Monday, November 16, 2009

Absurd Goalie Monday: Mark Fitzpatrick

It's time for another installment of the AGMs, with a guy who was dominant in the major junior circuit and had a decent career in the NHL. However, the true tale of the story lies in his comeback from a rare disorder early in his career. Folks, this is the AGM of Mark Fitzpatrick.

While he didn't start playing organized hockey until the age of 10, Fitzpatrick began his junior-A career in Revelstoke of the BCJHL and while his numbers were less than what most people would desire (21 GP, 5.30 GAA, .860 SV%), he made the jump to the AJHL with the Calgary Canucks at the start of the 1984-85 season and then made three appearances as a 15-year-old with the Medicine Hat Tigers. With the Canucks, Fitzpatrick went 18-8-0 with a 3.75 GAA in his 23 appearances. With his short time in Medicine Hat, he went 1-2-0 with a 3.00 GAA and also played in on of the Tigers' playoff games.

For the 1985-86 season, Fitzpatrick was ready for the WHL full time and didn't disappoint. He split time with Troy Gamble for playing time, but Fitzpatrick made the most of his chances. His rookie year, he went 26-6-1 with a 2.86 GAA, which set him up to win the Del Wilson Trophy for top goaltender and put him in the perfect position for his next two seasons. The 1986-87 season saw Fitzpatrick being thrown into the starter's role, with Gamble being dealt to Spokane early in the season. Fitzpatrick didn't disappoint, with a 31-11-4 record with four shutouts and a 3.35 GAA. While his regular season was good, it was Fitzpatrick's play in the Playoffs that got him the most acclaim. Fitzpatrick lead the Tigers to their second WHL Championship, their first in 12 years. The Tigers went to the Memorial Cup and kept rolling on the back of Fitzpatrick, who only had a 2.00 GAA in the tournament and led the Tigers to their first Memorial Cup in team history.

The year itself boosted Fitzpatrick's value enough for the Los Angeles Kings to take Fitzpatrick in the second round of the 1987 Draft 27th overall. Fitzpatrick opted to stay in the WHL for another year to build on his stock. He helped out a lot, as Fitzpatrick got 63 games in going 36-15-6 with a 3.23 GAA and nine assists on the season. The Tigers continued to roll through the WHL that season, only needing 16 games in the playoffs to win their 12 to capture a second straight WHL Championship. The song remained the same in the Memorial Cup, with the Tigers dominating again, although Fitzpatrick's GAA was a higher level at 3.64, but it was enough to get the Tigers a second straight Memorial Cup, as well. It was a fantastic end to a out-of-nowhere goaltending prospect.

The 1988-89 season saw Fitzpatrick make the jump to the professional ranks, splitting time at the start with the Los Angeles Kings and New Haven Knighthawks to start with. Fitzpatrick started the first game with the Kings opening night, winning 5-3 in his debut, but was sent to New Haven after that. In the AHL, went 10-5-1 with a 3.31 GAA, while in the NHL with the Kings, Fitzpatrick was 6-7-3 with a 4.01 GAA. Yet, while was considered to be the future of the Kings goaltending, it wasn't good enough when the Kings looked hard.

For that, Fitzpatrick, Wayne McBean, and the every friendly Future Considerations was sent to the New York Islanders for Kelly Hrudey. Fitzpatrick took over the starting role with the Isles at that point, playing in 11 games to round out the season with a disappointing 3-5-2 record and a less than stellar 3.92 GAA for his troubles. The first full season in Long Island during the 1989-90 campaign was a little better, as he got starter's time, but kind of split with Glenn Healy between the pipes. Going 19-19-2 with a 3.39 GAA was helping hope be restored for Fitzpatrick. Sadly, it was short-lived.

Before the start of the 1990-91 campaign, Fitzpatrick was poisoned by an ingredient that was contained in a part of his diet supplement. The amino acid, L-tryptophan, that was in the products he was taking caused him to develop Eosinophilic Myalgia Syndrome, a rare blood disorder caused by L-tryptophan. EMS impared the nerve and muscular systems of the body. Fitzpatrick experience fatigue, shortness of breath, as well as swollen feet, hands, and forearms. While it's incurable now, Fitzpatrick was able to overcome it and started off by playing in the AHL for the Capital District Islanders. He went 3-7-2 there during his stay and was called up to Long Island to play two games, going 1-1-0 during his time.

