By Scott Kinville

Although he plays his home games nearly 3,000 miles away, Madison Kinville of Little Falls still closely follows a player who had called the Mohawk Valley home for a year.

Madison and her family became Utica Comets season ticket holders in 2021. She knew right away who her favorite player would be.

“Fabian Zetterlund,” the fourteen-year-old said. “Without a doubt”.

Zetterlund was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The native of Karlstad, Sweden, came to North America in 2019 to play for the Binghamton Devils, the New Jersey Devils AHL team at the time. When New Jersey moved their AHL affiliate to Utica for the 2021-22 season, Zetterlund came with them.

When they first started going to Comets games, Madison and her older sister Hayley would go down to ice level to watch the Comets warm up. It was there that Madison’s Fabian Zetterlund fandom began.

“I knew right from the get-go that he was going to be my guy and that I was going to fangirl him,” Madison said with a laugh.

It wasn’t long before a pregame tradition developed between the player and his fan.

“The very first game that we went, she saw him, and she happened to have gum,” Madison’s mother Kristy recalled. “She put it up to the glass, and he came over and threw her a puck, and she threw him the gum. It became their tradition ever since.”

As a result of that tradition, Madison now has dozens of pucks on display at her house.

Madison’s introduction to Zetterlund and the Comets happened as the world was returning from the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though certain restrictions were still in place, she was finally able to meet her hockey idol off the ice after a midseason game.

“It was during COVID, so they weren’t letting anybody stay, but I got lucky enough where I was told I could stay,” she recalled. “So we waited because he’s always the last one out, and when he came up (to the lobby at the Adirondack Bank Center), I burst into tears because I was so excited to meet him and talk to him. I was speechless, though.”

Madison Kinville with Fabian Zetterlund, February 2022.

Madison Kinville with Fabian Zetterlund, February 2022.

As the 2021-22 season drew to a close, Zetterlund was called up to the New Jersey Devils for the final month. That would not stop Madison from seeing Zetterlund play one last time that season. Her family made a road trip to Newark, New Jersey, to see Zetterlund play in the NHL in a Saturday afternoon game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Zetterlund would not return to Utica, as he earned a spot with the Devils for the 2022-23 season. Nonetheless, the Kinville’s made another trip to Newark, this time on February 23, 2023, to see the Devils take on the Los Angeles Kings. As fate would have it, that would be the last game Zetterlund would play in a New Jersey Devils uniform. Three days later, he was traded to the San Jose Sharks as part of the blockbuster Timo Meier trade.

“I was really upset,” Madison said of how she felt when she found out about the trade. “I knew he wasn’t going to be playing just three hours away anymore.”

When the Devils traded Zetterlund, Madison’s NHL team loyalty was also traded. She became a Sharks fan almost immediately after the deal was announced.

“I’m just trying to follow him along his journey and see his progression.”

Side note: I know how she felt. When I was growing up in the 80s, I was a huge Edmonton Oilers and, more importantly, a Wayne Gretzky fan. When the Great One was traded to Los Angeles in August of 1988, my team loyalty went to Tinseltown right along with him.

The trade has worked out pretty well for Zetterlund, as he has become an impact player with the Sharks. Being a West Coast team, San Jose does not play too often on the East Coast. As fate would once again have it, Madison would still be able to see her idol play, even if it wasn’t at a normal time.

Most NHL games are played at night during the week. This season, the Sharks were in Buffalo to play the Sabres on Martin Luther King Day. Kristy saw a great opportunity to make her daughter very happy.

“I knew that she really wanted to see him play, and she hasn’t seen him since she got traded from New Jersey,” she said. “I knew he was coming to see the Sabres, so I decided since we didn’t have school that day (Mrs. Kinville is a teacher’s assistant), let’s go see him.”

As for Madison, just going to the game was a thrill, but she had no idea what was in store for her.

“I had absolutely no idea,” Madison said about receiving a signed stick and puck from Zetterlund during pregame warmups. “He knew I was there (she had brought a sign and was right down by the glass – just like in the Utica days), I thought all I was gonna get was a puck and a selfie – which I would have been grateful for anyways. But everything else, like the stick, just made it ten times better. Just made me like him even more.”

To say that Fabian Zetterlund has made a lasting impression on Madison Kinville is an understatement. When asked what it is she likes the most about Zetterlund, Madison replied, “I always like his team effort, and watching him succeed throughout the years has been amazing just because he’s an amazing person. I love his personality, too.”

Madison’s mother agreed, saying, “He’s been really great to her. He’s a good kid who plays with a lot of heart and truly knows that Maddy is his number one fan.”

The closest the San Jose Sharks will play to the Mohawk Valley for the rest of this season is on Tuesday, March 12th, in Philadelphia. If Madison Kinville has anything to say about it, her family’s next trip will be to the City of Brotherly Love.