The Hartford Wolf Pack won both of their first two shootouts this season, and the man who scored the shootout-ending goals both times was a bit of an unlikely hero.
Rookie forward Steven Fogarty was chosen as the Wolf Pack’s shootout “anchorman”, sent out as the team’s third shooter, despite his having scored only one non-shootout goal, and both times he delivered, earning the Wolf Pack a pair of much-needed standings points.
According to Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander, Fogarty’s number being called in the shootout was as a result of acumen he had showed on the practice ice.
“It was something we had practiced after one day, Patty (Assistant coach/Assistant GM Pat Boller) had stayed out extra with the goalies,” Gernander said. “The goalies themselves wanted to work on the shootout, and oftentimes you take a younger kid to get them some shots, and he (Fogarty) was really good. So it was brought to our attention and we said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it.’”
Fogarty himself was pleasantly surprised to be chosen in that big spot.
“I didn’t really play in the overtime at all,” the former University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish said. “It’s funny, because the day before the first one, Patty stayed on the ice and we were doing shootouts, and I was doing pretty well. So I had a thing in the back of my mind, maybe I’ll get a chance, but it was nice.”
Once he got the call, Fogarty relished the pressure of having the game on his stick, despite never before having taken part in a high-level shootout in his hockey career.
“You don’t really want it any other way,” he said. “To have a chance to win a game for your team is huge at any level, and it’s just nice to have that opportunity.
“We work on them (shootouts) after practice and whatnot, and the goalies like to do it too. So I’ve been practicing on them, and once I got that first one, I just kind of stuck with it, did the same move, and it was nice to help the team get two wins.”
His solid finishes in the shootout certainly indicate that Fogarty, who has served the Wolf Pack as the team’s fourth-line center, possesses significantly more offensive skill than his early numbers would indicate. Gernander is far less concerned about that, though, than he is impressed with how well Fogarty’s overall game is coming along.
“It’s not always about offensive production,” the Wolf Pack bench boss said. “I look at the growth he’s shown, even just one-fourth of the way into the season. We’re starting to use him on five-on-three (penalty) kills, taking big draws, blocking shots, he’s played a little bit more physical lately. He’s taken great steps in a lot of areas, and sometimes the offensive part is the last to come around.
“Even if you go back to his amateur numbers, that isn’t necessarily where his bread was buttered, on the offensive side of things. But I think he’s got more offense than he’s showed, in his past history, because he’s got a real good shot, he’s got good hockey sense from the defensive side of the puck. So it should translate on the offensive side as well. I like what I’ve seen so far.”
And regardless of how much Fogarty does, or doesn’t, score, a big (6-3, 215) centerman who can win faceoffs and play well in his own zone is an important commodity in the NHL ranks.
“That’s a great jumping-off point,” Gernander said, “and given his shot and his hockey sense, I think there are some offensive numbers there, just waiting to come to the forefront.”
Fogarty seems to be thinking along the same lines.
“Just stick with it, stay patient,” he said, when asked about his offensive mindset. “I’m getting chances and shots, so hopefully one day it’ll start going in. I’m sticking with it, just playing my role and helping the team do whatever I can.”
And if he feels frustration setting in, Fogarty hearkens back to the guidance he received from his college coach, Jeff Jackson, during his four seasons in South Bend.
“I still keep in touch with him, and he always says, ‘Offense gets you there, but defense keeps you there,’” Fogarty said of Jackson. “And that’s something I’ve taken pride in. I‘ve been put in a defensive role at Notre Dame, and here a little bit too, but I was drafted as an offensive player and I have that ability in me. It’s just a matter of getting that out and helping the team, contribute a little bit more offensively. It’s nice to be able to know that I can play defense and know what to do in my own zone, but the best defense is a good offense. So I just want to stick to that motto and just keep getting better.
“Despite our tough stretch there, I think we’re playing some pretty good hockey right now. I’ve been fairly happy with the way I’ve been playing. I’d like to contribute a little bit more offensively, but I think I’ve adapted well. Just the speed and strength of everyone is definitely an adjustment, but I feel like every day I’m getting better. The coaches have been doing well working with me and the older guys have been great. It’s been a great experience, and hopefully we’re on the rise as far as winning some more games.”
Two of those “older players” are Fogarty’s recent wingers on the fourth line, seventh-year pro Philip McRae and third-year man Matt Carey. Like Fogarty, those are two bigger players who work well down low in the offensive zone, and Fogarty likes the chemistry on the line.
“I think we’ve been doing well, I think we work off each other,” he said. “And Mac (McRae), he’s been playing center all season and just switched to wing, I think he’s done a great job. We’ve been doing well, having a lot of O-zone (offensive zone) time, and that’s what you want out of your fourth line, just to get energy and play with the puck. Hopefully we’ll get rewarded a little bit more here.
“Any time you’re playing with older guys, and they both played in the NHL at one point, it’s helpful, and if you have any questions you feel free to ask them, and they’ll say a few pointers every now and again. They’ve been great.”
Playing the middle is a big responsibility in all three zones, and the faceoff aspect is another consistent challenge. Fogarty played center in college as well, but has found it a different ballgame to be going against pro players in the faceoff circle.
“Faceoffs are definitely harder, guys are so strong and so good at them,” the Edina, Minnesota-bred Fogarty said. “It’s something I take pride in, it’s fun to get thrown out there for a D-zone (defensive zone) draw and realize that they’re relying on you to win that draw. It’s something that I take pride in, and faceoffs are something you can always work on. We do a lot of work after practice and before games, so as long as we keep doing that, we should have success.”
Faceoffs are only one element of making the leap from Hockey East to the pros, and Fogarty has found that transition to be a big jump.
“The guys are so much more talented and smarter,” he said. “In college hockey there’s a lot of dumping it in, and it’s just kind of run-and-gun, but here guys are making plays and you’ve got to be aware out there. It’s been a good adjustment, Hockey East definitely helped with everything, and my coaching staff at Notre Dame too. I just look to get better every day.”
It has been five years since Fogarty’s draft day back in 2011, when he was chosen in the third round by the Wolf Pack’s parent club, the New York Rangers. He was still a year away from starting his college career then, but the long road to starting his pro career has made the experience that much sweeter.
“It’s been a long time, definitely,” Fogarty acknowledged. “I still remember that (draft) day pretty clearly, but I played a year in Juniors and four years in college. It’s been a while, but the organization’s been great, going to development camps every summer and finally turning pro. It’s been a great experience for me, a dream come true, and I’m just riding with it right now.”