Fitzpatrick started off the 1991-92 season in the AHL to get his game back and was called by the Islanders in October. However, Fitzpatrick missed 10 games due to a flare-up of his EMS in late October. After he was cleared to play, he went back to the AHL in order to get a rhythm back before being called-up in January to get more time. In the AHL, Fitzpatick went 6-5-1 with a 2.99 GAA, while with the big club, Fitzy was able to get an 11-13-5 record and 3.20 GAA. Fitzpatrick captured the Bill Masterson Trophy for his return to the NHL that season. The 1992-93 season got off to a sub-par start with the Islanders and a 3-7-3 record before he was sidelined with a strained abdominal muscle, which got him back to the AHL to get a little rehab for five games (1-3-1). Yet, when he was bounced back to the big club, Fitzy went 14-8-2 to end out the season to make him a 17-15-5 guy for the year and a so-so 3.46 GAA.

The summer of 1993 was crazy for Fitzpatrick, as along with a first round pick was traded from Long Island to Quebec for Ron Hextall and another first round pick. His tenure as a Nordique was short lived, as he was left unprotected and was picked up by the Florida Panthers in the expansion draft of 1993.

For Fitzpatrick, it was his first time in a while as a back-up, since he was behind the workhorse of John Vanbiesbrouck. The 1993-94 season saw Fitzy make 29 appearance, posting a 12-8-6 record with a 2.73 and .914 SV% for his limited time. The 1994-95 season was more limited due to the lockout, but even so-- Fitzy got 15 games and put up a less than average 6-7-2 record. The 1995-96 season for the Panthers and Fitzy was a solid one, with Fitzy getting 34 games for the season and having a 15-11-3 record and 2.96 GAA, as the team marched all the way into the Stanley Cup finals with their rag-tag bunch of players. Fitzy got some time in those playoffs in relief of Vanbiesbrouck, but they were less than stellar in blowouts. The 1996-97 season was a dicey one, as even though he got 30 appearances, it was mostly in relief of Vanbiesbrouck. Fitzy put up an 8-9-9 record and 2.36 GAA for the year, his last full one with the Panthers.

The 1997-98 season saw a logjam in net for the Panthers, with Vanbiesbrouck, Fitzpatrick, and Kevin Weekes up with the big club to start. While Fitzpatrick was solid to start off with, it wasn't good enough as he was put to the IHL with Fort Wayne before being traded, along with Jody Hull, to Tampa Bay for Dino Ciccarelli and Jeff Norton. Fitzpatrick was thrown into the starter's mix in the gongshow that was the Lightning, playing the bulk of the last 34 games and going a dismal 7-24-1 with a 3.16 GAA . It was his last in Tampa, as he was traded in the summer to Chicago for Michal Sykora.

In Chicago, Fitzpatrick was backing-up Jocelyn Thibault and did respectable when called upon with a 6-8-6 record in 27 appearances, with a 2.74 GAA and though with a decent set of numbers, he could be a starter again. When he was signed by the Carolina Hurricanes in the summer of 1999, it could have been his chance to challenge Arturs Irbe. However, Fitzy didn't have a good camp and was beat out by Eric Fichaud for the back-up role. That put Fitzy in Cincinnati to play in the IHL for the Cyclones, where we went 11-11-1 in his time there before being called up by Carolina to appear in three games, going 0-2-0. It would be his last season in the NHL, as Fitzpatrick played in the IHL for the Detroit Vipers in the 2000-01 season, but only appeared in nine games with a 4-4-0 record and 2.60 GAA and .919 SV%.

Fitzy got one last hack at the NHL when the Vancouver Canucks tried out many veteran goalies in a back-up role. Fitzpatrick had a good camp, but the Canucks claimed Martin Brochu in the waiver draft and played the role of back up to Dan Cloutier, thus ending Fitzpatrick's career as a player.

Fitzpatrick's story is one of big success early with a lot of promise to the future, but thanks to a serious of unfortunate events, he couldn't get back into his winning ways. However, he didn't let the illness get him down and played to his best every time he stepped onto the ice. While the end could have been a lot better for Fitzpatrick, the experience was probably one that is unforgettable.

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