-- Travel is bad enough for NHL players. Red-eye flights from the West Coast to the East. Playing back-to-back nights and checking into hotels in the middle of the night.
For Mike Fisher
, after he married country music star Carrie Underwood, there was the hidden travel. With her living in Nashville and him in Ottawa, the couple tried to rendezvous a couple of times a month.
Sometimes it was off days. Fisher could leave after a game at Scotiabank Place and, by flying out of Carp Airport, a small municipal airport near the arena, he could arrive in Nashville before midnight Central Time.
Sometimes Underwood was on tour and they would meet in random cities, which made it even more difficult for Fisher to see his wife.
With Fisher's trade to the Predators Feb. 10, 2010, for a first- and a third-round pick, all of that came to an end.
"It's been awesome," Fisher said. "Such an easy transition for me to come here initially and being able to be here. With my wife and that part of the schedule and travel has been a lot easier. A big part of it's the guys have been easy to fit in and, like I said, when you're winning, you're having fun. This is a fun place to play and it's been really easy for me to fit in with these guys and that's because of the team."
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On Thursday, Fisher will play for the first time as a visitor in Ottawa, where he played for 11 seasons, totaling 167 goals and 348 points in 675 games while helping the Senators to finish as Stanley Cup finalists in 2007 and Eastern Conference finalists in 2003.
In his return, Fisher can hold his head high. His Nashville team is 14-3-1 in its last 18 and sits only three points away from having the NHL's top record. Fisher, meanwhile, has a team-best 16 goals, including 8 in his last eight games and 9 in his last 11. He also has 16 assists, giving him 32 points in 46 games.
"It's been a lot of fun, this group, the way we've come together the last few months," said Fisher, 31, who is an alternate captain for Nashville. "When you're all chipping in and feeling part of it, it's really, really fun."
General manager David Poile and Predators coach Barry Trotz
credited Fisher's acquisition with getting Nashville into the playoffs in the first place last season. His two-way style, personality and character (not to mention the fact that his wife lived in the city) made him the ideal fit. In the first round, Fisher's 6 points (3 goals and 3 assists) were a team high, as the franchise earned its first playoff series victory by ousting Anaheim in six games. That made the investment, in terms of salary, worth it for Nashville. Fisher earned $4 million last season and this season, and will earn $3 million next season, his last under his current contract.
In the second round against Vancouver, Fisher did not prove as effective, as he finished with only an assist in six games and a minus-3 rating. He underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and Poile said he thinks the injury not only limited Fisher in the Canucks series but also through much of the first half of this season. (Fisher missed the season's first seven games as he continued to rehab.)
"Yeah, I think he was hurting," Poile said of the second round. "I mean, he didn't even attend training camp and missed a few games to start the season here. I think actually the last 15 games or so is probably when he's getting to be what I call 100 percent... He's played well. He's getting better."
Senators general manager Bryan Murray -- who was once hired by Poile to coach the Washington Capitals
back in the '80s -- acknowledged that he was trading one of the most popular players in franchise history when he made the deal. From the time Fisher became engaged to Underwood in December 2009, it was a day some Sens fans might have felt was preordained and long-dreaded. (Especially, it seemed, with fans of the younger, female variety; some Ottawa radio stations reportedly stopped playing her records when he was traded, as they scapegoated Underwood.)
"It's a tough trade for us," Murray said at the time. "We know he's been a good veteran here and he's very popular with the fans, but as we start to rebuild this hockey team and follow a plan that we've set out, we thought that it was the right place for him. It gives us some assets going forward, it frees up dollars, obviously, over the next few years and it gives us a chance to at least start the process of making this hockey team a good hockey team in the future."
Having spent his first 11 seasons in the League with the Senators, Fisher has been looking forward to Thursday's game, saying he checked the schedule as soon as it came out. He'll get to see old friends, namely Chris Neil
, Chris Phillips
, Daniel Alfredsson
and Nick Foligno
, some of whom he might gather with on Wednesday.
He said he's glad to see the Senators rebound in the standings, even amid their current losing skid. (At 2-7-1, the Senators own the League's worst record over the last 10 games and hold a tenuous two-point lead for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.)
Fisher also admits to nerves. Sens fans at times have made it tough on players who have left town in the past, but that generally had more to do with players who asked to be traded or signed elsewhere as free agents. Fisher was shipped out as part of a rebuilding project.
"I hope so," he said of wishing for a positive greeting. "The fans were great to me for seven-and-a-half years, really treated me really well and they're awesome. Hopefully, that will be the same Thursday night."