As you may or may not know, Eric Fehr is spending his season playing successfully (7+7 in 11 games) for HPK in the Finnish Elite League. This is a quick translation of an article about him on a Finnish hockey website.
Eric Fehr – Goal Scorer From Manitoba
The goal scorer in HPK’s first line, Eric Fehr, has had his share of dreams and nightmares during his NHL career. The road of a first round pick through AHL and into an NHL lineup took time and didn’t always go according to plan. Fehr revisited his journey from Washington to Winnipeg for Jatkoaika.
Fehr, leading goal scorer of WHL in the 2004-05 season, was drafted in to the NHL in 2003. He played his first NHL games during the 2005-06 season, but had to wait for a more regular place in the lineup for three years. First his back was bothering him, then his shoulder. Besides his injuries he had to get used to the speed and physicality of the NHL.
"The biggest difference to junior leagues, in addition to physicality, is in the speed of the game and naturally the level of the opponents. In juniors you can do a bit what you want, including mistakes. Even in the AHL you find out that each mistake leads to a goal against", Fehr lists.
However, things in the AHL began very well. His best memories from the AHL are from the first season, which eventually lead to raising the Calder Cup in a Hershey Bears sweater.
In the 2006 finals the Bears faced Nashville Predators’ farm team Milwaukee Admirals and its goaltender Pekka Rinne. The warmest memories, however, are from the semifinal series where the Bears fought a full seven game series against Portland Pirates.
In the Bears team besides Fehr, rising youngsters such as Mike Green and Tomas Fleischmann, the latter of which piled up 14 points in the semifinal series against the Pirates, were also looking for a lineup spot in the NHL. Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon were also on the Bears roster.
"My favorite memory is definitely that seventh game. The Anaheim Ducks had been eliminated from the NHL playoffs and had sent their young stars Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner to play for the Pirates. We managed to win the deciding game despite being down and I scored the winning goal in overtime", Fehr reminisces.
The Canadian, who scored two goals in the deciding game, finished the latter goal to the goal behind Pirates goaltender Jani Hurme in overtime sending Fehr and, the Bears’ coach at the time, Bruce Boudreau celebrating with the whole organization.
Finally to the Capitals
Situation in Washington had changed rapidly after the summer of 2003. Before Fehr was drafted the team had gone through many good regular season performances with no playoff success. The team went to rebuild mode beginning fall 2003. Star players from Jaromir Jagr to Robert Lang as well as team icon Peter Bondra were shipped away, bringing back draft picks and prospects and leading to the team drafting its future number one star Alexander Ovechkin. Did the team change how they viewed Fehr?
"No. They were meaning to let me grow up as a player in the farm league originally as well. They made a good pick, but injuries slowed down my development. However that was still the right choice."
Fehr’s first full season wasn’t as good as it could have been due to injuries. But pieces started falling together during the second season. Fehr was limited to around 12 minutes per game, but still managed 39 points playing in the third line.
"We had a really talented team and I got to play with Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison. It felt like every time I took a shot, the shot went in", Fehr revisits.
The team was in its best shape and not all other quality players got substantial playing time either. However, the spring ended in a massive disappointment when the President’s Trophy winning Capitals fell in the hands in the Montreal Canadiens in an unforgettable first round series. It was a tough loss for Fehr as well; as he had managed to score three goals in the five playoff games he played. There was a sense of change in the air.
"With Boudreau Things Both Worked and Didn’t Work."
After a dire playoff disappointment there were many who were blaming the team and its coach. Fehr unfolds that the situation even hurt the players’ feelings. "The pressure for change didn’t come from high up or outside the organization. We were still hurt when we were being talked about as a team that could not defend, or as a team who everyone wants to face in the playoffs. Nobody wants to be that kind of a team. The change started slowly within the team and its coaches.
The team did not want to give up its competence in offensive game, but still wanted to improve its defensive play. Even though with its old style the Capitals may have beaten the Canadiens in a playoff series nine times out of ten, knowing that didn’t give any comfort – the team wanted to win when its most important. "That series was still a part of the beauty of hockey. Even the underdog can win, against all odds", Fehr confesses. A lot of the pressure was put on the shoulders of Bruce Boudreau. How did Fehr feel playing under Boudreau who was familiar to him even from the days in Hershey? "Good and bad. He trusted me sometimes more, sometimes less. When I was hot, I got responsibility and results. Sometimes I was, rather often, a healthy scratch.
"Hockey Is a Game of Honest Talk"
The team’s Russian players were a whole chapter of their own. Fehr wants to be cautious when critiquing former team mates, but admits that Alexander Semin’s heart wasn’t always fully in the game.
"When you looked at him in the practice you could really see the potential to be one of the best players in the world. At times he even looked more skilled than Ovechkin. Ovie’s competitiveness was in its own class, however."
Fehr says the players don’t usually discuss or forms groups to discuss other players’ successes and failures. What is said in the locker room is often said very frankly and honestly, but after that things are forgotten.
"When you play you really hate your opponents. Then you’re traded and you end up playing in the same line. You become friends. Things aren’t taken too personally.
Winnipeg Jets – A Dream Turns Into Nightmare
2010-11 was so far Fehr’s last season in the Capitals. The season was again characterized by injuries, but there was one highlight. HBO’s television show culminated in the Winter Classic where Fehr scored two goals.
"That was obviously a great moment in a difficult season. It was the right time to find my best game", Fehr rejoices.
At the end of the season there were changes made in the team. In the summer Fehr found out he had been traded to Winnipeg Jets. The trade came initially as a shock, but playing for the favorite team of his childhood slowly began to feel like a new dream. Eventually the dream turned into a nightmare. The result was a season characterized by injuries, a little playing time and modest two goals.
"I had gone through a shoulder injury from which I didn’t recover very well. I would’ve really wanted to succeed playing in my native region NHL team, in front of my friends and family, but it turned into a catastrophe. I didn’t really find my confidence at any part of the season."
Head coach Claude Noel even criticized Fehr publicly. According to Fehr, communication between the two didn’t always work perfectly well.
"Of course I would have wanted for him to talk to me about it first. Mostly the communication worked but at that event I was disappointed. He had a point though. And myself, if who, was the one who wanted for me to play better", Fehr says determinedly. Fehr himself didn’t discuss the matter publicly and still has respect for Noel. In any case, it is customary for NHL players to have received media guidance in order to prevent the players from saying anything that they might regret when they are upset. Fehr laughs about that especially with resemblance to the lockout.
"There aren’t that many news right now so you have to be very careful. Things are taken out of context and tweeting something is enough to make the news", the Canadian says with a smirk.
The playing days in a Jets uniform were limited to one season. The team decided not to offer a new contract in the summer of 2012. Fehr faced looking for a new team.
Original interview available at http://www.jatkoaika.com/Haastattelu/eric-fehr-maalipyssy-manitobasta/108247