Tanner Fritz first made his move from Canada to Columbus as a 19-year-old freshman starting out his college hockey career with a dream of one day playing in the NHL. Five years later, he is as close as a player can get, holding down a roster spot in the American Hockey League.
Just months after completing his undergraduate career at Ohio State, Fritz was signed to the Missouri Mavericks, an East Coast Hockey League team affiliated with the New York Islanders. That move gave him his start playing at the professional level.
Then, in February, Fritz received the call from the American Hockey League to play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islander’s farm team, putting him just one league below his ultimate dream.
“I was playing good at the right time, and my coach in Missouri helped me a lot,” Fritz said.
Although professional hockey is his life now, there was a time when Fritz could not imagine playing at the level he is now.
“It was just something to do for fun,” he said, thinking of his childhood hockey outlook.
But after leaving Alberta, Canada, to play for the Buckeyes, his prospects of playing professionally became more and more realistic.
“I kind of realized that maybe this is something I could do for a living, and I’m kind of just living that dream right now and keeping at that,” Fritz said. “So hopefully all the hard work eventually pays off.”
Growing up the son of a Canadian oil-field worker in Grande Prairie, Alberta, and being the first to graduate from college in his family, Fritz knows about hard work and plans to spend time improving himself in order to reach the NHL level.
“Skating is definitely huge, the speed of the game obviously increases, so if I can be one of those quicker, stronger guys in there, it’s definitely going to benefit me,” Fritz said.
Although he is just one step below the world’s top hockey league, Fritz said he understands that not everyone can make it to that level of play and has set realistic goals for himself.
“I want to stay in North America for at least a couple years, to try, you know, my best to make the NHL, but if it doesn’t happen in like two or three years, I’d probably try go over to Europe,” Fritz said.
A self-proclaimed “family guy,” Fritz said he has also thought of starting his own hockey school back home in Grande Prairie if he is unable to make it in the NHL.
Described by a former OSU teammate as someone who places his team first, he still makes an effort to look out for his friends, even though he is no longer their captain.
“He’s watched the Buckeyes a couple times, and every time we play, whether it’s on Big Ten Network or something like that, he’s trying to always give me input or saying, ‘Hey man, I watched,’” said OSU senior defenseman Craig Dalrymple, who played alongside Fritz as a Buckeye for three years.
Even in his collegiate career, his teammates saw his talent as a leader, especially when he served as captain of the Buckeyes his senior year.
“You need guys like him on your team,” said another former teammate, senior forward Anthony Greco. “Obviously he was a good leader for us his senior year … He was never about himself; he was always about everybody else in the locker room.”
Fritz, who graduated with a degree in sports management, also said he would consider coming back to set up permanent residence in the city he made his home for four years.
“If I could ever get back to Ohio State in some kind of coaching role or any kind of role like that, it would be awesome,” Fritz said. “I loved my time there.”