Simmsey’s column: Sheffield Steelers best ever heavyweight

Zack Fitzgerald fighting last Saturday: Pic by Hayley Roberts
Zack Fitzgerald fighting last Saturday: Pic by Hayley Roberts
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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think there’s been a better ‘policeman’ for Steelers than Zack Fitzgerald.

Last week he showed again why he is the most feared heavyweight on the Elite League circuit.

Fitzgerald normally fights for his team but last Saturday he had to fight for himself after a shocking display of refereeing led to several late hits that caused injury to both himself and his team mates.

Liam Kirk received a hit to the head and Colton Fretter two cross checks/hits from behind that should have received match penalties. One didn’t even warrant a two minute minor according to the officials.

Fitzgerald once again went to work on Danick Paquette, one hell of a tough man himself. But as we have seen so many times, once Fitzy is in the swing no one is getting the upper hand on him.

We all raised as one to acknowledge the Governor of Sheffield Arena – the chants of Fitzy rang out as he skated to the penalty box.

Zack Fitzgerald moving in to overpower his opponent, centre-ice

Zack Fitzgerald moving in to overpower his opponent, centre-ice

In a normal walk of life bare-knuckle fighting would be rightly condemned. We would prevent our children from being anywhere near it and use it as an example of how not to behave. Yet here we are grown adults, men and women standing and cheering Fitzy for standing up for himself.

Just 48 hours before Saturday’s game Steelers held their annual shirt launch. Fitzgerald was received on stage with the biggest cheer. Sat on the floor gazing up were dozens of young kids staring at their idol.

Two hours after the event had finished Fitzgerald was still in the hall not just signing autographs but with a patient queue of fans wanting their moment with their idol.

Like so many heavyweights Fitzgerald excites us, because of the role he plays. Fitzy stands up for the little man. We tell our kids not to fight at school yet we are also grateful for the toughest kid at school who challenges a bully when he tries it on with the smaller or weaker kids. So if our opponents go after Robert Dowd or Mathieu Roy it’s Fitzy who steps in.

What also sets Fitzy aside is his unbelievable personality and the connection he has with both adults and kids. They idolise him. I haven’t seen a player connect on a one-to-one basis like him since Ron Shudra.

Off the ice, he’s polite, considerate and caring. If there is a poorly kid then it’s Fitzy the parents contact for a get well soon message. If there is a child being bullied at school it’s a tweet to Fitzy that family send so he can reply with words of encouragement. It’s remarkable.

Our sponsors’ lounge, post-game, is rammed with people all wanting a word with the players. There is a rota system the guys have. Well, all the guys bar one. Fitzgerald is the man whose photo is required, whose smile is needed and whose autograph is demanded. He can be in the lounge two hours after a game.

Sometimes his skill as a defencemen is forgotten because of his other talents. Fitzy blocks shots, kills penalties, clears away the front of his net like no other. He breaks up plays and makes a great first pass. His role and his abilities are respected by his team mates, they know they can only do their job to the best of their ability if he is there doing his.

The first ‘Governor’ of the Arena was Selmar Odelein, what a man mountain he was. Others have followed, Dion Darling, Mike Ware, Dennis Vial, Brett Cloutier and many others.

Have any had the impact of this man though? I doubt it.

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