Danny Fritsche, a highly skilled forward currently toiling with the London Knights, was a second round selection by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Fritsche had an amazing ride in 2003-04 when he played on several teams at many different levels of hockey. The native of Parma, Ohio started his dream season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and saw limited action for them in 19 games scoring one goal. He was then assigned to Team USA for the World Junior Tournament and he was a vital part of a team that took home the first ever gold medal for the Americans in that tournament. Following the tournament, he was sent back to the OHL where he rejoined his club, the Sarnia Sting. After a surprising first round loss to the Erie Otters, mainly due to the red-hot goaltending of Josh Disher (New Jersey), he was assigned to his fourth team of the season, the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.
Fritsche suffered a shoulder injury in a pre-season camp in the summer of 2004 that limited him to playing only two games for Sarnia before suiting up for Team USA once again at the World Juniors, this time on home ice. He picked up six points in seven games for the Americans who lost in overtime to the Czech Republic in the bronze medal game. He had some nagging injuries to deal with after the tournament and never got a chance to report to Sarnia before being traded to the mighty London Knights.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Fritsche after an 11-0 shutout over Saginaw on March 4, in which London increased their record for most shutouts in an OHL season and broke the OHL records for most wins in a season and most points in the season. They still have seven games left to go.
HF: Another night and another three records fall for the team. Have you ever been part of something like this before?
DF: No, this is something brand new for me and I am absolutely thrilled to be part of this. It’s something from this point on it’s like a new record every day and we kind of laugh and smile about it, but I guess right now it’s our motivation to keep us going through the rest of the regular season.
HF: You have had a great OHL career and have seen your share of ups and downs over the last four years and have seen a lot of hockey in that time. Let’s back things up to when you were 13 to 15 and you had to pick which route to take, the NCAA or OHL. What factors made you choose the OHL?
DF: At that time I was playing Junior A in Cleveland, I made the USA program and then the Sarnia Sting drafted me and I was either going to go play for the USA program for a year and take my time to see if I wanted to go the college route or directly to the OHL. It was a hard choice, the USA program is a great program and pretty much every kid who goes there gets a scholarship somewhere, so I knew I was in good hands there. But the main reason came down to was me making it to the NHL as soon as possible and I thought for me to model my game like the NHL game that the OHL was better suited for it.
HF: When we talk about hockey hotbeds in the United States, Ohio doesn’t come to mind, but we are starting to see some players in your age group become good pro prospects from that state. What has been the difference?
DF: There are AAA programs forming in Ohio all over the place, when I was younger, hockey was like nothing. Since I’ve grown up and in the past couple of years it’s really growing tremendously and we are seeing more and more kids coming out of there because of the AAA programs and that hockey is becoming more available to kids. It is really coming along. The Cleveland Barons program where I grew up playing, it’s fairly new, but it has become one of the top AAA programs in the country.
HF: Do you see the NHL lockout having much impact on the growth on minor hockey in the States?
DF: No, not the younger AAA programs. I don’t see a problem with the NHL lockout having any effect on them. Maybe at the higher programs with the junior teams there might be an effect, but the AAA programs should keep going strong.
HF: Let’s talk about your draft year. It must have been pretty exciting getting picked by Columbus?
DF: It was a surprise, the draft works in weird ways and I definitely learned that. At the start of the draft it was the longest three hours of my life. I was sitting there, anticipating going a lot higher than I did, but that didn’t work out. Before the draft I talked to all of the teams and I talked to Columbus, but they weren’t one of the teams that I thought showed a lot of interest. Before the draft it was on my mind that it would be great to go to Columbus, but I was expecting to go a lot higher than I did, but I knew I wouldn’t be going fourth (Columbus’ spot in the first round), but I didn’t think that I would go 46th and didn’t really think about it until I waited around that long and when Columbus picked me in the second round 46th overall, it was worth the wait. It has been great so far, they are a great organization and they have obviously already given me a chance to play and see what I can do, so it has worked out perfectly.
