After growing up in Boston his entire life, Ryan Fitzgerald is living his childhood dream of playing hockey for the Boston College Eagles.
The BC freshman has already gotten the experience of playing at Fenway Park and in the Beanpot Tournament. He’s helped the Eagles win both.
“BC was my favorite school growing up, so to have this come true is something special,” Fitzgerald said. “These are the things you grow up watching. Being from Boston, playing at Fenway and the Beanpot is special because I know the history of them so well. Being able to win at both was incredible.”
Fitzgerald is also coming off a big performance against UMass Lowell at the NCAA Northeast Regional Final. He scored the game-tying goal in the third period, and the Eagles were able to sneak past the River Hawks, 4-3. Now, he and BC will have a chance to compete for an NCAA Hockey Championship as the Eagles head to Philadelphia next weekend for the Frozen Four.
Championships are nothing new for Fitzgerald. The flashy winger helped Malden Catholic win the first two of four straight Super Eight Championships in the Massachusetts Division 1A Tournament. He won the first under former Merrimack College and Malden Catholic coach, Chris Serino, who has since passed after his fight with throat cancer.
“He was a great coach, and I played for him my first two years (at Malden Catholic),” Fitzgerald said. “He stepped aside in my third year, but what happened to him was a tragedy. Just to say that I played for him and won a championship is amazing.”
Fitzgerald has had a plethora of strong coaches, playing for Serino in high school, Andy Heinze in juniors, and now Jerry York in college.
At BC, he also has had the opportunity to learn from what’s been called the best line in college hockey. Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes have taken Fitzgerald and other freshman under their wings.
“They’re always giving out pointers to me,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re very helpful and want to rub off what they have done in their career to us. It’s been good having those guys to look up to.”
Gaudreau has really made an impression on Fitzgerald considering their similar talents and skill sets as undersized players. Fitzgerald has scored 12 goals and 16 assists (28 points) in 39 games this season.
“It’s been something special to watch (Johnny) everyday,” Fitzgerald said. “Seeing what he does in and out of practice. You see what he does and you try to emulate it everyday.”
The 19-year-old has developed his playmaking and puck skills, becoming a legit threat on the Eagles second-line.
“He has high-end cerebral qualities,” said BC's Associate Head Coach, Greg Brown.
“He has the skill level to execute, but it’s more of the thoughts that he has. His creativity has been his biggest strength. He’s a very smart hockey player. He see’s the game extremely quickly and extremely well. I would say that has allowed him to adapt to the bigger, faster and stronger kids. He is probably quicker than most of us expected, so he has been a pleasure to develop over the season.”
“I pride myself on being able to see plays develop and make passes that others can’t,” Fitzgerald said. “My two linemates (Austin Cangelosi and Patrick Brown) are finishers, so I try to get them as many goals as possible.”
Fitzgerald, a fourth round selection of the Boston Bruins in 2013, was well prepared for this season after participating in the Bruins development camp this past summer.
“It was good to play with the older guys before going to college,” he said. “Those were guys that were in college, done with college, or junior players, so it was big for my development. It helped me see some different levels of talent.”
Fitzgerald comes from a strong hockey family. His father Tom played 17 NHL seasons and is now the Assistant General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tom’s brother, Scott, is the Assistant Director of Scouting for the Boston Bruins. Oh, and Ryan’s younger brother Casey is a highly touted 17-year-old defenseman, who committed to BC as a 14-year-old. If there is extra pressure on Ryan, you would never be able to tell.
“You would have to ask him about the pressure, it doesn’t seem to bother him at all, though,” Brown said. “I think he loves hockey. You can see the passion come out when he plays. If it does weigh on his shoulders you would never be able to tell.”
His freshman season has been a year of success and full of wins. Fitzgerald and the Eagles hope to add two more wins next weekend in Philadelphia. Up next, he must face off against former Malden Catholic linemate Mike Vecchione and Union College in the Frozen Four semifinals.
Follow Rich Murray on Twitter via @Richie_Murray