Buffalo, NY- Entering Saturday night's CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game Ryan Fitzgerald knew this would be an opportunity to showcase his talents against the best America had to offer.
The Valley Jr. Warrior did not disappoint taking home the most valuable player award by recording three assists, including the first-ever in the inaugural game, as Team McClanahan defeated Team Housley 5-2.
Fitzgerald's most noteworthy assist came after he won a faceoff in the second period to set up defenseman Seth Jones' goal. Team McClanahan would never look back and Fitzgerald, the Medford, Mass., native who chose to stay close to home instead of joining a farther away junior team, would go on to earn the first-ever CCM/USA Hockey Most Valuable Player Award.
“People haven’t seen me play against these type of kids and I just wanted to show I can hang with the big boys out here and just play with the best,” Fitzgerald said. “You don’t have to move away to showcase your skills.”
The center, who was recently listed as a “B” list prospect for the 2013 NHL Entry draft by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, finished an impressive 10 of 14 on faceoffs, including his first period victory that set up Jones’ goal.
“He [Rob McClanahan] was harping faceoffs and I just tried to win every faceoff I took,” Fitzgerald said.
McClanahan credited Fitzgerald with being a game-changer in the game.
“The goal that Seth scored was set up off the faceoff and that is a big part of the game,” McClanahan said. “(Fitzgerald) was a big, big factor and had a great game tonight.”
McClanahan, who was a part of the 1980 gold medal winning Miracle on Ice U.S. Men’s National team, said that winning a faceoff is one of the most underrated aspects of the game of hockey.
“Fitzy won a lot of faceoffs. Faceoffs is an area that is sometimes overlooked,” he said. “It’s really a key component to the game of hockey.”
Fitzgerald helped Team McClanahan get things started in the first period on a 3-on-1 when he fed the puck nicely to Hudson Fasching to give Team McClanahan a 1-0 lead with 4:06 remaining in the first. Both players will forever hold the distinction of being part of the first-ever goal in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
“I saw him crashing back door and I just wanted to throw off the d and I saw him back door. It worked out and he buried it,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald’s final assist came in the third period when he fed the puck to Dakota Mermis in the top of the slot to give Team McClanahan a 5-1 lead.
Being named the MVP is an honor Fitzgerald admitted, but he understands he has much more to do to see his final goal of being drafted in June come to fruition.
“I mean 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.”
Fitzgerald also acknowledged that because he is a smaller player he can sometimes take some bad penalties trying to defend himself. He was sent to the box two times.
“I’m a smaller guy so I can get pushed around out there so you have to give it back sometimes,” Fitzgerald said. “Sometimes I get caught though.”
The memories from this weekend’s inaugural event are ones that will stick with Fitzgerald forever; including how gracious the Buffalo Sabres and the fans were to him and his teammates.
“The people I met here is something I will take for the rest of my life,” he said. “This game was such a great experience. My hat is off to the people of Buffalo.”
-by Justin Felisko, courtesy of USA Hockey. Original article available at http://www.allamericanprospectsgame.com/news_article/show/181283?referrer_id=641381