Of all the great talent eligible for the 2003 NHL draft, Danny Fritsche might be the wildcard of this upcoming event. Playing in only 17 OHL games last year due to mid-season shoulder surgery (his second surgery, the previous one being on the other shoulder), the American-born Fritsche lost valuable developmental time. Now 17-years old, and 100% healthy, Danny is looking forward to a big year with the Sarnia Sting. Off to a 10-2-2-1 start, the Sting are a good story in their own right, currently holding the top record in the OHL and ranked #1 among all CHL teams.
For Fritsche, the 2002/2003 season is pivotal, as he is matched up against several other top-notch draft-eligible OHL’ers including Patrick O’Sullivan, Nathan Horton, Dustin Brown, Eric Staal and Corey Perry. An excellent goal scorer and accurate playmaker with a helping of grit and maturity, Danny Fritsche has the potential to develop into an NHL star. Jake Dole caught up with Danny at a recent Sting match.
Hockey’s Future: As a team, you guys are off to a great start (currently rated as the #1 team in the CHL). What are your impressions of the season so far?
Danny Fritsche: Things are going pretty good for us – we’re off to a good start. We’re working hard – no one expected us to do this well, but I think that we’ve got one of the best work efforts in the league right now and that’s why we’re so successful.
HF: You had a couple of shoulder surgeries in the past 2 seasons. How has the recovery been?
DF: It’s been great. Both of my shoulders are as strong as they can be. And out there when I play, they feel just like brand-new shoulders. I have a lot of confidence in me now and I feel that I can go out there and be very involved in all aspects of the game.
HF: How frustrating was it to sit on the sidelines?
DF: It was very tough for me to go through a surgery and waste a season like that. But I am grateful that it’s not this season – I got it over with and it’s behind me. I’m looking forward to a big season.
HF: Are you at a level you expected of yourself prior to the season?
DF: Yeah. I still feel that I will progress during the season and get used to things. I have only played 17 games in the league, but that’s no excuse, I think. As the season goes on, I think that my game will get better and better.
HF: What are your goals to accomplish for this season?
DF: Well my goal to accomplish is to play the best I can and, from the team’s perspective, finish on top, like we are right now. The team is really jelling right now and if we can keep it going and play strong down the stretch, it’d be great. This is definitely the goal for me.
HF: Are you excited about being NHL draft-eligible?
DF: Oh, I am very excited. This is the work of my life to be where I am right now. I can’t wait – I’m thrilled.
HF: Does this put a lot of pressure on you?
DF: Yeah, you know, it does. You can’t hide it, but you just have to try to put the pressure aside and work as hard as you can. That way, things will work out and that is what I’m trying to do right now.
HF: Although you’re an offensively skilled player, how important is the physical aspect of hockey to your game?
DF: I liked to scramble, get in there and throw the hits around. This has always been part of my game – I have always tried to go deep in my zone and play physical and get the puck. I’ve never been afraid to get involved.
HF: Who have been your linemates for most of the season so far?
DF: John Hecimovic and Danny Carcillo. We’re coming along quite well. We’re jelling really well together – the whole line has had pretty good chemistry.
HF: (Sarnia Head Coach) Jeff Perry has been rewarding you with penalty killing time – do you consider yourself a two-way player?
DF: I do. I’m not a fully two-way player yet, though. I still have a lot of work to do, but I do like to consider myself as one, yes.
HF: Prior to being drafted by Sarnia, was there a serious consideration on your part to take the college route?
DF: I was thinking about both – I was considering taking the USA program. I didn’t want to rush into the OHL, but I decided to go and get a feel for it. I feel that (the OHL) is the closest thing to NHL hockey, and my dream as a kid was always to play NHL hockey – that’s all I always wanted. I knew I could compete against these guys, so I said ‘why not’?
HF: Which aspect of your game do you work on the most at practice?
DF: I really work on my defense a lot. Everyone needs help on their defense and this is the part of the game that I feel I need to concentrate on, in order to be a complete player. That and, of course, getting together and skating with my linemates.
HF: Who has provided you with the most support and guidance during your hockey career?
DF: My father (Jim Fritsche). He has always been there for me – he’s done all the little things for me and came to all of my games. He knows my game better than anyone, even more than I do. He’s crazy about it and he wants me to succeed. He’s here tonight (Sarnia’s 4-4 tie with the Ottawa 67’s), and that’s a good 12-hour drive from my house. He’s been my biggest role model.
HF: How old were you when you started playing hockey?
DF: 3 years old.
HF: Where did you start out playing?
DF: Cleveland Barons – minor leagues, all the way up to Junior, Tier 2.
HF: What are your goals to accomplish in your hockey career?
DF: Just to make the NHL and be a top player in the league.
HF: Is there an NHL team and player that you follow?
DF: I like players like (Peter) Forsberg. Guys who are strong on the puck… As for teams, I like the Pittsburgh (Penguins).
HF: What do you do in your leisure time – away from hockey?
DF: I like to hang out with my friends and play a little golf. That’s a course in Sarnia (Sarnia Invitational) where I like to spend my time.