📝 by Alex Thomas | AHL On The Beat
Hartford Wolf Pack forward Tanner Fritz is no stranger to the grind of the American Hockey League.
Fritz, who played his 300th AHL game earlier this year, has enjoyed a season to remember. His second year in Hartford, on the other side of the “Battle of Connecticut,” has led to a career year on the ice and an important role off of it.
Through 65 games, Fritz has set totaled 33 assists and 43 points, career highs for the eighth-year pro who spent six seasons in Bridgeport before joining the Wolf Pack in 2021.
“First thing is probably that I’ve been healthy mostly all season so that has helped me just stay in a rhythm,” Fritz said. “I’ve also played with some really good players this season and that has made it easier to produce offensively.”
Fritz has been the center on a line with veteran Anton Blidh, acquired by the New York Rangers at the trade deadline, and second-year winger Lauri Pajuniemi for the last stretch of games. Hartford won its seventh game in a row on Saturday night, clinching a berth in the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs.
While that trio has been strong offensively, they’ve also held their own when it comes to two-way play. In fact, Hartford’s entire lineup has been strong over the full 200 feet recently. The club is outscoring opponents 32-9 on its current winning streak.
“I think we’ve become a complete team this second half,” Fritz said. “The first half we were inconsistent in a lot of areas of the game but now we’re playing solid 200-foot hockey which has led to some success at the right time. Every guy in our room wants to win and it shows in our play this last month.”
Fritz is no different than his teammates: He too wants to win. Despite playing in 325 career AHL regular season games, he’s only appeared in three Calder Cup Playoff games, all during the spring of 2016. Fritz is ready to return to the postseason and make more memories with a new group seven years later.
“Every player plays the game to make the playoffs,” Fritz said. “That’s where the fun and memories are made. It’s been unfortunate that I only have three playoff games because I’ve played on some good teams in the past. But for this group, I believe we can make a deep run. We have a lot of good players in our room and guys that care about winning so I’m looking forward to the chance to play some playoff hockey.”
Personal success and team success on the ice aren’t the only things Fritz strives for. He strives to give back, too. On March 31, the Wolf Pack hosted a Sensory Friendly Night at the XL Center, with softer music played at lower volumes, a lower goal horn, a sensory activity area and more. This was done in conjunction with the Miracle League of Connecticut, and Fritz played a key role in making it all happen.
He was even joined pregame by his wife, Brandy, and son, Emmett, for the ceremonial puck drop before the Wolf Pack’s 5-0 victory over Providence.
“It was a game I will always remember,” Fritz said. “To be able to be a part of something like that was truly special. To give back to the Miracle League and the kids is something that means a lot to me and my family. With our experience of having a kid with special needs we know what other families are going through and to be lucky enough to get a chance to give back is such a rewarding experience for us.”
Fritz is hoping this won’t be a one-off, either. It’s something he has always wanted to do, and something he hopes to continue doing beyond this year.
“I just always want to give back and help out in any way I can,” said Fritz. “When you go through all of this with your own family, sometimes you can feel alone in your situation and a lot of people can’t relate to you. When you get involved with these groups that are in similar situations you meet so many great families and you become grateful to just be a part of it.
“In the future I would love to continue working with kids with special needs and help out as much as possible. The feeling you get giving back is truly special and I’m thankful to be in the situation where I can do that. I know everyone involved with Miracle League was extremely happy and thankful with how the game went. For myself and my family, we look forward to being involved with them for years to come and helping out in any way we can.”
Between a career year, a return to the playoffs and a lasting relationship with the Miracle League of Connecticut, it’s safe to say Fritz has been a key cog both on and off the ice in the Connecticut capital.