Liam Fitzgerald, like a lot of 14-year-olds these days, attends school remotely. But unlike everyone else at Melican Middle School in Northborough, he regularly pulls on a St. Louis Blues sweater for his school day on Zoom.
A No. 47, signed for him by Torey Krug.
“Of course!” said Fitzgerald, chatting from home Wednesday afternoon, still wearing his gift from Krug long after classes ended for the day.
Fitzgerald, who has Down syndrome, is better known to Bruins fans as the lovable, vivacious “Fist Bump Kid.” Often seen at the end of the Boston bench at TD Garden the last six years, trading bumps with the Bruins as they file off the ice following pregame warm-up.
Originally pals with ex-Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid, he soon became friends with Krug, whose tenure with the Bruins ended in October when he signed his lucrative free agent deal. When Krug spotted his little pal’s Tweet (@fistbumpkid) wishing him well in St. Louis, he soon had a Blues sweater and accompanying letter headed Fitzgerald’s way.
The letter, which Liam opened along with first pulling on the No. 47 sweater Thanksgiving night, was a touching missive by the former Bruins backliner.
“I remember how Adam told me that you looked up to us,” wrote Krug, recounting his first meeting with Fitzgerald, “but before the night was over, Adam and I looked up to you.”
The full letter has been widely circulated in recent days, posted on NHL.com as part of the league’s “Hockey Fights Cancer” initiative. Fitzgerald was diagnosed with leukemia at age 3, endured four years of chemotherapy, and has been cancer-free for the better part of seven years.
According to Liam’s mom, he keeps Krug’s letter on the nightstand next to his bed. He recently read it aloud to his classmates.
“Oh, my goodness,” said Christine Fitzgerald, amused by Liam’s eagerness to read Krug’s letter to anyone and everyone. “He said to me, ‘No, they said it was OK [at school], that it was good practice for me reading, Mom.’ I’m like, ‘Liam, you’ve read it like 10 times out loud, I’m sure you can read it by now.’ ”
The rare hour or two when he’s not wearing the sweater, Liam keeps it hung in a locker in his room, alongside his prized collection of those signed by Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and McQuaid.
Reading the letter, said Liam, makes him remember the time he first met Krug, as well as attending other team-related events and the bond he has formed with other Bruins.
But Krug, he said, always will be his favorite.
“May I read the letter to you?” he said, recalling the recent day he asked his teacher if he could read it aloud to classmates. “And when I read it, I almost cried.”
No telling how soon Fitzgerald will be able to see Krug to thank him in person, when the NHL will restart, or when the Blues and Bruins will face each other.
“He said to me today,” said his mom, “ ‘Yeah, maybe one day we’ll go out to the Midwest and see Torey.’ So, hey, you never know.”
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald remains a passionate, fully committed Bruins fan, even with his bestie now working for the team that beat the Black and Gold in Game 7 of the 2019 Cup Final. Liam and Patriots receiver Julian Edelman were co-banner captains that night.
The hard part for Fitzgerald will be choosing a side when his Bruins face Krug’s Blues. How will he know what to do then?
“Oh,” said the Fist Bump Kid, “I have no idea.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.