Crest teen travels far and wide to pursue hockey passion

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sam-fitzpatrick Five days a week, Sam Fitzpatrick is awakened by an alarm clock that goes off at 5:30 a.m. He hustles out of his Wildwood Crest home by 6 a.m. for the long trek to St. Augustine Prep, arriving at the Richland campus at about 7:15 a.m. School finishes at 2:50 p.m.

That’s kind of a long day already.

But this time of year, Fitzpatrick’s day isn’t even half finished when the bell rings after the final period of school on most days.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Fitzpatrick and his teammates on the ice hockey team at St. Augustine Prep take about a 30-minute drive from school to Mt. Laurel for a one-hour practice session. Fitzpatrick then hangs out at the rink in Mt Laurel or heads to a restaurant nearby to eat dinner and somehow gets some homework completed before participating in another practice for his club team, the Igloo Jaguars, at either 7 or 8 p.m. Then, it’s the close to 1 ½-hour trip home to Wildwood Crest, sometimes ending his day at close to midnight.

Game days produce a similar, seemingly never-ending, daylong schedule.

Fitzpatrick, a 16-year-old junior, is a goalie for St. Augustine Prep and his Jaguars team. He shares time with senior Dillon Gaberstein for the Hermits but is the primary starter for the Jaguars.

Last week, Fitzpatrick made 29 saves on 31 shots as St. Augustine earned its first win of the season with a 5-2 victory over Seton Hall Prep. The Hermits entered this week at just 1-6, but all six defeats have come against teams ranked among the top 20 in the state by the Newark Star-Ledger.

Fitzpatrick first began in the sport by playing street hockey, before switching to the ice version as a sixth-grader when he first joined the Jaguars. He joined the club ice hockey team at St. Augustine Prep as a freshman and now juggles school, two ice hockey teams and lots of long commutes in between. Between the Jaguars and St. Augustine, Fitzpatrick’s teams play more than 80 games each year combined. His season with the Jaguars begins in August and doesn’t finish until at least late February. St. Augustine Prep’s season runs from December through March.

Games and tournaments with the Jaguars team are held mostly on weekends, while the Prep team plays the majority of its games on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“I love it,” Fitzpatrick says. “I just think it’s fun. I think about all the friends I’ve met over the years. It’s so competitive, and that’s what makes it fun. I love the pressure, too. That’s why I picked goalie, because of the pressure. I like to put that on myself.”

All the long drives Fitzpatrick has endured to play ice hockey pale in comparison to the trip he’ll take this weekend. Today (Thursday), he and his teammates on the Midget Minor AA Jaguars are traveling to New Market, Ontario, Canada, located near Toronto, for the International Silver Stick Championship tournament. Fitzpatrick’s Jaguars team qualified for the tournament by winning a regional Silver Stick event in Columbia, Md., in late November. Should his team reach the championship game late Sunday afternoon, Fitzpatrick estimates he won’t make it back to Wildwood Crest until the wee hours of Monday morning.

The commitment to play ice hockey isn’t just Fitzpatrick’s. His parents, Tim and Lisa, who are the proprietors of the Crest Tavern in Diamond Beach, obviously have a lot invested as well, in terms of money for equipment and team fees as well as the time it takes to shuttle their son to the places he needs to be for school, practice and games.

“I give them a lot of credit,” Fitzpatrick says. “I played basketball and baseball just like everybody else when I was younger but when I made the decision to play ice hockey they really supported me. Everything I’ve wanted to do with hockey, they’ve been behind me 100 percent. When I first started the closest rink was in Vineland, about 45, 50 minutes away, and now that’s closed and we have to go even farther. It takes a lot of my time and a lot of their time as well. But they’ve given me every opportunity.”

Fitzpatrick, who manages to carry a 92 average as a student at the Prep and has scored 1,670 on his first try at the SAT, is hoping to play ice hockey in college, although he hasn’t gotten serious about looking at particular schools just yet.

“I’d love to play in college,” Fitzpatrick says. “But I still want to finish out my Prep season and my Jaguars’ season and focus on that right now. We have a lot of potential this season with both teams.”

And, especially for Fitzpatrick, a lot more travel on the horizon as well.

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