HF: In your first training camp, what were your expectations? Did you anticipate making the team at all?
DF: You know, I just did what any other kid would do, I had a lot of motivation behind me, you know, all the teams that passed me up in the draft, I wanted to prove them wrong. That motivation sort of got me going and luckily I got a chance to do that and like I said it has been perfect.
HF: You’ve gotten 19 NHL games under your belt, and you scored your first goal against Detroit. That must have been something special. Tell me about the goal.
DF: That is one of the highlights of my career. I played in Columbus, but I didn’t play all that much, being an 18-year-old, I had to work my way up the food chain. But against Detroit, it was on home ice, a sell out crowd, I played like five minutes that game, but I got a good shot off the wing and it went in and it happened all so quick. It is one of the highlights of my career; I still look back and watch the game tapes sometimes.
HF: Where is the puck now?
DF: Columbus framed the puck for me. They put it in a beautiful frame and it is hanging behind the back of my Dad’s bar back in Cleveland.
HF: Speaking of career highlights, I would assume that a few months later, the World Junior gold medal that you won would be another one. Talk about that tournament a bit.
DF: Yeah, I went from Columbus to the world junior championship tournament and was part of the gold medal team. It was another experience of a lifetime and it was the first time for me when I was able to participate in a tournament and wear my country’s sweater. It was an unbelievable experience and an unbelievable feeling. Being part of that gold medal game, scoring the semi-final winner and scoring the first goal in the championship game, to be able to contribute to something like that, it is something that I will never forget.
HF: What was the atmosphere in your dressing room in the final game after the second period when I think you guys were down two goals at that time?
DF: Yeah we were down two goals at 3-1. We were down, myself and some of the other leaders had to pick us up and get us going. We knew it could be done, we had an unbelievable goalie in Al Montoya (NYR), we knew he was going to stand on his head and that Canada had a couple of lucky bounces in the first couple of periods, so we knew it was possible. After we scored our first one early in the third, we had all of the momentum and we knew that we were going and that we had a chance.
HF: You have had a couple of bad shoulder injuries. How are they now?
DF: They are feeling great, they are feeling 100 percent right now. My most recent injury, I hurt it at rookie camp at the prospect camp in Columbus and had it fixed then. I am keeping them strong. There are no worries on the ice, I go 100 percent like I always do and don’t even think about them.
HF: When you got traded to London, was that a surprise to you given that London and Sarnia are such bitter rivals?
DF: It was a kind of a surprise, I really didn’t know that London had any interest in me to begin with, I wasn’t anticipating being traded at first, but when I came back from the World Juniors there was talk that some teams were trying to get me and I told my general manager that if teams were offering something good that would benefit the Sarnia Sting down the road to take it, and if not, I would finish the season in Sarnia. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen but the deadline came and I got a phone call saying I was traded to London and it was an exciting moment for me, I wasn’t quite anticipating it, but now I have a chance to play for the Memorial Cup.
HF: You had a bit of a rough ride last Monday in Sarnia, was that your first game back there?
DF: Yeah it was my first game back at the SCC. I was kind of anticipating a bit of reaction for me, but that was quite the atmosphere for me.
HF: I heard that they were kind of rough on you.
DF: Yeah. You have to learn to deal with that, when you become professional you are going to get that a lot of times; on the ice I just kind of smiled when that stuff happens. You know, they don’t boo people who aren’t good, that is the way I look at it.
HF: When you came to London, were there any adjustments that you had to make to your game, because obviously, you came to a team that was already established with lots of superstars?
DF: Yeah, when I was playing with Sarnia, I played a lot more. We had a young team there. When I came here, all four lines are unbelievable, the best four lines in the Canadian Hockey League, so I’m not going to play as much, as they already had a lot of success before I came here. It’s not like I’m a savior to the team or anything. I’m still just taking my time and trying to slowly fit into the lineup and seeing where I belong and fit in properly by the playoffs.
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