Simmsy column: why all kids (and dads) love Zack

Zack Fitzgerald - Sheffield Steelers' Mr Popularity
Zack Fitzgerald - Sheffield Steelers' Mr Popularity

On game nights myself and club photographer Dean Woolley are the last two people to leave the Sheffield Arena.

It’s often midnight before we close the door behind us. That was until this season, now Dean and I have competition.

The Fitzgeralds, Zack and his wife Crys. They are but they are running us close. Last Sunday I came out of the media room into the normally empty corridor and there was Crys sat on the floor all on her own, waiting for husband Fitzy, the last player to leave the dressing room. In fact by the time he went for his shower the rest of the team had departed.

After every post game players either go for signing sessions on concourse level or go into the sponsors lounge for interviews, a few autographs and photos. Except when Fitzy goes in the room everyone wants a piece of the big man.

I thought I would never see a man work a room like Ron Shudra, he was brilliant. Shudra had presence, the X-factor that the ladies just loved.

Now I’m not being funny, Fitzy is no George Clooney, his smile shows a gapping hole where he has missing teeth and his look frightens rather than excites me. Zack, though, controls the room, the kids are drawn to him, the Dads want to be him and the Moms just stand opened mouthed – which isn’t a great look but you get my point.

Kids hug him as thought he’s Santa on skates.

Old time Steeler fans love to talk of the past “all those characters” they say. Well let me tell you the Steelers have the biggest character on and off the ice in the Elite League. On the ice Fitzgerald has been a revelation. Sure we knew he was tough and he has already proved that. What we didn’t realise was just how good a player the big man was. He shuts down other teams forwards, that big body of his gets peppered with shots as he blocks big blasts every night.

So Zack is the real deal. On the ice that guy you want to be. Off the ice, that bloke you want to be mates with. Kids should have role models and Fitzy is as good as they come. You want your kids to stand up to bullies in the play ground just like Fitzy stands up to those who try and bully the Steelers.

So it looks like Dean and I will have a premanent new friend in Crys Fitzgerald waiting with us in the club’s media room post games from now on because her husband’s popularity is getting bigger by the week.

We say it every week but a huge weekend lies ahead for in this ultra competitive Elite league. The long trip to Fife on Saturday means a 6am arrival back in Sheffield for the team ahead of Sundays 5pm face off against the Belfast Giants. Due to the bridge closure in Scotland the Steelers will travel to Scotland on Friday afternoon to be as prepared as possible for the game.

Fitzgerald I am sure will be a focal point on Sunday, he may end up squaring off against his adversary from last season – Matt Nickerson. The two have already clashed for their new sides earlier this year, expect more fireworks again.

Steelers released Chris Lawrence in the week. He was quickly signed up by his former team the Nottingham Panthers on another short term contract. With Guillaume Desbiens arriving and Colton Fretter back to fitness, there was no place for him. Lawrence is a good man and did the Steelers a terrific short term job, we wish him well.

Tyler Plante edges closer and closer to full fitness, in time for this weekend? Who knows. It’s day-by-day says head coach Paul Thompson.

The Steelers have twice beaten, with Plante between the pipes, the Belfast Giants in Sheffield this year. Can they make it three out of three on Sunday? With big Fitzy stood patrolling the arena you wouldn’t bet against them.