The last time the Florida Panthers won a game in Toronto was the night defenseman-turned-forward Mark Pysyk recorded his first career hat trick back in 2020.
The Panthers are back in Toronto tonight and Fitzgerald has no such lofty dreams.
He just wants to play.
”It is definitely an adjustment,” said Fitzgerald, who is the Panthers’ first hybrid player since Joel Quenneville struck gold by pulling Pysyk off the healthy-scratch heap and placed him on the fourth line in the early going of the 2019-20 season.
”But it is good to be able to be able to play both positions, to have that in my repertoire. Being able to do both is valuable and it is nice to have the faith of the coaches in me to switch me in during games like that. It’s nice just to be able to help.”
With the Panthers dealing with extreme roster issues due to their salary cap issues, they have experimented with Fitzgerald in similar fashion.
The results have not been as good nor the chances as frequent.
While Pysyk ended up becoming a regular in the Florida lineup again, Fitzgerald has played in just four games since being claimed off waivers from the Sabres in January.
And, unlike Pysyk, Fitzgerald has actually played some forward in his professional career before being used in that spot by the Panthers.
Fitzgerald, as coach Paul Maurice points out, played some while he was with Buffalo’s AHL team in Rochester.
“The first shift was very strange,” Fitzgerald said. “But then the second, I was like ‘OK, I know what I am doing here.’ But it is different. I did play forward before, but I have never gone back-and-forth like this. I played a full period at one, then a period at the other.”
The Panthers have not used Fitzgerald very much since acquiring him but it appears he is going to be here at least through the end of the season.
The team told him he could get his own place — he recently moved out of Matthew Tkachuk’s home and got an apartment nearby.
Fitzgerald has obviously strong ties to the organization as he is cousins with Tkachuk and is Colin White’s former teammate at Boston College.
He is also the son of Panther Royalty as he was born in Boca Raton when dad Tom was playing for the team.
Tom Fitzgerald, now the general manager of the New Jersey Devils, is an original member of the Panthers.
The Fitzgeralds are just the second father/son duo to suit up for the Panthers, Cory and Riley Stillman are the others.
“He got all excited about it,” Casey said of his father upon joining the Panthers in January.
“He called me and told me how proud of he was of me and how it has gone full circle. My mom was a little more emotional about it … it holds a special place in her heart and she was super emotional and really happy for me.”
When Pysyk was playing forward with the Panthers, one of the things he said he had to get straight in his head was the flipping back-and-forth.
On 5-on-5 and power play, Pysyk was a forward; on the penalty kill, he went back to being a defenseman.
Fitzgerald has also had to flip a few times with the Panthers, starting on a defensive pairing at times and then sliding up to the fourth forward line.
Whatever it takes to get on the ice, right?
”This is the National Hockey League so you have to keep your head on a swivel all the time especially when you are switching positions mid-game,’’ Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t matter what I know about both positions, it is a switch so you have to make the mental adjustments.
“You go into ‘what job do I have tonight? What am I doing as a forward versus a D?’ Defense is obviously more comfortable but I have been able to get some reps. Whenever I can get in and help the boys, I am going to do it.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
- When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Toronto leads 2-0): Maple Leafs 5, Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17); Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 2 (Mar. 23)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Toronto leads 47-35-7, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday at Montreal Canadiens, 7 p.m.