MONTREAL - He may not be a household name just yet, but 18-year-old David Fischer plans on changing that. A product of the hockey-mad state of Minnesota, the Canadiens' top pick at the 2006 NHL Draft knows what it's like to play where hockey is all that really matters.
"Everyone played hockey where I grew up, it's just what people do in Minnesota," shrugged Fischer, a native of Apple Valley, MN, who found himself on skates at age two at the urging of his father Joe. "You'll see a hockey net in the driveway of every second or third house. People just can't get enough.
"Some of my high school games were on TV and our state championship tournament even sold out the Xcel Energy Center," added Fischer as his eyes widened. "When you think about it, it's pretty crazy."
Hockey being a strain of a population's DNA is nothing new to Montreal, where the city's collective heart beats along with its beloved Canadiens. A passion for the game is not the only thing that will make Fischer feel right at home when he one day cracks the Habs lineup.
"Wintertime in Minnesota is just the best," gloated Fischer. "It can be as much as 5-6 months long and there are all kinds of frozen ponds and rinks to skate on. Winter can even last all the way from Thanksgiving to March-if you're lucky."
Fischer got his first taste of his eventual NHL home - albeit during the summertime - at last week's Canadiens Development Camp, which saw just over 20 recent Canadiens draft picks make their way to Montreal. Along with fellow top picks Kyle Chipchura and Carey Price, Fischer had the chance to acquaint himself with his new organization.
"To be honest, at first I was a little nervous about what to expect when I got here," said Fischer, who prior to this summer had never been to Canada. "But it ended up being an amazing experience and it was great to meet everyone from Bob Gainey and his management team, to Guy Carbonneau and his coaching staff."
One person Fischer won't have to introduce himself to in the coming months is the first overall selection at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Erik Johnson. After going toe-to-toe since childhood on the Minnesota minor hockey scene as arch-rivals, Fischer and Johnson will finally be patrolling the same blue line beginning in the fall at the University of Minnesota.
"We've been going at it for a long time," admitted Fischer of Johnson, who was chosen first overall by the St. Louis Blues. "He's a great player and a terrific guy. Playing together will be a little weird at first, but I'm really looking forward to it."
The Golden Gophers will certainly not be short on blue chip talent. In addition to Fischer and Johnson, Minnesota's dressing room will also include fellow 2006 first rounders Kyle Okposo (7th overall, Islanders), and Phil Kessel (5th overall, Bruins), who is coming off his freshman year with the Gophers.
A converted forward, Fischer is a strong skater who can really move the puck.
Hockey tradition and a powerhouse lineup aren't the only reasons why Fischer jumped at the chance to enroll at Minnesota.
"I'll only be like 25 minutes from home so that's pretty sweet," said Fischer. "So I figure I'm just far enough away from home, but I can still make it back for Sunday dinners, not to mention bring along my laundry!"
Fischer's connection to his house back in Apple Valley, MN, is hardly all about meatloaf and clean undies. The Fischer clan is a close-knit one that got even tighter this past year when tragedy struck.
"My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer back in November," said Fischer. "It's just one of those things that people always think happens to someone else. It was tough on all of us and we felt so helpless. My mom is done with her chemo and her hair is growing back. She fought through it all and she's doing a lot better now."
That wasn't the case on draft day when a fiery Debbie Fischer didn't take too kindly to not being in attendance at GM Place in Vancouver for her son's big day.
"She was upset enough about not coming along to Vancouver, but when she watched on TV and saw the smiling moms of all the other players sitting there, she didn't like that one bit," grinned Fischer. "But she threw a huge party at our house where she invited everyone we know, so that was cool."
While hearing his name called by the Canadiens was a moment he'll never forget, the same can't be said for the last minute preparations leading up to the draft. The NHL Combine proved to be Survivor and Fear Factor all rolled into one. As if the physical beating the players endured wasn't draining enough, what awaited them in at the one-on-one interview stage was just as demanding.
"The interviews started at like 8:30 am and went until on until six," recalled Fischer, still shaking his head in disbelief. "So picture this, a long hotel hallway and we're just guided from room to room where there's a different team waiting to grill you.
"The toughest thing was when I could tell that it just wasn't clicking and things started feeling awkward," added Fischer, who was hardly as fresh and alert as he would've hoped when he finally knocked on the Canadiens door around 2 pm. "It had certainly been a long day up until that point but as soon I walked in, I felt a good vibe. Even days later I had a gut feeling that the Canadiens were really interested in me. I don't know how, but I just knew."
Clearly, he wasn't alone.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com