Tough guy Zack Fitzgerald brings his Glasgow Clan team to South Wales this evening for Cardiff Devils’ first Elite League fixture of the season.
The big, powerful American, from Two Harbours, Minnesota, is Clan’s head coach after ending his 15-year playing career over the summer.
“I miss playing,” Fitzgerald told BBC Scotland. “It’s different now because I’m not putting on the gear, putting on the pads, getting in the trenches, sweating and bleeding with these guys. I miss that.
“I want to bring some kind of trophy home to Glasgow. The city and club deserve it. I’m a competitive person and I put pressure on myself.
“We have a team that can do something special. The bare minimum for me this year is to make the play-offs finals weekend.”
Devils opened their domestic season on Saturday with a 5-3 win against Guildford Flames in the Challenge Cup, while Clan suffered a 6-1 defeat against Belfast Giants in Northern Ireland.
Fitzgerald revealed he has not completely retired from playing, saying: “I am available in case of injuries, but I’m hoping that doesn’t happen.
“I’m enjoying the coaching role. It’s a different lifestyle and I’m learning from all the guys, who have given me great support.
“I’m kind of going with a combination of that and a combination of things I liked about my coaches when I played and a few things I didn’t like.”
Todd Kelman, Cardiff’s managing director, knows ‘Fitzy’ well, says: “It’s always fun when a new coach comes to town.
“I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect of Zack and always loved the way he played.
“He was the kind of guy you’d love to have on your team. Andrew Lord praised his willingness to learn at the coaches meeting this summer so I think Glasgow are lucky to have him.
“They have a guy that could be their coach for years to come with a fanbase who loved him as a player last season getting behind him as a coach too.”
Lord is expecting a tough encounter in their opening Elite League match against Glasgow Clan (Sunday, 6pm).
“They have a good skating team with a great goaltender (Patrick Killeen), outstanding powerplay and a great first line.”
Canadian Killeen, aged 29, is a former Pittsburgh Penguins NHL draft pick, while Clan’s first line comprises Nathan LaPorte, Craig Peacock and former Sheffield Steelers player Mathieu Roy.
Devils defeated Flames thanks to goals from many of the match Stephen Dixon (2), Charles Linglet 1, Joey Haddad 1+0, Masi Marjamaki 1+0,
Lord’s Devils set off to a near perfect start, opening the scoring 40 seconds into the period when Linglet rifled a slapshot over the shoulder of goalie Fullerton with Mike McNamee and Mark Richardson drawing assists on the play.
With the teams skating 4 on 4, Dixon tipped in a shot from Sean McMonagle to double the lead at 6-01 and four minutes later it was Dixon again.
He collected a perfect pass from Linglet from behind the net to beat goalie Travis Fullerton at 10-21 for a powerplay goal.
Flames pulled a goal back with a powerplay reply at 15-45 when Calle Ackered’s shot trickled through netminder Ben Bowns to make it 3-1 after 20 minutes.
📰 IN THE MEDIA 📰: Thomas Duncan from the BBC interviews head coach Zack Fitzgerald on life as an enforcer…
— Glasgow Clan 🏒🏴 (@ClanIHC) September 9, 2019
Guildford pulled another goal back on the opening shift of the middle period when Ian Watters beat Bowns to make it 3-2 at 20-59.
Just over a minute later, though, Haddad restored the two-goal lead with a nifty move to circle around the net and tuck the puck in at 22-18 to put the home side in front 4-2.
In the final period, Devils extended their lead at 51-24 when Marjamaki cut hard to the net and tucked the puck around Fullerton.
Flames kept coming and at 56:26 Watters scored his second goal of the game, this time on the powerplay to make it 5-3, but that was as close as the visitors would get.
Devils took the Challenge Cup match led by a man of the match performance from Stephen Dixon with two goals and Bowns who made 30 saves in the win.
Now Devils are focused on their League match against Glasgow at the Viola Arena on Sunday.
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Match stats v Flames:
Devils: Stephen Dixon 2+0, Charles Linglet 1+1, Joey Haddad 1+0, Masi Marjamaki 1+0, Matthew Myers 0+1, Matt Pope 0+1, Mark Louis 0+1, Gleason Fournier 0+1, Mike McNamee 0+1, Mark Richardson 0+1, Sean McMonagle 0+2, Blair Riley 0+1,
Flames: Ian Watters 2+0, Calle Ackered 1+1, Brett Ferguson 0+1, TJ Foster 0+1, Ben Davies 0+2, Kruise Reddick 0+1
Period scores (Devils first): 3-1; 1-1 (4-2);
Penalties in minutes: Devils 11+7+2=20, Flames 9+27+4=40
Goalie: Ben Bowns
First line: Gleason Fournier, Mark Richardson, Sean Bentivoglio, Stephen Dixon, Matias Sointu.
Second line: Sam Jardine, Bryce Reddick, Charles Linglet, Mike McMonagle, Blair Riley.
Third line: Sean McMonagle, Mark Louis, Masi Marjamaki, Joey Haddad, Matt Pope.
Fourth line: Josh Batch, Matthew Myers, Sam Duggan.