September 16, 2013

Fitzgerald departs Malden Catholic for national team

By Bill Keefe

His father was a veteran of 17 NHL seasons and works in the league, and his older brother graced the cover of this publication last month after being drafted in the fourth round by the Bruins.

Because of Tom and Ryan, Casey Fitzgerald’s name is known as soon as he steps into the rink. But he says there is no pressure to live up to others’ expectations. Rather, they are his aces in the hole. “It’s great,” Casey said. “I’ve got a leg up on everybody else. My father and brother show me the ropes. It’s definitely a plus having both of them.”

The United States Under-17 team expects having North Reading, Mass., native Casey Fitzgerald on the roster will be a plus. After two Super 8 championship seasons at Malden Catholic High School, the ’97-born Boston College-committed defenseman was one of the early commitments to the National Team Development Program.

Fitzgerald said it was tough to tell his team and coaches at MC he was leaving, but said they understood that this was his dream. His brother had played at MC and his father was a standout at Austin Prep. High school hockey often takes a beating, but the Fitzgeralds have been committed to staying local.

“You can play anywhere you want and if you’re good enough, they’ll find you,” Fitzgerald said. “MC was the best choice for me. The coaches gave me everything. Such great guys and a phenomenal school, it’s my home away from home.”

He left for Ann Arbor, Mich., on Aug. 26 as part of a trio of friends and high-end Massachusetts talents, joining defenseman Noah Hanifin (Norwood, Mass.) and forward Colin White (Hanover, Mass.). They played together in the Junior Warriors program and have been close ever since.

Tom Fitzgerald credited that time with the Warriors with really developing Casey’s game. “He was playing with good players,” Tom said. “It was a high level. The expectations were huge. As second-year Pee Wees and second-year Bantams, they went to the national championships. (Coach) Steve McAdams was a great influence on how to play defense.”

Casey will be joined on the Under-17’s by his cousin, Matthew Tkachuk of St. Louis, son of Tom’s cousin, Keith, the Medford, Mass., native and former NHL star.

The familiar faces will help the transition, but from going to the USA Hockey summer camps over the years, Fitzgerald said he knows almost the whole team.

As he was preparing to leave and join his billet family, there was one thing he was still working out. “I’m practicing doing my laundry now,” he said.

Ryan, two years older, was probably just starting his laundry practice as well as he prepares to start his freshman season at Boson College. Ryan played at MC for three years before staying local and playing for the Valley Junior Warriors last year. He had decided against going to the NTDP.

“He saw Ryan go through the process and decided (the NTDP) is what I want to do, to compete with the best and train like a pro,” said Tom, now the Pittsburgh Penguins’ assistant to the general manager. “He’s a student of the game and knows who has been through that program.”

Among others, this spring defenseman Seth Jones was selected fourth overall in the NHL draft by Nashville and is expected to be in the Predators lineup on opening night. Fitzgerald will play on the Under-17’s with Jones’ brother, Caleb.

“I really wanted to play for the U.S. team,” Casey said. “The U.S. was my number one. It was the best choice for myself as a player. Different kids need different development and the U.S. team was my best choice.”

Now 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Fitzgerald said one of his main goals in Michigan is to get bigger and stronger. Having posted six goals and 23 points in 25 games for MC last year as a sophomore, Fitzgerald has offensive skills, but he said it’s breaking up the play and starting the puck up ice that he likes most about playing defense, a departure from the forward positions in his bloodlines.

“I wanted to play forward,” Fitzgerald said. “I was 8 or 9 with the Islanders and my dad got me to try playing defense, and it worked for me and I stuck with it.”

He will play against 19- and 20-year-olds in the USHL this season and against college teams next season to prepare for joining his brother for the 2015-16 season at BC, where his bloodlines run even deeper.

“I saw the campus with my brother and loved it from the start,” Fitzgerald said. “I loved the atmosphere, loved the coaches — Jerry York is great — and the record speaks for itself. It was an easy choice for myself watching my brother and cousins (Jimmy and Kevin) Hayes going there.”

Around juniors

The QMJHL’S Moncton Wildcats signed defenseman Tucker White (Holden, Mass.) and left wing Willy Smith (East Longmeadow, Mass.) The 6-foot-5, 215-pound White had played at Wachusett High School. Smith was a UMass-Amherst commit from the Springfield Pics and was Moncton’s sixth-round pick this year. The Sherbrooke Phoenix also grabbed a pair of forwards from the Selects Academy at South Kent in Chase Harwell (Southbury, Conn.), who was committed to Quinnipiac, and Mitchell Lundholm (Plymouth, Mass.). Salisbury goalie Callum Booth joined the Quebec Remparts. Booth is a Montreal native. ...

Forwards William D’Orsi (Sudbury, Mass.) and Lincoln Griffin (Walpole, Mass.) won the Five Nations Tournament in Slovakia with the U.S. Under-17 Select Team. D’Orsi had three goals and three assists and Griffin a goal and two assists as the team went 4-0. Pat Boller (Danbury, Conn.) served as assistant coach. …

Forward Joey Dudek (Auburn, N.H.) went 1-2-3 as the Under-18 Selects took second at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Bob Corkum (Salisbury, Mass.) was the head coach. …

Adam Erne (New Haven, Conn.) led the New England contingent at the U.S. National Junior Team Evaluation camp with three points on a goal and two assists. BU sophomores Dan O’Regan (Needham, Mass.) and Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) and BC freshman Ian McCoshen each had two points.

Pictured: Casey Fitzgerald posted six goals and 23 points in 25 games for Malden Catholic last year as a sophomore. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)