Natick Native An ECAC Champion Fitzpatrick Went From Underdog To MVP Goaltender

Ken Hamwey, Staff Sports Writer
Keith with his grandson.
Issue Date: 
May, 2019
Article Body: 

Keith Fitzpatrick is a stunning example that good things come in small packages.
A native of Natick who now calls Bellingham home, the 60-year-old Fitzpatrick was a dynamic goalie when he played at Marian High and later at Bentley College. Competing at 5-foot-4 and a meager 160 pounds, the diminutive net-minder led Marian to a Central Catholic League title in 1975, then sparked Bentley to the Division 3 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship in 1980. For his heroics, which included 70 saves in the two-game playoff, he was selected as the tournament’s most-valuable player.
“Winning the ECAC championship and being chosen as the tourney MVP were great ways to end my college career,’’ said Fitzpatrick, who vividly recalls the euphoric moments after his MVP selection. “I was thrilled and amazed to win the award. I remember looking into the stands and seeing my parents. Later that day, I got to share the trophy with lots of Bentley alumni at a post-game party.’’
Always playing with a slight chip on his shoulder because of his small stature, Fitzpatrick relied on a variety of strengths in goal. He was aggressive, quick, instinctive and consistent, and it was those attributes that enabled him to compile countless saves in high school and college. His glove saves were a product of quick hands and his skate saves stemmed from the skills he learned playing at a young age on the ponds of Natick and in the town’s youth program (Natick Comets).
“I started playing hockey at age seven on Roundy Pond (adjacent to Natick Labs) and the Bog (near Walnut Hill School),’’ Fitzpatrick noted. “I was playing with older kids who wanted to skate, so I played goalie. I taught myself some skills but when I competed for the pee-wees and bantams in the Natick Comets program, that’s where coaches like Hal Garvey and Dick Frechette provided great instruction.’’
What followed was a successful career at Marian in Framingham. A three-year starter, Fitzpatrick helped the Mustangs go 11-3-1 his junior year and capture the CCL crown. “That was supposed to be a rebuilding year but we surprised our opponents,’’ Fitzpatrick noted. “My best game was a two-goal victory over Pope John of Everett. They were a powerhouse program but we upset them.’’
One of Fitzpatrick’s teammates at Marian was Natick’s Jay Miller, a strong, high-scoring forward who later played in the National Hockey League with Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers.
Knowing he wanted a business education, Fitzpatrick chose to attend Bentley College, even though the hockey team played at the club level. “I knew the school was going to start playing Division 3 hockey,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “I played as a reserve on the club team my freshman year but started my final three years when we competed in Division 3.’’
Fitzpatrick’s senior year at Bentley was dramatic. He was a prime contributor, helping the Falcons post a 15-6 overall record that qualified the college for tourney play. Bentley was seeded No. 3 and opened with second-seeded Wesleyan. Bentley rolled to a 4-1 upset triumph behind Fitzpatrick’s 30 saves. “I was nervous because they were the favorite,’’ he recalled. “But, we took a 2-0 lead and won on their home ice in Connecticut.’’
An added bonus came before the championship final against Rochester Institute of Technology. After defeating Wesleyan, the Bentley coaching staff ordered the bus driver to stop at a restaurant before heading back to Waltham. At Valley’s Restaurant in Hartford, the players noticed Bobby Hull, the legendary high-scoring forward of the Chicago Blackhawks. He was in his final year playing in the World Hockey Association for the Hartford Whalers.
“He was with his wife but he spent 15 minutes with us,’’ Fitzpatrick recalled. “He was great to talk with and I remember him saying that ‘it was cool’ for us to beat Wesleyan.’’
When the tourney’s championship game was played on Bentley’s home ice (Watertown rink), Fitzpatrick allowed six goals but his teammates fortunately matched that amount and forced overtime. Bentley won, 7-6, six minutes into the extra session.
“I made a key save in overtime when a scramble resulted in front of me,’’ he recalled. “I had 40 saves in what was a back-and-forth battle. Dave Langley scored the game-winner and he and I were teammates at Marian. I’ll always remember how packed the Watertown rink was and how exciting the last game of my career was.’’
There’s little doubt that 1980 was a good year for Fitzpatrick. He received the MVP award in the tourney and he also received his diploma. After graduation, he started a cleaning company, later worked as a bank auditor, and was in sales for a janitorial supply company.
The father of two adult children (Berkeley, 27, and Charlie 24), Fitzpatrick’s athletic philosophy was to compete to win and reach his potential. And, during his time in high school and college, he learned some valuable life lessons. “Sports helped me to be disciplined and hard-working,’’ he said. “And, I learned to overcome hurdles. Because of my lack of size, I competed with a slight edge. I saw myself as an underdog.’’
Fitzpatrick overcame that label when he ran cross-country for Marian for four years. He was the Mustangs No. 4 runner on teams that dominated the CCL. “I finished sixth in the State meet my senior year and Marian had four runners finish in the top 10,’’ he noted.
Fitzpatrick now may be viewed as a senior citizen but he hasn’t lost his desire to keep skating. After his collegiate days, he began playing adult hockey and he’s still competing in a league in Norfolk.
His days at Marian and Bentley were invigorating and filled with success but there’s a tint of sadness connected with Fitzpatrick’s past. Marian High closed last spring, ending the school’s lengthy run in academics and athletics.
“It’s sad that it’s closed now,’’ Fitzpatrick said. “I enjoyed playing there and forming great relationships. I got an excellent education and the fond memories will always remain.’’
There’s no doubt that Keith Fitzpatrick’s name will pop up often when Marian alums converge for reunions. He was an ultra successful goalie who proved that good things come in small packages.