Posted: Thursday December 7, 2006 12:20PM; Updated: Thursday December 7, 2006 12:47PM
Fitzpatrick supporters are sprouting in the stands at Vancouver's General Motors Place. Your team's arena may be next.
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When the Boston Bruins inked free agent Zdeno Chara last summer, they expected their $7 million investment would buy them an All-Star. The Vancouver Canucks probably had somewhat more modest expectations when they signed blueliner Rory Fitzpatrick, a journeyman cast away by the Buffalo Sabres. Yet, for their $525,000, the Canucks might have bought an All-Star, too.
Not that Fitzpatrick is playing anywhere near the level of the world-class Chara. In fact, Fitzpatrick is not playing at all lately. The 31-year-old has been sidelined since breaking his ankle in a 2-1 win over Dallas on Nov. 6. But that hasn't stopped him from being the focus of an unlikely online campaign that has him on the brink of being voted into a starting role in next month's NHL All-Star Game in Dallas.
In the 16 games he has played for the Canucks, Fitzpatrick has shown himself to be nothing more than a determined plugger -- the kind of hard-working depth player whose efforts catch the eye of a certain group of fans in towns across the league.
In fact, it was the very ordinary and workmanlike way that Fitzpatrick goes about his job that grabbed the attention of Steven Schmid. Looking to promote an unheralded player, the Buffalo native masterminded an online effort (http://www.voteforrory.com/) to encourage hockey fans to bypass the Scott Niedermayers and Nick Lidstroms of the world and cast their ballots for Rory instead when they vote for the league's all-stars.
As crazy as it sounds, it's working.
It started off slowly, but Schmid's campaign has snowballed over the last 10 days. The most recent vote count, released by the NHL on Wednesday, revealed that -- unbelievably -- Fitzpatrick sits in fifth place among Western Conference blueliners with nearly 150,000 votes. He trails Niedermayer, Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Dion Phaneuf, but he is ahead of 2006 Norris Trophy finalist Sergei Zubov and Team Canada staples Rob Blake, Robyn Regehr and Scott Hannan.
Pretty impressive for a write-in candidate.
More impressive are the trends. Fitzpatrick led all Western Conference vote- getters during the last week -- by a healthy margin. Amazingly, at the rate he's gaining, a spot among the top two is within reach.
"If he gets in, he'd be living out a dream for all of us," Schmid told The Vancouver Province. "He wouldn't just be representing the Canucks. He would be representing all of us."