New England Roots

Former NHL player Tom Fitzgerald on growing up in Billerica, Tom Glavine the hockey player and more

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( Predators)

Tom Fitzgerald spent 18 seasons in the NHL and played for seven different teams, including the Islanders, Panthers, Avalanche, Predators, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs and Bruins.

The 49-year-old Billerica native is the assistant general manager for the Devils. He played his collegiate hockey at Providence College and he’s now watching two of his four sons embark on their professional careers.

He recently spoke with about his career and what it was like growing up in Billerica, why he’s not a fan of Fenway Park and the reason he’s never been to a Patriots game.

Joe McDonald: You grew up in Billerica but started playing youth hockey in Charlestown, what was that like?

Fitzgerald: I played my Mites there, three years of Mites. I was living in Billerica but driving back and forth. Then my last year of Mites, I transitioned into Billerica Youth Hockey.

(Playing youth hockey) was really the 10 best years, the funniest years I’ve had. The group of kids I grew up with, I played with them every year. Your friendships grew and you had an abundance of teammates, but it was great.

Billerica’s a great hockey town. I said this when I was playing for the Bruins, my dream growing up was to play for Billerica High School, because that’s who I watched growing up. Sure, you went to your one Bruins game a year, and that was special, and hockey was special back then because of the Bobby Orr era, of course, and that’s all we knew. There weren’t many rinks and you practiced once a week and you played one game a weekend. If you were lucky, the A’s split with the B teams and you got an extra sheet of ice and that was it. I didn’t play spring hockey. I played baseball and in the fall I played football and soccer. I went to my one summer hockey camp right before tryouts and tryouts were be right after Labor Day. I went to the U-Lowell hockey camp with Billy Riley and that was my summers.

It was disappointing not going to Billerica High because I wanted other little kids to watch me play like I watched the Arnolds, or the Jenkins’. I was crushed my 8th-grade year going into high school the head coach asked my dad, ‘He’s coming, right?’ My dad told him, ‘I don’t think so. His mother wants him to go to Austin Prep.’ It was my dad that actually wanted me to go. I was going to play on the first line at Billerica with Tommy Glavine and I was so disappointed – no knock on Austin Prep. By the end of my Austin Prep days it was special. I talked about youth hockey and 10 kids from Billerica were on our state championship team that I grew up playing with from Mites through our senior year in high school, including my brother and that was really special.

McDonald: Youth sports have completely changed, but how would you describe the relationships you still have with those kids you played with in youth hockey?

Fitzgerald: They’re all my best friends. We were in each other’s weddings, so it really is a special group. Those are friendships you’re always going to have, and to this day, it’s something I cherish. My dad would always say, ‘Don’t ever forget where you came from.’ That’s something I’ve held strong to. I may have played pro hockey for a living, but I’m just a normal guy that likes to have a beer with everybody else – away from the rink.

McDonald: You mentioned Glavine, what type of player would he have been if he decided to stick with hockey and not baseball?