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Fritsche ready for a bigger NHL stage

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
As a youngster in Ohio, Dan Fritsche would have been happy to play in a city the size of Pittsburgh, let alone New York. When the Columbus Blue Jackets entered the NHL as an expansion team and later selected Fritsche in the 2003 Entry Draft, his fate was set – he could remain in his home state, playing in what is generally recognized as the NHL’s smallest market.

Five years later, Fritsche finds himself in a very different situation. Following a July trade to the Rangers, the young forward landed in his nation’s largest city and will now skate in front of fans who were rooting for his new team long before he was born.

In fact, Fritsche’s Madison Square Garden Rangers debut could come in the preseason tonight, when the Blueshirts face the Ottawa Senators. sat down with Fritsche recently to learn more about one of the newest members of the team. How did you feel when you found out you were going to be playing for the New York Rangers? And where were you when you heard the news?

Dan Fritsche was reunited with ex-junior teammate Dan Girardi when he came to New York. The two won a Memorial Cup together with the OHL's  London Knights.
Fritsche: I was sitting at my house in Columbus with my girlfriend and my brother and I was on the phone with my dad and I had a random call. I switched over and it was the GM from Columbus just saying "You've been traded to New York." You know, I've never been traded on the professional level before, so it was like they were pretty much telling me your life is going to change in a matter of a second, but to be traded to New York, I don't think I could ask for a better situation. It's a great city, great organization that I'm loving so far.
Going from a small market team like Columbus to one of the biggest U.S. market teams, do you feel like the atmosphere around you is going to be radically different?

Fritsche: Oh, absolutely. You said it right there. I think Columbus is probably the smallest market team in the NHL, the newest but still the smallest, and to go to absolutely no doubt the biggest market, an Original Six team, it's going to be a change of atmosphere for sure regarding that. As far as big city living and everything about this organization so far, I couldn't be happier. So I'm really excited. What was your impression of the Rangers as a team when you faced them? Playing for Columbus, you didn't see them much, but when you heard you were going to the Rangers, what was your perception of the Rangers at that time?

Fritsche: You know, they're always a good team. I mean, they're the New York Rangers; I grew up watching them; they're an Original Six team. We knew we always had a challenge on our hands every time we played the Rangers and they always played hard. This team always plays really hard, and it's never a really easy game with this team. That's been their identity for a long time, and it still is. Have you played at The Garden?

Fritsche: I have twice. What are your memories of those games?

Fritsche: I remember the first time I played; I was about 18 or 19. I was just in absolute awe that I got the chance to play at Madison Square Garden, the biggest sports venue in the world. And now to be on the good guys' side, playing for the home team, I never thought it would happen, so I'm looking forward to it. Do you have any memories of the fans? The fans of the Rangers are so passionate. Did you have any perception of the fans being unique to New York?

Fritsche: Yeah, I think of all the sports teams in New York, I remember the second time I played here, someone (on the Rangers) let in a bad goal and you know, it's a tough crowd. I think with all the sports teams in New York, it's a tough crowd and we're prepared for that. I think it's only going to make us better. So playing for such a passionate fan base is a motivating factor for you?

Fritsche: For sure. You're playing for passionate, passionate fans and they want to see their team win. To me, individually, I don't think it's such a bad thing that they might even boo us at times. I go to games and I'll boo the team I’m rooting for sometimes, too. No matter if I'm watching baseball, hockey, whatever. It’s a passionate group of fans, and they want to see us win. That's the good thing about it. There may not have been as many fans in Columbus, but were they pretty passionate, too? Or was their knowledge of the game not as developed as it is among the fans here?

Fritsche: Columbus had never seen hockey before, so I would think the last few years Columbus has kind of gained some more hockey knowledge and understands the game more. But you really can't compare them with New York because it's such a small market. The fans aren't really into it as much. We did have great fan support in Columbus, but it's not the kind of fan support that they show in Madison Square Garden. Did it make it any easier to be traded when you heard you were going to be coming along with Nikolai Zherdev? Having played with him, does that make the transition a little easier?

Fritsche: Well, yeah, I mean, I think you know no matter where you get traded to if you go with someone you know, at least you know the one person, but for me, I knew a few guys on the team already. I knew Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, and Brandon Dubinsky. Did you know them from major-junior hockey?

Fritsche: Yeah, I played with Girardi in London (Ontario). We won a Memorial Cup together. And Callahan and Dubinsky I know through USA Hockey.
Growing up in Ohio, what was your favorite NHL team?

Fritsche: I grew up watching both Pittsburgh and Detroit, my two favorite teams. Growing up in Cleveland, those were kind of the closest ones. I grew up idolizing Mario Lemieux; he was my favorite by far. I had the opportunity to play against him in an exhibition game my very first year, and I never ever thought I would make it, so to be able to play against him, I mean I thought he would be long gone or I would be still working my way up. So it was awesome. I never thought it would happen. Do you have any individual goals for yourself this season? How would you describe yourself and the game you're going to bring to the fans?

Fritsche: I'm not going to change my game at all just because I got traded. I think I'm a high-energy player that plays with a lot of passion and emotion and I'm just going to play that way. It's the same way I played in Columbus. I'm going to work hard every night and I'll try to set the tempo of the game.
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