By Joe Leary
It's only been a few months since defenceman Rory Fitzpatrick donned the uniform of the Vancouver Canucks. But in that relatively short time, #18 has become something of a fan favourite, not only just here on the West Coast, but as recent events clearly illustrated, around the entire National Hockey League.
While much has been said and written about the "Vote for Rory" campaign surrounding this year's NHL All-Star Game in Dallas, the Rochester, New York native somehow found the resolve to maintain a quiet dignity during the ensuing firestorm of publicity, despite the groundswell of both ardent fan support, and unkind media criticism.
"I got a lot of attention from it, and everyone I ran into around Vancouver seemed really supportive" he said. "They thought it was a really neat thing. They were pretty excited about it and seemed to have voted for me. It got a lot of attention and people seemed to have liked the story".
What he probably didn't anticipate was the negative criticism he would similarly be subjected to. That said, Fitzpatrick has come through it all and is none the worse for the attention it bestowed upon him.
"I didn't pay too much attention to either side actually, but the negative stuff was bound to happen," said Fitzpatrick. "Once it got a lot of attention, everyone wanted to have their say. But there were some attacks, especially some people that attacked me personally, and you never want to hear that, but it's just part of the job and the media is going to say whatever they feel is going to be the best story. I didn't take it too personally, and I didn't really take the whole thing too seriously right from the start, so I didn't take all the criticism that seriously either."
Signed by the Vancouver Canucks in the off season, the affable Fitzpatrick can appreciate being back in a hotbed of hockey, and noted the obvious difference between the U.S. and Canada, especially when it comes to the love for the game.
"The passion for the game is much greater in Canada. Even if you're not a huge hockey fan, you know something. Being in a Canadian city like Vancouver, it seems like people are much more aware and everybody in Vancouver knows about the Canucks. They really do know hockey up here, whereas back in most U.S. cities, if you're not a hockey fan, you don't really know too much. And there certainly isn't a lot of media coverage or talk. In Canada, everybody seems to be involved."
Adapting to life on the West Coast can be both a blessing and a curse, especially when it comes to being the parent of four youngsters.
So, is it tough trying to be both a father and a professional hockey player?
"It is", he concedes. "You do miss things. Fortunately, with our jobs, when we're home (and we were home for quite awhile) we can pick the kids up. But being on the road a lot, you can miss some things and it can be tough."
Fitzpatrick's brood now includes a namesake, having named their youngest child Rory. The choice was a relatively simple one for him and his wife Tracey.
"It wasn't automatic, but being the third boy, by that time we were running out of names." said Fitzpatrick. "We thought that Rory would be good. We wanted to keep the name around. It wasn't automatic but my wife thought it would be nice to have another Rory".
Rory Fitzpatrick was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, and logged his first NHL shift with the Habs in the 1996-97 season. It was during that season, and the closing of the storied Montreal Forum that provided him with what he considers his greatest hockey memory. The evening concluded with a series of hockey legends being presented to the crowd and culminated with an emotional sixteen minute standing ovation reserved for the Canadiens great Rocket Richard.
It was an overwhelming evening in one of the games legendary hockey shrines. "I was 21 years old, and it was just amazing to see the history of hockey and what I learned in one year there," recalled Rory. "You have such a history of hockey and all the Hall of Famers.....just so many hockey people around all the time and it was really something to see all that great tradition. I really learned a lot about hockey that year".
Having just left the Buffalo Sabres organization, Fitzpatrick isn't surprised by their surge this season.
"They didn't make too many changes over the summer and had something like 90 percent of their team returning. Considering how they finished last season, they were obviously going to get a pretty good jump on their opponents." said Fitzpatrick. They're a young team and have one of the best goalies in the league. I'm not surprised where they're at."
Life on the West Coast offers one a variety of outdoor activities. Fitzpatrick has made the transition by taking part in his first triathalon. While he has only one under his belt thus far, plans are to embark upon more.
"I'm a beginner triathlete," he says. "I just started last summer and really enjoyed it. I hope to be more involved in them this summer and throughout my life now. It was a great challenge both mentally and physically and I really enjoyed it. It was fun being around the people from all walks of life and different backgrounds. I competed in a very small one, and you hear stories of people that are doing full triathalons, and their stories are pretty special. It was a good experience for me and something I want to keep up."
[Editor's Note: A triathlon involves swimming, cycling and running, in that order]
With Vancouver being the latest chapter in the Story of Rory, we had to ask if he's prepared for all that awaits the team, should the Vancouver Canucks make a strong run for the Stanley Cup this year.
"I think so," says Fitzpatrick. "You see how the city can get behind the hockey club. Buffalo last year was huge. Vancouver is going to be extremely excited if we can put together a good run. Looking at Canadian cities in the past and the emotion involved, I think it will be great to see here in Vancouver."
We do too Rory.