I took a sincere interested in Mark Fitzpatrick's career. Why? He grew up down the street from me.
Well, sort of. He was born in Toronto, but at the age of 10 he moved with his family to Kitimat, BC, which is about 70km away from my hometown of Terrace. Hey, by isolated northern British Columbia, that is what we call down the street.
Interestingly Fitzpatrick never took up organized hockey until he arrived in Kitimat. That's a pretty later start considering in a few short years he was backstopping the Medicine Hat Tigers to back to back Memorial Cup junior championships in 1987 and 1988. In 1986 he was named as the WHL's top goalie.
All of this led to the Los Angeles Kings drafting Fitzpatrick 27th overall in 1987. He would turn pro in 1988 and after just 17 games in the minor leagues he was called up to play for the Kings.
Those were exciting times, as it was Wayne Gretzky's first season with the Kings. While Gretzky, Bernie Nicholls and Luc Robitaille lit up the opposition net, the Kings were having lots of problems with their own net. Veteran Glenn Healy was not getting the job done. Fitzpatrick, a prized prospect, looked good given his inexperience.
As excited as I was that a local boy was playing with Wayne Gretzky in Hockeywood, things changed that season. Fitzpatrick and fellow Medicine Hat alumni/prized prospect Wayne McBean were traded to the New York Islanders in exchange for another veteran goalie, Kelly Hrudey.
Fitzpatrick played well with a weak Islanders team, but disaster struck just prior to the 1990-91 season. He suffered swollen feet, hands and forearm, shortness of breath and overwhelming fatigue last September after taking L-tryptophan, an amino acid. The supplement caused the player to develop eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS), a white blood disease that impairs the functioning of the nerve and muscular systems.
Fitzpatrick essentially missed two full seasons battling the disease. Doctors tried battling the illness with Predisone, but that led to side effects such as mood swings that threatened his personal life. Fitzpatrick would sue the supplement company for $180 million dollars. I don't know how much he did settle for, but I'm told it was significant amount of money.
"Fitzy" did make a come back to hockey, but the once promising career was no longer in the cards. He struggled in New York before finding some stability in Florida, backing up John Vanbiesbrouck. He later bounced around with Tampa, Chicago and Carolina. He even tried out with the Vancouver Canucks in training camp in a bid to back up Dan Cloutier in the new century, but he was cut, essentially ending his career.
In 12 seasons Fitzpatrick got into 329 games, sporting a record of 113-136-49 with 8 shutouts and .896 career GAA.