It was a move that had been many years in
the making. UMass Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald made a new
addition to his coaching staff on Sept. 22, hiring long-time
family friend and 17-year NHL veteran Tom Fitzgerald, who
had recently retired from the Boston Bruins.
With one goal and six assists, Paul Worthington leads
all UMass Lowell freshmen with seven points.
The pair grew up in nearby Billerica, Mass.,
no more than 15 minutes from Tsongas Arena, and later played
high school hockey at Austin Prep. Fitzgerald was a closer
friend with MacDonald's younger brother, Rindress MacDonald,
while Blaise helped out Fitzgerald's father with his select
team after college.
Blaise MacDonald and Fitzgerald continued
to stay close as their careers traveled different paths.
MacDonald's coaching stock was soaring in the early 1990s
before taking his first head-coaching gig at Niagara in
1996, while Fitzgerald started to make his mark in the New
York Islanders organization at the same time.
During a conversation the pair had a few years
back, MacDonald jokingly threw an idea in Fitzgerald's direction,
offering him a coaching position when he retired from his
playing career. It seemed like a good, light-hearted offer
at the time.
But the thing was, MacDonald saw a true leader
in his longtime friend. "Fitzy" played on the
1995-96 Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers and
was later the expansion Nashville Predators' first ever
captain. He was a warrior on the ice, doing everything he
could to show his true grit killing penalties.
Sounds like the make-up of a good coach, doesn't
it? That's why – again, last summer – MacDonald
told Fitzgerald he could trade his skates for a white board
and a whistle.
The more Fitzgerald thought about it, the
more it made sense to him. He had a wife and four boys,
the oldest one just 12. They had moved all over the continent
with him – as far north as Toronto and as far south
as Florida – but he couldn't uproot them once again
from their North Reading, Mass. home. Plus, he secured an
analyst job working Bruins games on the New England Sports
"I thought I owed it to my family to
be around and be a dad," Fitzgerald said. "I've
got four boys, and that is my first commitment. When this
came along, I thought it would be great to get my foot in
the door and see if I enjoy it. At the same time, I could
do TV. I've got my hand in a couple cookie jars to see what
I want to do when I grow up."
At 38, Fitzgerald has sure grown up, especially
in comparison to the youthful River Hawks, who have an astounding
15 freshmen on the roster. But just months removed from
his final stint in the NHL, Fitzgerald can show these kids
just what it takes to make it – and succeed –
in the highest level of hockey.
"They want to learn," he said. "They
want to get better. The things that I did and the things
that people did against me are the things that I try to
pass along to the kids. And I think they really appreciate
One of the freshmen on the roster, Paul Worthington,
was drawn to the River Hawks because of the people he would
be learning from. He admitted that he has looked up Fitzgerald's
career stats and tried to figure out who the veteran had
laced up his skates alongside.
"Coming in here, I knew the coaching
staff was unbelievable, and that was one of the main reasons
why I decided to come here," Worthington said. "Then,
when we heard [Fitzgerald] was coming, it was another plus.
We're getting this guy who can teach us all of these (professional)
experiences, which he learned all the way up until last
year. It was a big help for us."
Fitzgerald's leadership characteristics have
rubbed off on River Hawk senior captain Jason Tejchma, too.
"He helps the older guys and gives us
tips on how to handle the younger guys," Tejchma said.
"Having 15 freshmen, it's tough day-to-day. These freshmen
are great; they give us no problems at all. But by helping
the older guys teach us how to bring the younger guys along
is a big help to us."
MacDonald obviously knew what type of character
he was adding to the program in Fitzgerald, but he also
created a nice analogy to this Lowell team and Fitzy's career.
"He has been a part of some expansion
teams, and if you look at our team this year, that's what
we are," MacDonald acknowledged. "We're an expansion
team. He has had those experiences of leading and complimenting
those small victories while understanding how to push but
not push too hard. When you talk to guys who are leaders
like that, you can tell it's just natural to them."
Such a young and impressionable group, these
new-look River Hawks need as much guidance as they can get.
And it seems as though their newest assistant coach has
already fallen in love with being able to help them out.
Lowell's penalty-killing unit has improved through the course
of the season, a direct result of Fitzgerald's tutorials.
"It's easy for him to see and understand
the game," MacDonald added. "Some players don't
understand how to break it down and build it back up, teaching-wise.
