By Tim Campbell
Winnipeg Free Press
WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Through two rounds of the AHL playoffs, let’s try a little word association.
Zack FitzGerald? Halo.
Laugh not about Line 2. Both examples have been immensely important in Manitoba’s performance in ousting the Toronto Marlies and Grand Rapids Griffins, and there’s no reason to think that will change for as long as the post-season lasts.
FitzGerald, the rough-and-tumble 23-year-old defenceman from Two Harbors, Minn., was the Moose leader in penalty minutes this season (209), and is almost always willing to mix it up. His eagerness to confront opponents — an endearing quality to his teammates because it’s almost always in their defence — landed him in some hot water near mid-season when he was suspended three games for roughing up a linesman as he overzealously tried to exact revenge for a terrible check from behind.
But aside from fanning some trouble with a high hit near the end of Game 5 of the first round against Toronto, a game the Moose won convincingly 5-2, FitzGerald has been a virtual altar boy in these playoffs.
“I’m kind of taking pride in not being in the penalty box right now,” FitzGerald said after Monday’s return-to-work practice at the MTS Centre, as the Moose await Friday’s start to Round 3. “I’m pretty proud of myself for having more games (10) than penalty minutes (eight), and that’s probably a first for me.”