Glasgow Clan’s decision to part ways with head coach Zack Fitzgerald is one of those where you’re not entirely surprised but disappointed at the same time.
‘Fitzy’ is one of the most popular players the Clan have ever had in their 10-year history so the announcement that he won’t be returning is one that will disappoint a lot of people.
As a player, you would always want to play with a guy like him. Even as a fan, you would want to be wearing the same colours because if there’s a definition of team-orientated, it’s Zack Fitzgerald and he always had your back.
The transition to the bench has proved to be somewhat trickier for him as Clan’s results from what was 2019/20 showed. He had a great start, equalling a club record of eight straight wins, but after that, it got more and more difficult.
That’s where the lack of surprise comes in with this decision and who knows, if injury hadn’t robbed Clan of certain key members of their team at various times, it could have been a different story. Maybe that kind of luck could be basis for an argument to stay on. That’s all it is now. A ‘what if’.
Bob Westerdale, the Sheffield Star writer, in an interview I did with him for the Clan Chat podcast told me: “If a player can’t get themselves up to play for Zack Fitzgerald, then they shouldn’t be playing the game.”
That said it all for me about Fitzy and imagining the sort of guy he was at practice and in the locker room. As Sheffield Steelers, who he also played for, can testify, he was a motivator and a positive influence. Most importantly, a leader.
There’s no doubt he’ll be a miss for the Clan as they look to start another new era and his attitude to the game is infectious for anyone who has been in his company, myself included.
The post game interviews were never an issue and Zack would always speak and be honest about his team’s performance, but there were times when you detected that in the immediate aftermath of a loss, there was a little self doubt.
By that I mean in terms of anything he could have done differently in the game, which probably isn’t the best time to think that way.
But he did always seek to improve and despite this disappointment, in the fullness of time, he’s the sort of guy who’ll look upon his experience in positive terms.
Where do Clan go from here? In my opinion, I would like to see another coach last beyond one campaign, as I’m sure many others do. I thought Fitzy was that man, but that won’t be the case so thoughts now turn to who can take the team on.
As we still isolate during this Covid-19 pandemic, there are still so many things remaining unclear, like if we’ll even have a season to look forward to, but in the prism of Glasgow Clan, who do they turn to now?
Do they turn to experienced Elite League winners like Doug Christiansen, who won it with Belfast Giants in 2012, currently with Indy Fuel in the ECHL?
Would Paul Thompson, the former Coventry Blaze and Sheffield Steelers title winner, fancy another crack at the EIHL after some time in Germany with Schwenninger Wild Wings?
Like Fitzgerald, is there a player ready to step off the ice and take his first job with the Clan, whether that’s in the Clan team or elsewhere across the Elite League?
Or will we see a brand new face come in from abroad? Personally, I’m inclined to favour experience and I think someone like Thompson would be a standout candidate in that regard and would tick many boxes, if that was Clan’s inclination.
His record stands out, not just in the UK and his experience of coaching in Sweden, Denmark and Germany means someone with a wealth to offer a new club perhaps looking to go in a new direction.
For now – and on a personal note – it’s been a pleasure working with Zack and I hope he shrugs this disappointment off and flourishes elsewhere. What I can say with great certainty is, he will be missed in UK hockey circles.