Players You Need To Watch: Katie Fitzgerald (NM), NY Riveters

We like watching hockey on Puck It. We like it even more when we discover a new player to add to our favourites. In a regular series, Liam and Paul will share players they love to watch, from all over the world. The first one, from Paul, is NY Riveters’ rookie goalie sensation, Katie Fitzgerald.

First off, a marker to lay down. I love watching the NWHL, and women’s hockey. As a fan of the speed and skill side of the game far more than the pugilistic, punchy, body-smashing side, watching these ladies weave magic on the ice is pretty much everything I love about the sport-skating, passing, hockey sense, vision and applied power. I’m probably going to end up ranting joyfully about quite a few women’s hockey players in these pages.

One thing, though. I’ve never been that much of a dedicated fan of goalies. I play as a forward, for a start, which means they’re my natural enemy when it comes to my poor attempts to play something approaching hockey. I can appreciate a great goalie in the same way I appreciate a great painting…from a distance, with not a massive idea of the processes that go into creating it but still with an idea of how impressive the finished product is.

But this season I have begun watching Katie Fitzgerald play, and suddenly, I get it.

katie-fitzgerald
The NY Riveters’ Katie Fitzgerald (photo credit: Troy Parla)

I have to admit that as a relative newbie to the top-level women’s game, I’m someone who was unaware when she signed for the Riveters that Fitzgerald had had one heck of a season for St Cloud State in the WCHA in her senior year, leading all goaltenders both in games played and shots faced. I didn’t know that she never expected to play pro hockey after college, and nor did I know that the native of Des Plaines, IL was coming into the Riveters with one heck of a challenge given she was sharing time with South Korea’s starting NM Sojung Shin and Providence Friars standout Sarah Bryant.

But then I saw her play thanks to the wonders of the NWHL streaming service…and suddenly I realised what people who say goaltending is an art form are always yelling about.

To watch Katie Fitzgerald play in net is to watch an artist. No movement is wasted, and every movement, in itself, is its own little work of art.

At 5’10 she is not, by “normal” standards, big for a goalie, particularly when you’re used to watching the mens game. However, she has a presence about her – an aura of calm and confidence that seems to make her grow. It is an aura that says “take your best shot…and I’ll probably save that, too”.

Her movements reflect this. Even when dropping point-blank to save a shot, she seems to have more time than you might reasonably expect a goalie at the top pro level of her sport to have. These, after all, are Olympians and some of the best players in the world that are firing shots at her. And yet saves seem calm, unhurried. I remember watching one post-to-post slide in particular that even though I KNOW happened very fast and hectically indeed, I can only describe as “languid”.

The Riveters social media team love to describe her as “brick wall Fitzy”, and it’s a nickname she doesn’t so much bear with pride as see as a challenge, judging by her play. There is no shot she’ll give up on, no rebound that’s a lost cause.

She might as well have “they shall not pass” written in her goal crease, just in case opposition forwards don’t get the message the second or third time she stops them dead.

The thing about Katie Fitzgerald is she plays goal with a fierce joy that seems to burn right off the screen. You can see her love for the game in every pad save, every thrown glove, every slide.

If I may make a horrendous pun, she plays the game like a Fitz of passion. And that is what makes her such a joy to watch in net.

Thank you for helping this lifetime cynic (and forward) finally see the beauty of  goaltending after far too many years, ma’am.

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