By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007
VICTORIA, British Columbia – There are many storylines unfolding in the nether reaches of the 48-player Vancouver Canucks training camp at Bear Mountain Arena. Far below the heady level of Roberto Luongo, Markus Naslund, Mattias Ohlund, Willie Mitchell and the Sedins, there is a bunch of players struggling to make their way in the often-brutish world of pro hockey.
One of those is a guy who gave Victoria hockey fans a Big Zack Attack last spring.
Now the six-foot-one defenceman Zack FitzGerald finds himself in the training camp, alongside Victoria Salmon Kings players he helped dispatch in the first round of the 2007 ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs while a member of the Alaska Aces.
The Salmon Kings are the ECHL farm team of the Canucks and the Aces the ECHL farm team of the St. Louis Blues. The Canucks acquired Fitzgerald in an off-season trade that sent Canucks-drafted forward F.P. Guenette of the Salmon Kings to the St. Louis organization.
“In camp here at Bear Mountain, they put me next to [2006-07 Salmon Kings goalie] Julien Ellis in the dressing [room] and that’s the first thing I mentioned to him,” chuckled Fitzgerald, who is expected to play for the Canucks AHL affiliate Manitoba Moose this season.
“It was a good, healthy playoff series but we weren’t exactly friends at that point and now here I am in Canucks training camp with those Salmon Kings guys [Ellis, defenceman Patrick Coulombe and forward Marc-Andre Bernier].”
Fitzgerald is happy to be out of the Blues system. Taken in the third round of the 2003 draft by St. Louis, 88th overall, Fitzgerald felt he was languishing there.
“It was not getting anywhere in the St. Louis organization and it’s a great opportunity for me in the Canucks system and I’m coming in with a clean slate,” said Fitzgerald.
That the Canucks went out and traded for him indicates the AHL Moose were very interested in him.
“To know you’re wanted is huge, puts a smile back on your face, and makes coming to the rink a lot better,” said Fitzgerald.
The whole point of a farm system is to move players up and Fitzgerald, Coulombe, Bernier and Ellis hope to hop a ride from the ECHL to the Moose.
“I felt I did a great job with the Salmon Kings last season and got my scoring confidence back,” said Bernier, the Canucks’ second-round draft pick in 2004, who slotted 18 goals in 40 games in Victoria.
Asked if it was tough getting pucks past Luongo in camp, Bernier said that he grew up firing shots at a pretty good goalie in the driveway of the family home in Laval — brother Jonathan Bernier went on to become the Team Canada junior goalie and the 11th player taken in the first round of the 2006 draft by the Los Angeles Kings.
And about any needling by Fitzgerald he might have to endure in training camp, Bernier smiled and replied: “Well, they [Aces] were the second-seeded team and we [Salmon Kings] were only seventh but we sure gave them a hard time before they finally beat us [in six games].”
And this season they could be chasing a Calder Cup together with the Moose.