Mark Fitzpatrick came to the Islanders as a highly-touted goalie prospect and quicky established himself as a fiery NHL-caliber netminder. But right before the 1990-91 season, the 21-year-old found himself in a Los Angeles hospital with swollen hands and arms, and feet the size of footballs. Even when doctors were able to name his ailment as a rare blood disease called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome or EMS, Fitzpatrick’s frightening and frustrating ordeal to reclaim his playing career was just beginning.
After treatments and stops and starts on the ice, Fitzpatrick was able to play 30 games for an Islanders team with slim playoff hopes in 1992. He became the Islanders’ second ever recipient of the Masterton Trophy for dedication to hockey, but more importantly, became a beacon of hope to others suffering from EMS all across the world.
While Fitzpatrick was battling for his life and career, the Islanders of this time were an absolute trainwreck. Their scorers couldn’t score, their defense wasn’t consistent, their owner was an absentee cheapskate and their best player and only star wanted to be traded. Other than that, everything was great! It was all a far cry from where the team had been a decade earlier and a small taste of where things would go.
And, yes, the use of Georges Bizet’s “Habanera” aria as background music at times is an homage to Michael Richie’s 1976 classic The Bad News Bears and a way to lighten the mood a little. Hearing it still makes me chuckle and picture a field of foul-mouthed kids who can’t play baseball. That seems like an apt comparison to the early 1990’s Islanders.
Here are some extra pictures and stories from the time:
Research and other assistance was provided by Kevin Schultz. Visit VintageIceHockey.com, where you can buy t-shirts, hoodies and mugs featuring the logos over over 100 classic hockey teams from all across North America, as well as our own Al Arbour tribute shirt. Use the code ANXIETY20 to get 20 percent off an order of two items. Our portion of the sales go directly to the Center for Dementia Research.
This episode of Islanders Award Winners was written using archival material from Newsday, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, 100 Things Islanders Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die by Arthur Staple and Pride and Passion: 25 Years of the New York Islanders by Stan Fischler and Chris Botta.
The following video clips were also used in the podcast:
- This video contains two outstanding Fitzpatrick saves versus Pittsburgh in 1990.
- The infamous LaFontaine hit that sparked an ugly playoff brawl.
- Fitzpatrick also showed his feisty side in the 89-90 playoffs.
- His return to the Islanders in a 1991 game against Boston was inspiring. A video recap of that season is here.
- Another great save, this time versus Detroit.
- This win versus Winnipeg was huge for the Islanders “playoff push.”
- Starting a game against Patrick Roy was always a big deal but after everything Fitzpatrick had gone through, it must have felt surreal.
- A crazy 1-1 tie versus the Rangers might have been his best performance.
- The third and most recent Masterton winner for the Islanders was another goalie, Robin Lehner.
On the next Islanders Award Winners: Part One of our look at one of the most epic rookie seasons in NHL history.