Making the grade: Rookie Fedor Fedorov makes the Canucks

By Jeff Bromley

The Vancouver Canucks’ visit to the Key City last week sparked enthusiastic excitement as kids and adults alike turned out in droves to watch the NHL stars practice.

For most hockey fans however, especially the die-hard Canuck fans because in reality, there really isn’t any other kind, the talk was about one particular hockey player that had turned heads throughout the Vancouver Canucks’ training camp.

Fedor Fedorov, Detroit’s superstar Sergei’s younger brother.

In Cranbrook on Wednesday morning the Vancouver Canucks announced that the 6’3″, 220lb forward had made the club and would play alongside Trevor Linden and Jan Hlavac to start the season.

“That’s the best start I can get in the NHL,” said Fedorov. “Playing with veterans is so much easier. Even if I screw-up a little bit those guys will help me out and we’ll go from there.”

Forward Mike Brown was placed on waivers and he’ll be assigned to Winnipeg should he clear waivers. As well, defensemen Nolan Baumgartner and Brian Helmer were also sent to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.

“All three were difficult decisions for the organizations,” said Canuck head coach Mark Crawford. “It’s been a very competitive preseason. It leaves us with the situation of fifteen forwards and six defensemen right now (but) I don’t believe we will remain at fifteen and six but in the short term we are going to proceed.”

“We certainly congratulate all the guys that did make the team, especially the newer players, in particular Fedorov and Bryan Allen. We just hope that the player’s we’ve reassigned, have the intestinal fortitude to deal with it.”

“I know I’ve been in that position before as a player and it’s never a pleasant happening when you’re reassigned. But this isn’t an easy business, you have to be among the best of the best to play in the NHL and only a select few get to be there. In our case there’s only 23 and we had to make three difficult decisions.”

Fedorov, who was originally drafted in 1999 by the Tampa Bay Lightning bu re-entered the draft and was selected by the Canucks in the 3rd round (66th overall) in 2001 after failing to sign with the Lightning, was deemed a work in progress when he arrived on the Canucks’ scene last year. Demoted to the AHL’s Moose and the ECHL with what was regarded as an attitude and work ethic problem, Fedorov was essentially forgotten.

In the ECHL the situation didn’t get any better.

“I had to re-adjust completely to my left eye,” said Fedorov after suffering a detached retina while playing with Columbia (S.C.) Inferno of the ECHL and missed most of last season. “The first doctor told me I would never play again. When I got some news that I had 30% recovery, I had some hope. But I was just sitting on my butt for eight months.”

The injury and the time off gave Fedorov a new perspective on life and a new attitude toward realizing his dream of playing in the NHL.

“I think I grew up a little bit over the year and since my injury last year, I’ve tried to be the best I can,” said Fedorov. “Going to the rink every day, working hard and doing my best.”

Marc Crawford is encouraged by Fedorov’s potential but also cautiously optimistic. It is still only days into a very young NHL season.

“Fedorov’s been a nice surprise for us this year,” said Crawford of his newest forward. “The reason that he’s staying is that his contribution offensively has outweighed any risk that we think may be involved with him.”

“You’re always teased by talent at this time of the year and we’re not unlike any team. We look and we say, ok how good of a talent improvement can a player like Fedor, give us? We going to be evaluating him on a daily basis but we evaluate the team on a daily basis as it is but we’ll play particularly close attention to Fedor and to his progress and his ability at making strides and moving forward and just improving. He seems like a great kid (and) he’s a nice mix with our group.”

“His personality is a little different from other first-year players we’ve had in the past,” said Crawford, perhaps alluding to the outgoing personality of the younger brother to Detroit’s Sergei, not usually seem in players one season removed from junior.

“Let’s face it. He’s had an extremely good preseason. He’s had a lot of chances and he’s playing with some confidence right now. We think he’s a nice move for us initially.”

Being the younger brother to an NHL star and two-time Stanley Cup Champion over the past decade isn’t what it cracks up to be. The younger Fedorov, who’s three inches taller and twenty pounds heavier than his famous brother, accentuates that two players play decidedly different style of games.

“I think people that know the game know that I’m a completely different player than my brother,” said Fedorov, who seemed uneasy at the comparisons to his famous brother Sergei, who’s 12 years senior to Fedor.

“I might look like him but I do things differently that he does. I’m more of a North American style hockey player than European, so hopefully they can just tell who I am and who he is.”

If at first glance fans seem somewhat shocked to think they’re watching a European play surprisingly similar to the North American style of game, there’s a reason for that. Fedorov’s developmental years were spent in North America.

“I’ve been here since I was thirteen,” said Fedorov who, at seventeen, played 42 games of pro hockey with the UHL’s Port Huron Border Cats before jumping to the OHL where he played for two seasons with the Windsor Spitfires and Sudbury Wolves.

“Since thirteen I’ve been playing the North American style.”