Victoria Grizzlies hope to have Leo Fitzgerald back against Clippers

The Victoria Grizzlies are anxiously awaiting the return of Leo Fitzgerald to the lineup, but no one is more antsy than the slick 20-year-old himself.

Having played in just three games this season (he dressed for a fourth, but was forced out before it started), Leo might make his reappearance tonight in Nanaimo as the Island Division and league-leading Grizzlies take on the Clippers at Frank Crane Arena at 7 p.m.

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Out due to a groin injury since Sept. 13, Leo was hoping to join the Grizzlies’ triplet line, reuniting with brothers Gerry and Myles. He was cautiously optimistic at practice Tuesday and would judge how he feels today.

“I’m hoping to be back,” he said cautiously. “I plan on playing, but I really don’t know at this point. I’m going to go hard [Tuesday] and see how it goes.”

The annoyance and pain of missing out is there for all to see as Fitzgerald doesn’t hide his emotions.

“I have never been so frustrated in all my life, and stressed about not being able to play hockey most of the season,” he admitted. “I have people asking me almost every day when I’m going to be back and it’s getting hard on me.

“I thought I would have been back by now, but it’s just one of those injuries that takes time,” said Fitzgerald, who has tinkered with returns on several occasions, only to suffer setbacks. “You can’t come back too soon.

“I hope I’m back for it [tonight]. I might just have to play through the pain. I can still feel it and, obviously, that’s not a good sign.”

Especially with what he brings to the team. Fitzgerald had three points in the three games played this season and that average still remains fourth highest on the team behind brothers Gerry (1.5 points per game) and Myles (1.4) and Jesse Schwartz (1.3), who has taken his place on the No. 1 line.

“Watching him skate this week in practice, he’s looked good,” Didmon said of Leo. “He’s a solid hockey player and to bring in a player of his capabilities is a great move for post Jan. 10 [the B.C. Hockey League roster deadline].

“He’s a point-per-game player in this league,” added Didmon. “He mixes in well with his brothers, which brings in a threat, and it allows us to spread out our depth.”

If Leo returns, that would likely move Schwartz to a line with Garrett Forster and recently acquired Travis Stephens as Victoria goes for its sixth straight victory tonight. The Grizzlies — who are tied for first overall with Langley and Penticton, but have three games in hand on Langley — have lost just once in their last nine outings.

Their 27-9-3-2 record obviously makes it easier for Leo to watch, but not much.

“It’s hard because I want to join that winning team,” stressed Leo, who had 50 points in 52 games last season. “I want to win games with them and have fun playing hockey in my last year of Junior.”

IN THE DEN: Goalie Nic Renyard is due back from injury tonight and could draw in against the Clippers. … The Grizzlies raised roughly $10,000 (through ticket sales, donations and bottle collection) on Happy Day last Saturday for Hannah Day and her family and will continue to provide $5 of each ticket sold for the remaining nine home games to the four-year-old who is battling cancer. The team plays host to Prince George and Powell River on Friday and Saturday night at Bear Mountain Arena.

mannicchiarico@timescolonist.com

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