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DUNLEAVY: GETTING TO KNOW CASEY FITZGERALD

by Dan Dunleavy / Buffalo Sabres
(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)

As promised, day two was a much different animal than day one of Buffalo Sabres Development Camp at HARBORCENTER.

Gone were any flashes of end to end rushes and zone break outs. In their place were bungee cords, parachutes and in tight stick handling drills. Excelling at the latter and wowing the first session crowd and yours truly were the likes of Alexander Nylander, Ivan Chukarov, Jean Dupuy and William Carrier.

After going through the seemingly endless pulley drills and then through the parachute skate, players were hunched over at the knees gasping for air.

Then one of my favorite drills, the1-on-1. First using skill, as players stickhandled their way through and around their stationary opponent. From there, it was the skaters' turn to shield the puck from the defender. Turning the right way and using your body correctly to ward off any sticks or a defender's attempts at pushing you off the puck. Lastly, over to the boards and the 1-on-1 against the wall.

It’s not the prettiest play in hockey, but one of the most necessary. And often, it garners the most applause from the home team when a player can corral the puck along the boards and keep it from the opponent until a line change can be completed, particularly while killing a penalty.

Part of the first group on the ice Thursday was defenseman Casey Fitzgerald. Drafted by the Sabres in the third round a few weeks ago, he will be going into his sophomore year at Boston College this season ahead. I first met Casey’s father Tom Fitzgerald, when he played with the Maple Leafs. One quick introduction to Casey and you can see dad all over his face and in how he carries himself so far.

Fitzgerald knows a little about development camp as he attended the Devils camp last season. His father is New Jersey's assistant general manager. In talking about day two with the Sabres, Casey described it as a “tough day.” Like many players trying to make their way into a league their fathers played in, Casey understands the work ethic that is going to be needed in order to catch someone’s eye and one day earn a spot with the big club.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound defender said “it was good to put the work in and learn what I could out there today.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt having Tom around for Casey to talk to during his first Buffalo camp as a drafted player. Last year's All-Rookie team member in the NCAA said his dad told him to “enjoy the process, it’s not a make or break week. Learn what Sabres hockey is and how to play it.”

Fitzgerald did allude to a “high-compete level” out on the ice on day two. Also worth noting is the fact Casey mentioned all the players on the ice – while competing for jobs down the road are also there to help one another and be teammates.

Casey’s hockey background includes the U.S. national team's program. So Thursday’s power skating drills were very familiar. When I asked the 19-year-old what part of his game sets him apart from others or the part of his game he is most confident in he replied, “I think my playmaking ability. I am an efficient player because I try and make the smart simple plays.” That right there is music to most coach’s ears in this era of the NHL.

Since the day he was drafted Casey admits not much has really changed from day to day.

“Dad told me draft day is a great day, but it doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t mean you’ve made it,” he said.

With that in mind the youngest of the hockey playing Fitzgerald’s says, “I’ve kept a chip on my shoulder and kept that 'prove-people-wrong attitude.'”

As far as taking note of the facilities the Sabres have to offer its players, Casey, who plays summer hockey with the likes of Jack Eichel and Jimmy Vesey called them “Grade-A facilities.” A good thing to know as future players are always being convinced Buffalo is indeed a hockey destination, not a stop.

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