Amidst the anticipation of Montreal Canadiens training camp opening and the tragic loss of KHL team Lokomotiv last week, a minor signing by the Hamilton Bulldogs got buried.
Last Friday, the 'Dogs signed defenceman Zack FitzGerald (yes that's how it's spelled) to a one-year, one way contract. He is part of the Habs training camp and is currently on the "B Team", along with Josh Gorges, Jaroslav Spacek, and young hopefuls that include Brendan Nash and Raphael Diaz.
The 26-year-old certainly won't crack the Habs lineup, having just a single NHL game with the Vancouver Canucks in 2007-08 to his name, but FitzGerald will had some more toughness to the Bulldogs lineup that already includes Jimmy Bonneau and Alex Henry. He has 1040 penalty minutes in 299 AHL games, and led the league in 2010-11 with 311.
The Minnesota native has also been a fan favorite in his recent AHL stops, that have included the Albany River Rats and the Charlotte Checkers.
"Zach is a great kid and he'll be a fan favorite very quickly," Checkers play-by-play man Jason Shaya told Eyes on The Prize. "He was beloved by Checkers fans for the year he spent here.
Shaya also notes the rugged rearguard is a team player. "He's got a great heart and plays with a lot of passion. Everyone here wishes nothing but the best for him."
Being a tough guy is just part of FitzGerald's roll, as he is as a reliable defender, especially when shorthanded, using his size against opposing forwards. His all time favorite player is Hall of Famer Scott Stevens.
"While his toughness is admirable, it got him in trouble at times last year with AHL Charlotte, especially down the road late in the season and in the Calder Cup playoffs," noted CanesCountry's Cory Spiers. "FitzGerald carved ruts to the penalty box in the series against Hershey and WBS, and found himself benched for some of the more crucial late series games, and some games in the Eastern Conference Championship"
Spiers also gave more insight into the positives that FitzGerald brings on and off the ice
"If I were to describe Zack as a person in one word, I would say, classy, perhaps eternally loyal," Spiers said. "If I were to describe him as a player, I would say aggressive, and obviously, very tough. Zack WILL fight, he WILL pump up the crowd,and he WILL stick around after the game to sign autographs or talk to fans, that's just how he is.
"During the final game of the Checkers regular season schedule, the team stuck around after a win, and the news they had clinched the playoffs, and saluted the fans at center ice and one man gave a short speech thanking the fans for all of their support; that man was FitzGerald. I will say the fans in Charlotte are going to miss him, he is a locker room goof ball, but as hard a worker as I saw last year from the blueline
"The Montreal organization did well to pick him up, as he may serve to protect some of the prospects in Hamilton."
We'll heed this warning to Bulldogs fans cruising the highways and roads of the Hammer; his pet peeve is listed as "bad drivers." And despite hailing from Minnesota, he grew up a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Leaps off his feet here, but he finished his business against fellow tough guy Louis Robitaille, who retired at the end of the 2010-11 season.