Prior to the second NWHL season, not many people knew Katie Fitzgerald’s name in the New Jersey/New York area. You can bet they know it now as she is already third on the league’s all-time wins list, won Goaltender of the Year as a rookie (2016-17), and after two shutouts in two playoff games she was named Playoff MVP following the Metropolitan Riveters Isobel Cup last March.
Last week we caught up with the puck stopper as she and the Riveters attempt to become the first back-to-back champions in the NWHL. Since making her pro debut on Oct. 8, 2016, Fitzgerald has gone 21-18-1 with three shutouts and in the playoffs, she’s 3-1 with two shutouts. While she may be soft-spoken off the ice, on the ice she’s been the backbone of the team since her arrival (details on how she was recruited below!). The Riveters season as defending champions hasn’t necessarily gone as planned, but that hasn’t shaken the soon-to-be 25-year-old’s confidence one bit.
The Hockey Writers: This season has been a little tougher for you than last season, how have you been able to deal with all of that?
Katie Fitzgerald: It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a year. Sometimes you have more clarity than others and are able to see the big picture. Sometimes it’s a bit harder and you get a little stuck in your own head. I think over time it’s been difficult for everyone (this season) and we’ve kind of started to come together through some adversity, it sounds cliche. Hopefully, we can find some success through doing that. We’re just trying to focus on having fun with each other, laughing at practice, and things like that. Remembering to enjoy it; I think we got away from that a little bit throughout the year. We’re just trying to enjoy those things with only a few weeks left in the season.
THW: Going back to the summertime, what were some of the highlights for you?
KF: It was fun, definitely fun. I did a lot of coaching so I was on the ice a lot. I really enjoyed being back at home (in Illinois) and it was fun to see my family, I don’t get to spend a lot of time with them during the hockey season. It was especially fun to be able to bring the Cup back because they weren’t able to make it to the game. I had all of my family and friends over, it was great and we had a little celebration. It was nice to be around my family before heading back to New Jersey.
Brick Wall Fitzy
THW: You were the well-deserved MVP of the NWHL Playoffs last spring, not allowing a goal in either of the two games. Was that one of those situations where you were ‘in the zone’ so to speak?
KF: I think it was one of those things where it’s the last thing that you expect to happen. Everything just started to click together. We had a really good start to the season and then hit a bit of a slump in January/February. I think as a whole unit we really started to come together in that last regular season game we had against Buffalo, we started to feel like ourselves again. Our last regular season game against Boston we definitely started to feel that chemistry again so, I think a part of it is luck and timing that it all started to gel again just in time for the playoffs. It was definitely a group effort and that we started to get our heads on straight again.
THW: Isn’t the number one rule for a goalie that you have to thank your teammates? That’s like Goalie Speak 101, right?
KF: Oh yeah (laughs), I know (league photographer) Troy (Parla) got pictures of Jenny Ryan pulling a puck off of the goal line when they went back door in the first period. I definitely can’t take credit for those.
Is This a Joke?
THW: When you signed with the Riveters it was kind of late in the process. How did all of that come about? Did Chad Wiseman reach out to you? Did you reach out to him or the league?
KF: He reached out to me. It’s actually a really funny story. I was completely done with hockey, I was applying to jobs. I was not, thrilled about it…I knew I wasn’t quite ready to hang up the skates. But with women’s hockey, it’s just kind of part of it – once your college career is over for the vast majority that’s the end of it. I wasn’t super happy about it because I felt I had more to give. I still really loved and enjoyed it, and wanted to improve and grow as a player. That was the difficult part for me. Then Chad called, I don’t know how but he got my parent’s house number and he called them. My mom thought he was a telemarketer (grins). I was just in my room watching Netflix and mom says, ‘Katie the General Manager of the New York Riveters is on the phone’. I thought she was kidding, I thought she had him mistaken.
We started chatting around mid-July and I was offered an opportunity to be a part of their goalie trio. I was really excited and my college goalie coach (Rebecca Baker) was coming too, so I was really excited to be able to continue to work with her. She was one of the reasons that I even made it as far as I did in college. It was cool to be able to go through that with her, have that comfort (going somewhere new) and not knowing a single person. It was nice to have one familiar face. It was a whirlwind (laughs).
THW: Do you think if you were a forward there would have been more opportunities to continue playing because as goalies there are only a limited amount of spots?
KF: One of my friends mentioned the NWHL and I knew of it, but with it being mainly in the Northeast at the time, and the previous year was only the first year of its existence, plus all of the teams had three goalies. I didn’t think there would be much turnover and I thought I was just unlucky. I honestly didn’t think I was what they were looking for – I didn’t make any Frozen Four runs, didn’t go to any national camps, I didn’t feel like I was in that company. I just kind of accepted the end of it, or what I thought was the end of it. But (smiles) it’s been a fun and unexpected ride since.
THW: You recently got invited to a National Team camp, so how unique and awesome was that for you?
KF: It was really cool, so much fun. I was just like a little kid. During the exit meeting, I was like, ‘this was amazing! The only time I get to go to camps now is if I’m coaching them, I never get to participate in an all-goalie camp. Drills that are designed for goalies where I can work on something specific, where things are controlled and you really get to learn everything you can.’ I always really enjoyed learning the game, learning the position. That’s what I really enjoyed my last two years in college and my first-year pro. Last season we didn’t have a goalie coach, so after a long stint without a goalie coach, it was amazing! It was cool to meet all of the girls too. A bunch of people that I’ve known of but never met.
Wanna See My Mask?
THW: You’ve had a few masks the past few years. Do you have a favorite one or is it hard to pick just one because they are all like your babies?
KF: I think my first Riveters one is my favorite. It was just so well done, so cool. I made my current mask to strongly resemble that one. With it being my first (Rivs) mask it was really special in that way; with the Riveters on the sides, it was really historic and really cool. I love Snoopy on the back! The deal was that my parents were kind enough to pay for the mask and they got to keep it and put it on their bar or mantle forever. But they did let me keep the backplate. I just wanted a little piece (smiles).
THW: Did you have a favorite player or goalie growing up?
KF: I love Carey Price, I’ve always been a huge fan. I did love Marty Brodeur and Patrick Roy when I was really young. I did have a Fathead of Patrick Roy on my door and my brother had Marty Brodeur. I was the younger sibling so I didn’t really get a choice (laughs). But I’ve been a huge Carey Price fan – high school, college. Just someone who I felt that my style most represented. He has such a sound foundation but is able to be incredibly athletic at the same time, and he has a really good balance of the two. I really enjoy watching him play. It’s been really cool the last couple of years to see him go through a tough season with injuries. To see him go through that journey and make it all the way back is really relatable in a way.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.