Fedor Fedorov spent many nights at Joe Louis Arena two seasons ago, sitting in the owner’s box, worrying about a career-threatening eye injury, watching his older brother, Sergei.
His hockey story starts when he was 13. Sergei, 11 years older, brought over the family from Russia and settled Fedor, father Viktor and mother Natalia, in a house down the street from his. “I love Detroit,” Fedor said. “It’s my hometown.”
While Sergei starred for the Wings, Fedor had a rocky rise through the hockey ranks. He said he was proud of his last name, but it might have made life harder on him, because people expected him to play like his brother. Others said he had the tools but didn’t use them well enough, questioning his attitude and work ethic.
Federov played 13 games for Mike Illitch’s Little Caesars program in 1997-98, but he said he didn’t want to talk about it because he had a “bad experience.”
He signed with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL in August 1998, though only 17 at the time, but was released the next month. He played the 1998-99 season with Port Huron of the United Hockey League, spurning the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. After scoring only seven points in 42 games, his stock in the NHL draft dropped. The Tampa Bay Lightning took him in the seventh round, 182nd overall in the 1999 draft.
Federov played for Windsor in 1999-2000 but posted only 17 points in 60 games. The Lightning reportedly pressured the Spits to trade him away from his father because Viktor had been meddling with his development. He blossomed in Sudbury the next season with 33 goals and 45 assists in 67 games for the Wolves. But he and the Lightning couldn’t reach a deal on a contract.
He went back into the draft, and in 2001, the Vancouver Canucks took him in the third round, 66th overall. The Wings scouted him, and he was on their list. But they had only one pick in the first three rounds, a second-rounder, and they used it to take Russian prospect Igor Grigorenko.
“They knew what I could do,” Fedor said. “The excuse they came up with was that it would put too much pressure on my brother.”
Fedor signed a contract in 2001, but played only 10 minor league games seasons ago with both the Manitoba Moose of the AHL and in Columbia Inferno of the East Coast Hockey League. In a game with Columbia he was forechecking when a defenseman in front of him whirled around and fired the puck. It hit his right eye. He had cuts and a concussion. The eye was torn from the skull in two places. “The worst injury you can probably get in hockey,” Fedor said.
A doctor told him he never would play again. But a specialist in Detroit told him he had a 3 percent chance of playing. He had laser surgery to reattach the eye to the skull, then sat at home in the Detroit suburbs. He wasn’t allowed to work out, so he watched television, played video games and went down to the Joe Louis Arena.
“I just sat on my duff for six to eight months,” he said. “I was hoping for the best the whole time. But I’m thinking, ‘If I don’t play again, what am I going to do?’ ”
Three percent was enough. About a month before Canucks 2002 training camp, Fedor was cleared to play. He still has vision problems in the eye, but he saw well enough to score four goals in the exhibition season and follow linemate Trevor Linden’s example, working hard, playing more of a complete game.
The talented Russian turned heads at Canucks training camp and appeared in his first seven NHL games (he had one assist and four penalty minutes) before being re-assigned to Manitoba on October 24, 2002.
And while there was a collection of highlight-reel goals and glimpses of vast potential, Fedorov struggled with consistency and was challenged in the media on several occasions by Canucks GM Brian Burke.
“I was thinking they’d send me down for sure, but they gave me a chance,” Fedor said. “In my mind, I don’t think I’ve made anything yet.”
Canucks training camp opened September 12th.