A large, white banner with “Fritz Nation” written with blue paint hangs from the stands of Norfolk Scope as the crowd chants, “Fritz, Fritz, Fritz!”
Norfolk Admirals’ Mitch Fritz, a 6-foot-7, 242-pound forward from Osoyoos, British Colombia, has become a fan favorite in Hampton Roads.
The reason is “probably the fighting,” Fritz said. “It’s in the southern area same as NASCAR. People like the crashes and I guess it’s the same kind of thing.”
Fritz’s uppercuts and jabs have gotten Admirals’ fans buzzing as he led the team in penalty minutes with 157 minutes in 73 games for the 2009-10 season. Fritz has established himself as an enforcer on the ice.
“I’ve been one my whole life,” the 30-year-old veteran of ten professional seasons said. “If that’s what I had to do to play, I was willing to do that. I wasn’t going to go out there and score 50 goals a year.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning, the parent club of the Norfolk Admirals, assigned Fritz to the Admirals Sept. 30. With the Admirals, Fritz has recorded two goals and six points.
Before joining Norfolk, Fritz spent most of the previous 2008-09 season with American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers while also making his National Hockey League debut with NHL’s New York Islanders.
“You have to be consistent,” Fritz said of playing in the NHL. “If you can’t keep it together every night, you aren’t going to get the opportunity to stay.”
He appeared in 20 games with the Islanders, compiling 42 penalty minutes, and in 36 games with the Sound Tigers, compiling 58 penalty minutes.
Fritz could only find one word to describe his first NHL appearance—“surreal.”
“It didn’t even feel like it happened,” Fritz said. “It was like a dream.”
In his NHL debut, Fritz reveled at the opportunity to best “the champ” at his own game. Fritz dropped gloves with Montreal Canadiens’ Georges Laraque at center ice in his second NHL game and first home game with the Islanders on Nov. 1, 2008 at the Nassau Coliseum. Fritz wrestled Laraque to the ice like a rag doll as he won his first NHL fight.
“I was lucky enough to be up against one of the toughest guys in the league,” Fritz said. “I had been waiting a long time to do it and it felt really good.”
Fritz has appeared in 343 career AHL games overall between the Norfolk Admirals, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Hartford Wolf Pack, Springfield Falcons, Worcester IceCats, Milwaukee Admirals, Saint John Flames, Hamilton Bulldogs, and Lowell Lock Monsters.
Fritz reached his 500th professional game on Dec. 5 at Hershey. Fritz has played in 547 professional games registering 68 points, 26 goals and 42 assists, and 1,616 penalty minutes overall.
Fighting is hard on the hands, shoulders, and wrists, according to Fritz. “You kind of get used to it,” Fritz said.
Fritz, nicknamed “Hurricane,” transforms into a different person off the ice. Being an enforcer “isn’t a personal trait,” Fritz said. “It’s not level with my character.”
Fritz won the Yanick Dupré Memorial Award as the AHL Man of the Year in 2005-06 for community involvement in Springfield, Mass. Fritz visited hospitals, helped with programs for single parents, and collected and donated food to local food banks within the community. Fritz considers community involvement to be important—especially with children.
“Anything to do with kids is awesome,” Fritz said. “They’re our future. If you can help mold them a little bit, that’s huge.”
Fritz remembers being one of those kids watching those hockey players when he was young. “I thought it was cool when they came by the schools or you saw them around the community,” Fritz said.
In the off-season, Fritz has continued to train both on and off the ice. He runs hills and stairs to stay conditioned. Fritz has found diet and exercise to become more important the older he gets.
“Your metabolism slows down, and you have to watch more of what you’re eating,” Fritz said. Fritz’s diet contains “lots of fruits and vegetables and proteins.”
Other than training, Fritz spends his spare time with friends and family. His hobbies include working on old cars, hiking, and hunting.
“I hunt everything,” Fritz said. “In the spring, I usually hunt black bears. In the fall, I hunt deer, moose, and elk. I am hoping to get hooked up with some deer hunting this fall.”
For the fall, Fritz will be back with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. The Lightning re-signed Fritz to a one-year, two-way contract on July 1.
“It’s good to have a job and know where you are heading in the fall,” Fritz said. “It had a lot to do with having such a good year in Norfolk. It’s not a bad place to be especially with the organization they have there.”
The Lightning have hired Steve Yzerman on May 25 to be the team's Vice President, General Manager and Alternate Governor.
“I think Steve Yzerman is such a great hockey person and he has been with a great organization for a long time,” Fritz said. “He knows what to do and what it’s going to take to win.”
The members of Fritz Nation are also looking forward to a good season at Norfolk Scope and for the opportunity to cheer “Fritz, Fritz, Fritz!” once again.