How old were you when you started playing hockey?
Fitzgerald: “I was 5 years old when I started playing hockey. I played in a mini mite league with all of the boys in my town.”
Russo: “I started playing hockey when I was three years old. My other brother, Brandon was playing at the time and I wanted to be just like him so my mom and dad signed me up and I haven’t looked back ever since. Hockey has opened many doors for me and it has been a big part of my life. I am so grateful that I have had a wonderful family to afford me these opportunities to follow my dreams from the first moment I stepped on the ice.”
Who is your hockey inspiration?
Fitzgerald: “My hockey inspiration… well my favorite goalies to watch are Braden Holtby, Carey Price and Shannon Szabados because I love to watch their movements and technique since I relate to their style of play. But inspirationally, I am a big fan of Scott Darling of the Blackhawks because I respect his story and his long road to success. I love that he took the road less traveled and still ended up in the NHL against all odds and against everyone who doubted him. And he’s an Illinois kid who grew up to play for the Blackhawks, which is everyone’s dream isn’t it?!”
Russo: “When I was little, I always looked up to Julie Chu. She lived in the next town over from me. I always looked up to her as not only an Olympian but also a person and I wanted to be just like her when I was older.”
What are your thoughts on the newly formed NWHL?
Fitzgerald: “I think the NWHL is amazing. I wouldn’t be playing hockey anymore if it wasn’t for them. Sure there are some growing pains and struggles going with being pioneers, but we signed up for that. We like to think of the big picture, that we’re doing this for the young girls that come to our games. When they grow up things will be smoother and more well known. But I am so grateful for the league. Since joining the league I have regained something I lost for a bit, the passion and drive that hockey gave me. Being surrounded by such amazing women every day who work all day and live the hockey dream by night has really helped me grow and figure out where I want to take my life career-wise in addition to playing hockey.”
Russo: “I am currently playing in my first season in the NWHL for the New York Riveters and I love every single moment of it, especially being a role model for the young girls watching. It is an unbelievable opportunity for not only women’s hockey but women’s sports. We are trying to establish something very special here with professional women’s hockey and I think we have achieved that in the first two seasons with the NWHL. For me, being an undrafted rookie I had to prove to not only myself but others around me that I too can play in this league with the best women hockey players in the world.”
What is your advice for young girls in hockey?
Fitzgerald: “I would tell young girls to never give up. It sounds cliche, but there is nothing more admirable than someone who refused to give up or listen to the voices of those who told her she couldn’t. Proving everyone wrong is the ultimate comeback.”
Russo: “My advice to young girls would be to work hard and follow your dreams. It is a lot of hard work that got me to the place I am today and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t put in the effort both on and off the ice. My commitment to the sport, my dedication to off-ice training and my hard work in the classroom all helped me fulfill my dream. But it all comes down to what you put in. It takes hard work to achieve your goals, but if you set your mind to it and are willing to put in whatever it takes, you will get the outcome you deserve.”
Do you face any problems or discrimination playing women’s hockey when men’s has tended to be more popular?
Fitzgerald: “I don’t think I face discrimination. I played with the boys a lot growing upand even filled in for the boys high school team when I was in middle school when they needed a goalie. Obviously there is a gap on the professional level when it comes to awareness and money. But sometimes it’s nice to look back on how far we’ve come. Where we are right now is where the NHL was when it first started 100 years ago. It took them a long time to reach where they are and that’s thanks to the men who agreed to be the first. Seeing the progress the WNBA and women’s soccer league have made makes the next decade of growth very promising for the talented girls growing up who can dream of being the next Amanda Kessel instead of the next Patrick Kane. They now have women to look up to and see the paths they took to get to the top and learn from them.”
Russo: “I wouldn’t say it is discrimination but all I would like to see is the support from the NHL and all of its teams. If every team in the NHL supported our league a little bit we would be on our way. I think the NWHL only being in its second season has done a tremendous job. It will soon become more popular as a women’s professional sport but it is getting attention more and more everyday, which is great to see for this league. I know and I can see huge potential for this league to succeed, we just need everyone on board and for everyone to believe in us both as athletes and women that we belong in this field just as much as the men do.”