By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – When Jason Fitzsimmons stepped down as the head coach for the South Carolina Stingrays last April, he wasn’t sure what the future would hold for him.
After 10 seasons with the organization as a player, assistant coach and head coach, Fitzsimmons wasn’t even sure his professional future would include hockey.
“My original plan was to get out of hockey altogether and spend more time with my family,” said Fitzsimmons, who has a 2-year-old son, Bergen. “I’d done a lot of traveling over the last 10 years and I wasn’t at home as much as I should have been, so I wanted to make that up to Chantel (Fitzsimmons’ wife). She’s been incredibly supportive over my career as a player and as a coach and I felt like I owed her that.”
But by late July Fitzsimmons realized one thing — he missed the game.
“Hockey is what I’ve known for most of my life,” said Fitzsimmons, who was an 11th-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 1991. “I was sitting around watching the Stanley Cup finals and realized that I still had a passion and love for the game.”
It was about this time that Fitzsimmons got a call from the NHL’s Washington Capitals. One of their pro scouts was retiring and they wanted to know if Fitzsimmons would be interested in filling the position. With the Stingrays serving as the Capitals’ ECHL affiliate, Fitzsimmons was very familiar with their organization.
Fitzsimmons was interested in the position as long as he didn’t have to move out of the Lowcountry.
“They wanted to move pretty quickly on it, but when I told them I didn’t want to move I figured that would be the end of it,” Fitzsimmons said. “I didn’t want to move. I love it here in Charleston. I had started a new business. I was here to stay.”
Two weeks later, the Capitals hired him as a professional scout.
“I was very flattered that they’d want me in their organization,” Fitzsimmons said. “It had been a dream of mine to make it to the NHL as a player or a coach. This is probably the next best thing. It’s been an unbelievable experience for me. I’ve learned so much in the last six months.”
Fitzsimmons is one of several pro scouts for the Capitals. He has been to more than 100 professional games this season at the NHL, AHL and ECHL levels.
“I’m mostly concentrating on AHL games,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’m looking at players. We have different classifications for each player, so I’m not concentrating on systems or anything like. As a coach when you scout you’re looking at systems and maybe some tendencies of some of the players. This is completely different. It’s like going from inline skating to ice skating. It’s the same sport, but it’s different styles.”
Fitzsimmons has seen about 10 Stingrays games already this season. Surprisingly, he said he doesn’t miss coaching as much as he thought he would.
“I miss being around the guys and being a part of a team and the camaraderie that comes with that,” Fitzsimmons said. “I don’t miss the coaching aspect of it as much. The competition and all that entails. I definitely don’t miss the traveling, and we had it pretty good.”
Sitting up in the stands at the North Charleston Coliseum has taken some getting used to, but he’s comfortable watching from above instead of being on the bench.
“It’s not as weird as I thought it would be,” he said. “If I wasn’t in hockey, if I was with another organization I might feel little different, but because the Stingrays are affiliated with the Capitals I feel like in some ways I’m a part of the team. I still know a lot of the guys on the team and some of them are prospects in the Capitals system.”
Being a scout has actually meant more travel. Fitzsimmons travels three or four days a week. When he’s in town, he’s working on his business, Fitzsimmons Gutters, with his business partner Gren Winthrop.
“The traveling is the toughest part of my job,” Fitzsimmons said. “My business is going great. There’s a lot of work out there, but you can never be too busy.”Fitzsimmons said the Stingrays have a couple of legitimate NHL prospects on the team.
“Steve Pinizzotto has got a real chance to play in the NHL one day,” Fitzsimmons said. “I think Travis Morin will probably end up in the AHL next season. The more you see him play, the more you like him. Patrick McNeill has a tremendous offensive upside as a defenseman.”