October 1, 2012

MVP award proof Fitzgerald can 'hang with the big boys'

By Jesse Connolly

Ryan Fitzgerald entered Saturday’s CCM/USA-Hockey All American Prospects Game as one of just three youngsters not currently playing for a Division I college team or a major junior squad. By night’s end, the North Reading, Mass., native had more than proven he was capable of holding his own against his elite brethren. 

Fitzgerald was named the Most Valuable Player for the inaugural event, as he led Team McClanahan to a 5-2 win with three assists.

“People haven’t seen me play against these types of kids and I just wanted to show I can hang with the big boys out here and just play with the best,” Fitzgerald told USA Hockey Magazine’s Justin Felisko. “You don’t have to move away to showcase your skills.”

A star forward for the Eastern Junior Hockey League's Valley Jr. Warriors, Fitzgerald played an integral role in helping his squad cruise to victory – and not just with his slick passing skills.

The son of longtime NHLer Tom Fitzgerald (Billerica, Mass.) was tremendous at the dot, winning 10 of the 14 faceoffs he took on the night.

“Fitzy won a lot of faceoffs. Faceoffs is an area that is sometimes overlooked,” said former gold medal winner Rob McClanahan, Fitzgerald’s bench boss at First Niagara Center in Buffalo. “It’s really a key component to the game of hockey.”

Recently listed on Central Scouting’s preliminary rankings for the 2013 NHL Draft, Fitzgerald has a long way to go between now and June, but the MVP Award is certainly a feather the center’s proud to add to his cap.

“Being MVP is an honor, and it’s a skilled game, so being the MVP is obviously big,” he said. “You have to play the whole season consistently. If I finish off the year good then maybe the draft will work out.”

Set to enroll at Boston College in the fall of 2013, Fitzgerald will now return to a Warriors’ squad that’s a perfect 6-0-0-0 on the season after a thrilling weekend he’ll truly never forget.

“The people I met here is something I will take (with me) for the rest of my life,” he said. “This game was such a great experience. My hat is off to the people of Buffalo.”

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.