As the previous VHLM season came to a close, Toby Fitzgerald’s future was not as clear cut as he had wanted things to be. He wasn’t sure if his career would crash and burn, or if he thought he could rebound from what he calls, “a disappointing year”.
After being on one of the best teams in the league – Halifax 21sts, and being paired with defenseman Shawn Glade, while the team prospered as one of the best around, Fitzgerald was not happy with his play in his very first year in the league. He signed with Halifax a bit late and thus he felt a little bit behind the 8-ball. And it showed on the ice.
“Coming in so late I felt kind of hurt my initial season production”, said Fitzgerald. “I guess I was able to still make an okay season out of it, but I know I can do better”. He wasn’t sure he would find a home in his second season as he was on a tryout 1-year deal with Halifax. “I simply didn’t know if my performance on the ice would have been noticed at all or if I would just have had the single year and be done.” Luckily, that was not the case.
In the ensuing off-season, a very surprised Fitzgerald was being looked at by a couple teams prior to the draft, where he was ultimately selected by the Helsinki Titans. “To be honest, I was surprised anyone selected me with the lackluster season I put up. Apparently, it was enough to get noticed. I’m happy to have been selected. I guess we’ll see where this goes.”
Fitzgerald was offered the option to play with the big club at the time, but wanted to see if he could find a VHLM team to play with to work a bit more on his development. He wound up signing another 1 year deal - this time with the Saskatoon Wild, who are currently in a dogfight for the top spot as the season winds down. His decision to stay in the VHLM also seems to have been a good one as the young defenseman is finding his niche as one of the better all-around defenseman.
“Even though I’m glad I finally found my game this season, I need to continue to take pride in being a two way player. It’s something I’ve always strived for. Contributing offensively is great, but I’d much rather be someone who is not a liability to my team by focusing on becoming a defense first type of defenseman.”
And Fitzgerald is doing a fine job in both regards on a team that is loaded with stellar blueliners. While he is 4th on the team in scoring with a 15-60-75 stat line as this season is almost complete, he brings a ton of other intangibles that many people can easily overlook what he brings to the table. First off, he sports a +23 +\- which leads all defenseman on Saskatoon that speaks to his awareness and smart play on the ice. Fitzgerald also leads his team in hits with 198 and 116 blocked shots. The last thing to mention in this, is that he also has a bit of a nasty edge to his game as he leads his team with 100 PIM.
“I’ve always like mixing things up a bit,” said Fitzgerald, chuckling. “We can’t have guys thinking they can take liberties with some of our superstar players. So, I like bringing that physicality to my game when it’s needed. I have a very old school hockey mentality which I feel today’s game is missing but is required.”
While Fitzgerald says he’s excited at the prospect of playing for Helsinki next season, he says he’s focused on finishing the year with Saskatoon and hopefully, bring home a cup before graduating to the VHL.
“Last year was a real disappointment with that team in Halifax. We had a rough go in the playoffs. But I feel we have a better team in Saskatoon this season. Just hoping this year turns out better with the Wild. We’ll find out soon enough.”
Either way, if things continue to improve for this young defenseman, you're about to see a very successful career just about to get started.