The St. Louis Blues have a mixed bag of luck when it comes to goaltenders throughout their careers. While the bright lights of the NHL are still years away, Evan Fitzpatrick is off to a flying start.
When the St. Louis Blues drafted Evan Fitzpatrick, it drew a shoulder shrug from many fans and some groans from others. It was nothing wrong with the player himself, but more the philosophy of the Blues.
There are some NFL teams that always seem to draft a quarterback late, just to see if anyone ever clicks. The Blues seem to do that with goaltenders.
When Fitzpatrick was drafted, the Blues already had Jake Allen. They were about to sign Carter Hutton. St. Louis also had Ville Husso and Luke Opilka spread out through the ranks. The bottom line was the line was pretty long in front of Fitzpatrick.
During his first rookie camp at the St. Louis Mills, you could tell Fitzpatrick had the least experience. There was talent in there, but he looked spooked. He was not sharp and his movements were sloppy. He let in a couple soft goals that boiled down to having nerves.
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Much of that stayed in his game during his next junior season. With the Sherbrooke Phoenix, his numbers were bad that season. Right after being drafted he posted a 3.46 goals against average and an .899 save percentage while his team missed the playoffs.
Things did not get better in 2017-18. In 25 games with Sherbrooke it was 3.48 and .874. However, life gave Fitzpatrick a reprieve. He got traded to Acadie-Bathurst and his junior career took a direct about-face.
With the Titan he rolled with a 2.24 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. He was even better in the playoffs, with a 2.10 goals against and a .925 save percentage.
He helped the Titan clinch the QMJHL championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup. While some analysts had Acadie-Bathurst as an underdog in that tournament, the Titan kept rolling with Fitzpatrick backstopping them. Fitzpatrick went 3-1 over the course of the short tournament and only allowed 12 goals, six of which came in one high-octane game in the round-robin portion against Regina.
It would be Regina that would test Fitzpatrick again. After the host pulled the upset of fellow Blues prospect, Robert Thomas, in the semis, they would advance to the championship game against the Titan.
The Blues goaltending prospect was not about to be denied on this night though. He turned aside 28 shots, earning a shutout and the first ever Memorial Cup in Acadie-Bathurst history.
Showing wisdom beyond his years, Fitzpatrick was happier for the team than personal accolades.
"“When you look back on it, nobody’s really going to realize it was a 3-0 win,” he said to CBC following the victory. “It’s that the Titan won the Memorial Cup.”"
It was not just about the team, however. Despite the Titan dominating the first two periods, Regina and their captain, Sam Steel, had a huge push in the third period.
Steel almost tied the game after Fitzpatrick initially stopped a shot, but left a big rebound. Fitzpatrick pushed hard, back across the crease, and stoned Steel to preserve the shutout at that point.
Who knows if, or when, Fitzpatrick will ever suit up in the Blue Note for real. We’ll get more looks at him in the coming rookie camps and preseasons. However, developing a winning culture at a young age is never a bad thing.
Goaltenders, in particular, are odd creatures. If you can learn how to push through difficult playoff and tournament runs and come out the victor at a young age, it definitely helps on the mental side.
If nothing else, it is always good to see players associated with the organization do well. Maybe they never fully develop into NHL players, but it gives you a little bit of bragging rights at the other levels.
Additionally, it is good to see that Fitzpatrick earned this. He was not on some super team that poured goals in like water from a hose. He had to win plenty of games along the way. He earned this cup, along with his teammates.
Fitzpatrick came a long way from his Sherbrooke days, and I don’t mean in kilometers or miles traveled. He showed us why the Blues thought highly enough of him to draft in the 2016 second round. Now, he has a league championship and a Memorial Cup to parade around.