’t going to be easy for FitzGerald. He has the offensive prowess to put the puck in the net once and while, but at the end of the day his job is often to give his team a spark by ravaging an opponent, an important task considering his partner in crime, Mike Brown, has been with the Vancouver Canucks since mid-November.

“The best part about him is that he knows the timing of it all,” said Arniel. “It isn’t just drop your gloves anytime, anywhere. It’s about recognizing the situation and knowing when we need a change in momentum to go our way, or if someone’s going after one of our top players, that’s the time to get in a fight.”

A product of Two Harbours, Minnesota, FitzGerald, the third of four children, became interested in hockey thanks to his older brother Rusty, a former Manitoba Moose forward. But fighting certainly wasn’t Rusty’s influence; Zack picked that up on his own.

“He’s a goal-scorer, a real playmaker, he got all the skill so I have to make up for it another way,” said Zack about Rusty, now a financial manager in Duluth, Minnesota. “He did scrap a little bit but I didn’t really learn much about it from him.

“When I got into junior I didn’t know anything about fighting and the doors just kind of opened to it. We had a pretty tough team and I always played physical when I was young so fighting just became a part of my game.”

FitzGerald played junior hockey for four seasons in the Western Hockey League from 2001 to 2005 as a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds. He tickled the twine a few times accumulating 22 goals and 85 points in 282 career games; however there was no denying his physical presence as he also amassed 929 penalty minutes, leading the team in that category for two seasons, and finishing second on the team the other two.

He continued that trend the past two seasons while back and forth between the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL and the Alaska Aces of the ECHL, but there weren’t any scraps as memorable to him as those from his younger days. Although taking on Zack Stortini this past pre-season as a member of Canucks comes close.

“I’ll always remember back in junior when I was 16 when I was just getting into the fighting thing. I fought a bigger guy and knocked him out; that was probably one of my better fights. Plus it was against a rival team in Portland and it just got the juices going.

“Going against Zack was a real battle, but it was just unbelievable to fight in a Canucks’ jersey and to get a chance to play some exhibition games. Obviously I wanted to show them that I’m willing to do it and that I can be that kind of guy.”

That kind of guy is fitting in perfectly with the Moose and will one day be in the same position with the Canucks. Then the hockey world will truly see why his bouts are five star favourites on YouTube.

Manitoba Moose
Prospects Central
Every Prospect Was Kung-Fu Fighting
Getting Acquainted

  4 - Playing with Seattle in the WHL

  3rd - Round choice for St.Louis Blues, 88th overall

25 - Career high points in 2004-05 WHL season

1 - First Season with the Manitoba Moose

3 - Points so far this season as a Moose

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