FRISCO, Texas– Now Vernon Fiddler doesn’t want to begrudge the Phoenix Coyotes and their run to the 2012 NHL Western Conference Finals in any way. After all, the gritty forward/center for the Dallas Stars spent two seasons in the Valley of the Sun playing under Dave Tippett, who once coached the Stars before landing in Dallas as a free agent last summer.
On one hand, the Dallas third-line mainstay was happy to see so many of his former teammates getting to experience a run deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, as he explored his own off-season, which started once the regular season ended, it reinforced how much he hated not experiencing playoff hockey this year and he resolved to use that as motivation heading into this season.
“Yeah, it was tough to watch. You still have lots of friends on the team but at the same time you’re jealous of them and you want to be in that situation,” Fiddler said. “But sometimes it’s good to see that because it motivates you. You want to put yourself in that situation and that’s what we have to accomplish this year. It’s just unacceptable if we don’t.”
The Edmonton native is among a substantial group of Stars players who have been skating at the club’s headquarters in Frisco for the last few weeks. And after an off-season, even one that was spent in his balmy home country of Canada, one that was much longer than he and his teammates had hoped it would be, he’s ready to get back at it.
“It’s good [to be back out on the ice],” Fiddler said. “We all kind of go our separate ways but it’s always nice to get back, in a schedule and a groove of things. Kids are back in school, which gives us a chance to get back in here and really start to focus on the season.”
Last season, his first in Dallas after signing a two-year contract as a free agent last summer, he was one of just three Stars to appear in all 82 regular season games. Such durability was a godsend for first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan. But playing all 82 for the first time in his career came at a price as the cumulative effects of playing with a bad shoulder over the past few seasons finally caught up with him and forced him to go under the knife this summer.
“It was a tough year. It was definitely a rollercoaster ride. We had some ups and downs. We didn’t finish the way we wanted and it definitely motivates you for this season for sure. I had to have my shoulder done this summer. There was a lot of rehab and taking care of that. It was a good summer to recharge and regroup,” Fiddler said. “We’re just trying to get ready for the season.”
And with the strong possibility that the NHL could have some sort of work stoppage as soon as next week, he continues to recover, admitting that he will most likely not be fully recovered if training camp were to start on time, but he should be ready to go in time for Dallas’ regular-season opener which is scheduled for Oct. 13 against in a nice bit of irony, those same Phoenix Coyotes.
“My AC [joint] and my labrum [were fixed]. It’s been kind of ongoing for four years so it was time to get it done,” Fiddler said. “No, it’s not quite 100 percent. The recovery’s six months, so heading into training camp it looks like I should be close to start the season for sure, but training camp may be a little bit of a question mark. But that’s not up to me. That’s up to the doctors so we’ll see what they say.”
No. 38 spent most if not all of last season skating on the Stars’ third line and for much of the year, that trio was comprised of fellow newcomers Eric Nystrom on the left, Vernon in the middle and veteran Radek Dvorak on the right side. Nystrom, who was a nice pickup at the start of last season, is back for another year, something that his linemate is definitely glad to see.
Being part of such a gritty and hard-working line is a source of immense pride for Fiddler, but he also realizes that as effective as he and his linemates were at making life difficult on other teams early in the season, they were equally ineffective down the stretch when injuries and fatigue seemed to get the better of them and their level of performance dipped accordingly.
“Yeah, whenever you play with guys you always seem to find some good chemistry. We had some ups and downs all year too,” he said. “Our last part of the year I don’t think was very good and we both know that. It’s something that we have to take control of and we have to be better, whether it’s staying healthy, getting more rest or whatever it is, it seemed that we died down a bit in the last part of the year. There’s no excuse for that. We have to be better and we have to be better if we’re going to be successful.”
While he’s glad to see one of his linemates back in Nystrom, who was an immediate hit in the Stars room right after he was acquired from Minnesota, this NHL veteran was equally sad to see Dvorak leave, especially since “Devo” made such a huge impression on all of his teammates last season, something he’s done throughout his professional career no matter where he’s played.
“He’s a special guy. He’s someone in the room that everybody loves and respects because of what he’s been through. He’s played 1,200 and some games for a reason. It’s because he’s a good person, a hard-working guy that comes to work and compete every night,” Fiddler said. “It was honestly such a pleasure to play with the guy because it was always positive things on the ice. He’s a guy that you really enjoy playing with and coming to the rink to battle with every night.”
So “Fidds” figures to have at least one new linemate, something which is just fine with him. However, one thing that will be the same for him and his fellow Dallas holdovers is that Gulutzan will be behind the Stars bench, ready to apply all the lessons he learned last season as a rookie head coach to help make his club better.
“He had to feel everybody out too. He came in here and I’m sure he didn’t know what to expect. Everybody needs experience and has to get it one way or another. I’m not speaking on his behalf but I’m sure he learned a lot. I’m sure every coach does every year,” Fiddler said. “It’s a different year and we have to take it within ourselves within the dressing room. He obviously is our leader so we have to follow what he says. Hopefully that leads to success.”