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Bruins' Fernandez has found a second 'job'

by Marcie Garcia

Manny Fernandez only played four games with the Bruins, before undergoing knee surgery.
Manny Fernandez recently has learned just how important afternoon naps truly are.

The Boston Bruins' veteran goalkeeper is accustomed to some shuteye before hockey games, but he hasn't played any games since early this season. He is on the mend from undergoing knee surgery in mid-December to repair a torn MCL.

But Fernandez, 33, has no worries. During his rehabilitation, Fernandez has assumed the full-time role of fatherhood to Mathyas, age 3, and Leanne, age 1. It is a job where nap-time is as serious as goalie interference.

Holed up in his downtown Boston condominium with wife Karine and family, Fernandez's life these days consists of physical therapy, workouts in the gym and pool, and "chasing after the kids." At least until he returns to hockey full-time.

Fernandez is hopeful his return to hockey is close. He has recently returned to on-ice drills and practices. But, until then, he is staying sharp in other ways.

He sees his family time as one of the few positives during his absence from hockey. Fernandez only started four games for Boston before agreeing to knee surgery to correct nagging pain stemming from an injury sustained last season, when he was with the Minnesota Wild.

"It's a job that will drain you," Fernandez says of being a stay-at-home dad. "With kids, there's a lot of running around, and I'm not going to sit here and pretend I can do that job, but I don't want to feel like my kids are not mine by not being an active part of their lives. I try to keep them straight and be respectful. It's stressful. At nine o'clock (Karine would) want to go to sleep and I couldn't understand that but now that I've lived it, it's a different life."

It's not surprising Fernandez is tackling fatherhood duties head-on. Family is deep-rooted for Fernandez, who is a nephew to Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire.

At the age of 2, the Fernandez family moved from Etobicoke, Ont., to Montreal, his mother's hometown. The family had been in Etobicoke because Manny's father, Marc, was enrolled in flight school there.

In his mind's eye, Fernandez still can recall his days at the family cottage at Lake Labelle – 90 minutes outside of Montreal and 15 minutes outside of Mount Tremblant – where the long days bled into night.

"As far as I can remember on my mom's side of the family, everybody has been going to that lake for the summers, Christmas, holidays – everybody has a cottage there, my uncles, and aunts," he explains. "It's been a tradition for a lot of generations, and I always promised myself if I ever had the money, I would buy a spot there, and I eventually did."

His new cottage will be ready this summer, replacing a smaller cottage purchased about five years ago. Fernandez stayed there every summer until the couple had children. The small space was less friendly for kids, and Fernandez and his wife decided to plan and build their very own family cottage. It was a dream come true for the former construction worker.

"We pretty much did everything," he says. "Last summer we sat down and talked about what we wanted. We bought some magazines, did a lot of homework. We're trying to build something that we're not going to regret and, at the same time, we know it's not a house, per se. It's a cottage, but a second house, obviously. So, some things are going to be a little more relaxed ... a little more wood."

Fernandez's first job was in construction, and he thinks his first-hand knowledge gave him some valuable insight when making decisions on materials and overseeing the actual building process. As for getting his hands dirty with the actual building? That is entirely another story.

His uncles may have built their own cottages, which are spread throughout Lake Labelle down the one-road stretch from Fernandez's new home. But Fernandez – the third-round selection (No. 52 overall) of the Quebec Nordiques in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft – can't risk the heavy lifting and nail guns. He's got a lot of hockey left in him.

"My very first job was actually at the lake at one of my uncle's cabins," he says. "All of my uncles are really good manually and that's kind of been the joke because I don't do any of the work; so a lot of them kind of make fun of me, but that's all right.

"Most of them have built around the lake themselves so they're really good with that. And a little bit comes from that – it's rubbed off on me – and it helps you decide the stuff you like. I wish I could do it all on my own, but it's a lot of work and it just came down to that I'm still playing hockey now."

The cottage season each summer has been Fernandez's retreat from a long, grueling hockey season. He makes it a point to leave hockey – and any regrets or problems that had weighed on his mind – in the rear-view mirror. It's cathartic for Fernandez to return back home every summer. He regains a sense of normalcy and, most importantly, he has the opportunity to reconnect with his friends and family.

"You go there – there's nature and trees everywhere – and the only things you hear is the water; and we have a nice little stream that runs through," he says. "It's a nice place to relax.

"After the season, I need to fall back on something and change my mind. I think it's important to kind of flush everything out. When I have to dip into it again at (training) camp, then it's fresh again. That keeps me a little bit leveled and its unbelievable the difference, because last summer we couldn't go and it really made a difference in my life. That's the way that works best for me."

Relaxing at his cottage and mending a serious knee injury are as different as night and day. Mentally, Fernandez has been ready for hockey. So much so, he says, he can smell it.

"My knee is way better," he says. "That moment is approaching. A week ago, when I started feeling better, I started feeling hockey season again. I smell that I'm getting closer."

His Boston Bruins teammates are holding down the fort in his absence. The team sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, with a tandem of Tim Thomas (23-15-4) and Alex Auld (11-12-2) sharing the goaltending job.

Fernandez, traded from Minnesota in June, wants a chance to prove his worth.

"I watch the games to keep my mind sharp and do the little stuff to be there," he says. "There's still a bit of time left in the season and I can work hard just for practice, or any reason. I want to be accountable and be there for my teammates."

Naptime is over.


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