"I couldn't believe it. I was in awe the whole time. He and his wife were completely first-class. One day he says, 'Hey, kid, if you want to take the car to take a girl on a date, the keys are hanging on the fridge.' The keys to his $180,000 Bentley! I was too scared. I borrowed his wife's Jeep instead."
He's no kid anymore. At times there have been rumblings of doubt in the dressing room, especially after the Islanders allowed backup goalie Jeff Hackett to go to the San Jose Sharks in the 1991 expansion draft, and Fitzpatrick subsequently relapsed. But his teammates now seem to view his continuing comeback with quiet approval. "A lot of people don't realize how acutely sick he was," says Pat Flatley, the Islanders' captain. "He has to fight every day. It's inspiring."
"Bumps and bruises go away in a few days," says Nylund. "Broken bones mend. Ligaments can be repaired. This is different. Fitzie has to live the rest of his life with this disease. It takes a lot of strength for him to play."
After a rough training camp, during which he suffered occasional flare-ups of pain and swelling, Fitzpatrick began this season as Healy's backup. He lost his first two starts, then beat the Hartford Whalers 4-2, making just 16 saves. "Before the illness, I sometimes faced 16 shots in a period," he says. "I see what my teammates are doing. I see the forwards taking hard checks to get the puck out of our zone. I see the defensemen going down to block shots that they don't necessarily have to block. It's encouraging to me that they care as much as they do."
Against the Devils, Fitzpatrick didn't really need the extra protection or the postgame ice bath. "Tonight," he said with satisfaction, "I think I'll have a hot one for a change."