Piece of meat

PATRICK WILLIAMS -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 7:45 PM ET

BUFFALO -- With 155 NHL games under his belt, one would think that Buffalo Sabres defenceman Rory Fitzpatrick by now would have settled into a comfort level in regard to his place in the NHL's pecking order.

Perhaps chalk it up to players like Fitzpatrick mostly being a piece of meat on the hockey market, but Fitzpatrick feels no such entitlement, even after spending the past two NHL seasons on the Buffalo blue line. Since 2002-03, when he split the season between the NHL and AHL, Fitzpatrick has avoided AHL time, save for an NHL lockout-induced stint last season with the Rochester Americans.

"A little bit, but not really," Fitzpatrick replied when asked whether he feels secure as an NHLer.'I've been through enough to know that things can change in a hurry. There is a little bit of comfort there knowing that you have to go through waivers and everything. But there is still a sense in the back of your mind that is always there."

A U.S.-born player who went the OHL route with Sudbury, Fitzpatrick went in the second round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft to the Montreal Canadiens. But after a rookie pro season in 1995-96 in which he spent 42 games with the Habs, Fitzpatrick then managed only 16 NHL games between the 1996-97 and 2001-02 seasons. Fitzpatrick, in fact, has logged only six NHL playoff appearances, all of them coming during the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs.

From Montreal, Fitzpatrick, who turned 31 this past January, then bounced on to NHL stints in St. Louis and Nashville to go with time spent a level below in Worcester, Milwaukee and Hamilton.

If the NHL had not written off Fitzpatrick completely, certainly he had neared career AHLer status.

"It's frustrating because you're still young and people basically have given up on you," Fitzpatrick recalled. "You still think that you can play, and you just want an opportunity. It gets frustrating when people don't believe in you."

"I kind took it the other way and said that I've got to take this and make an opportunity. You can definitely let it work against you and you can suffer."

How did Fitzpatrick manage to finally stick in the NHL after six AHL seasons and at an age by which most AHL players have been written off for NHL work?

A bit of an offensive defenceman in Sudbury, Fitzpatrick established himself as a solid, no-frills AHL defender. When the Sabres gave him a shot during the 2002-03 season, Fitzpatrick grabbed it.

"I got a chance," Fitzpatrick explained of catching on with the Buffalo organization. "I got confidence from them that I could play. That's the biggest change, getting that confidence and having someone who believes in you."


Videos

Photos