By Andrew MENDLER: Bonnyville Nouvelle
A highlight-reel goal scored in Lloydminster, which was plastered on Sportscentre all across North America, will be one of the many ways Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs fans remember Mitch Fritz.
“I never really had something like that on my bucket list, but I guess I can cross it off now,” said Fritz from his hometown of St. Cloud, MN.
The Pontiacs were trailing 2-0 in Game 5 of the North Division semifinals in Lloydminster when the 20-year-old, gritty forward found a loose puck back behind the Lloydminster goal. With no defender in sight he pulled a lacrosse style move, picking the puck up on his stick blade and stuffing it top corner, all while standing behind the net.
“It was just one of those things I didn’t think too much about. I fiddled with it in practice,” said Fritz.
He attempted the move earlier in the season in Brooks and again at home, having the puck fall off his blade mid-move on both occasions.
It wasn’t until a crucial road game in the playoffs in which he successfully pulled it off.
“I got more consistent with it. I just had the opportunity to try it out and luckily it worked out.”
Along with making headlines across the country, the goal also helped Fritz prove to the organization that an earlier investment was worthwhile.
Fritz had been arguing all season with team officials to buy wax, which the players use to help the puck stick to their stick blade.
“In the old days we never had to use wax. What is wrong with you guys and when are you ever going to need the wax?” said Bonnyville head coach Rick Swan recalling a conversation with Fritz.
“I asked ‘When are you ever going to use that in a game?’ And sure enough Mitch scores a highlight-reel goal that goes nation wide (because of that wax).”
The goal will go down as one of the many memorable moments in Fritz’s two-year stint with the Bonnyville Pontiacs, which officially came to a close on April 5.
Fritz came to Bonnyville after four seasons with St. Cloud Cathedral in the super competitive Minnesota State High School Hockey League.
Unsure of where he was going to go after college Fritz played in a large tournament in Toronto, ON. It was at this event where Pontiacs brass Rick Swan and Larry Draper found him and convinced him to come north to Bonnyville.
“You can imagine we are in an arena setting, there are eight teams playing on the four rinks around us and we are trying explain to Troy Fritz (Mitch’s father) where this Bonnyville, AB is,” said Swan.
“We knew that somehow we had to figure out how we could get Mitch to Bonnyville.”
Fritz arrived in the fall of 2013 and worked his way onto the Pontiacs squad after a tough training camp.
In his first season he notched five goals and 12 assists while suiting up in 43 games.
Offseason departures in 2014 resulted in Fritz getting a bigger role with the team in his second season serving as one of the team’s assistant captains.
The leadership role didn’t phase him as he broke through scoring 16 goals and 27 assists for 43 points in 54 games. The numbers completely annihilated those amassed in his rookie season.
Then came the playoffs, a run that saw Fritz step up and score four big goals over the course of the team’s three-round, 15-game run to the North Division Final.
“It was crazy the amount of fan support that we had during the playoffs,” said Fritz. “It was so much fun.”
Along with scoring twice Lloydminster, Fritz also potted a goal in Spruce and notched one at home to ignite the RJ Lalonde faithful.
He finished the postseason with four goals and two assists, dressing in all 15 playoff games.
“There were times when we scored and you couldn’t even hear the person next to you,” said Fritz. “Everybody’s expressions and looking into the stands and seeing how excited the fans were; it was unbelievable.”
With his Jr. A career now firmly in the rearview mirror, Fritz will now be making the jump to the NCAA for the 2015-16 season to play for the St. Johns University Johnnies.
The liberal arts school is located 20 minutes outside of his hometown of St. Cloud, and boasts a Division III hockey team that regularly places among the top teams in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“I grew up going to hockey games, football games and just being on campus quite a bit,” said Fritz. “My dad and uncles all went to school there. It is a great school. People here exceed athletically as well as academically. I knew it was going to be a good choice.”
Fritz is the 16th Pontiac player to advance to the college level since 2014. He is one of nine players to land an NCAA scholarship and move on to playing college hockey in the United States.
“I am extremely excited about Mitch and the opportunity that he earned to play for Saint John's University,” said Swan. “He has worked extremely hard over the past two seasons and has had numerous NCAA offers and Saint John's is getting a great culture individual. Mitch is extremely committed on and off the ice and gives 100 per cent to everything he undertakes.”