But he is very good at that. He is a good learner. He has
played for some Hall of Fame coaches, and he learned a lot
from all of them. He remembers philosophies and teaching
principles from them."
Fitzgerald is ready to take his show on the
road when the River Hawks travel to Orono for Friday night's
slugfest against the top-ranked team in the country. But
UML has a bit to boast on this trip as well. Lowell is currently
tied atop the Hockey East standings with UMass and Boston
University, one point ahead of the Black Bears.
He'll be in Alfond Arena with his new team
skating in front of just a few thousand fans while his old
club will be playing in front of nearly 15,000, many of
whom paid 10 times what it costs to enter Alfond. This isn't
exactly what Fitzy signed himself up for. Strangely enough,
he's gotten a lot more.
SEEN AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Upside-Down Standings: Maine
might be the best team in the country right now, but the
Black Bears aren't leading their conference. Understanding
that Maine has played fewer games than the three teams ahead
of it in the standings — and that it's the first week
of November — the league is a bit topsy-turvy right
The Minutemen (3-1-0), River Hawks (2-0-2)
and Terriers (2-1-2) are all tied on top of the Hockey East
world with six points. Meanwhile, Vermont may be the recipient
of national praise, but the Catamounts are tied for last
in the league with Northeastern.
Somewhere in the middle are UNH and Boston
College — tied for fifth with four points. It doesn't
mean much, but it's worth pointing out.
Tom Fitzgerald on Tom Glavine:
Another former hockey player, current New York Mets pitcher
Tom Glavine, also grew up in Billerica, Mass. The 1995 World
Series MVP for the Atlanta Braves was a hockey standout
for Billerica High School. He was later drafted by the Los
Angeles Kings in the fourth round (69th overall) of the
1984 NHL Entry Draft, though he never played a game for
Though Fitzgerald never played on the same
ice as Glavine, he does remember the two-sport stud while
"He was two years older than me, but
we came through the program together," Fitzgerald said.
"You move up in two-year increments so we would always
miss each other. He was a great hockey player. I remember
hearing how great of a hockey player he was. I remember
people saying he was really good at baseball, and I'm like,
'Well, he's dynamite in hockey. How much better could he
be in baseball?' Well, he picked the right sport."
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
Great Weekend Getaway
Hampshire at Maine (Sun.)
It's the best rivalry no one seems to talk about.
They're not in media-happy Boston so the series doesn't
get the recognition in that sense (like BC-BU), but
these two teams genuinely hate each other. UNH has
a lot to prove early on this season, and Maine can
continue sending a message that it's the best team
in the country with a win.
While You’re There: On Friday
night, UMass Lowell visits Alfond Arena at 7 p.m.
But since it's a holiday weekend, Orono may be a bit
quiet. Take a short trip down I-95 to Bangor if you're
looking for some nightlife.
really not trying to beat a dead horse here, but this
one goes out to UMass Lowell and UMass, which
are both tied with BU for first place in
Feel like checking out some Hockey East
action on Saturday night? Of course you do! Well,
that's too bad because there aren't any games
on the slate.
• After serving a suspension for a violation
of team rules, Chris Capraro re-entered the UMass lineup
with a bang last Friday night. He scored two goals and added
an assist in a 4-1 win over Providence at the Mullins Center
and was named Hockey East's Player of the Week.
• After one 10-game streak died for
the Eagles, however, another one was attained. With a 1-0
victory over Vermont on Saturday night, BC has now beaten
the Catamounts 10 consecutive times.
• How does Maine replace Greg Moore's
scoring production? Let us count the ways. In the Black
Bears' seven wins this season, seven different players have
scored game-winning goals. And with four assists over the
weekend, freshman Teddy Purcell has five goals and seven
assists in eight games this season.
• Merrimack has committed 43 penalties
in its last three games. The Warriors have allowed nine
power-play goals in that stretch.
• After sweeping Northeastern over the
weekend, the Whittemore Wildcats have not lost to the Huntington
Hounds in 17 meetings (14-0-3).
Editor's note: An item originally posted in this notebook indicated Providence snapped a 10-game winless streak against Boston College last week. The Friars beat the Eagles, 5-3, but the game was at Schneider Arena. Inside College Hockey regrets the error.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report