forward Mike Fisher
has never mistaken himself for one of the NHL's top goal-scorers or even a perennial All-Star. But don't think for a second the ninth-year veteran has short-changed himself.
Fisher revels in his role as one of the League's premier defensive-forwards. The respected center exhibits speed, an impeccable understanding of the game and some offensive flare to boot. Perhaps forgotten is the fact Fisher also possesses the hardest shot on Ottawa's roster at 105 miles-per-hour. Will someone please sign him up for the hardest shot competition during All-Star weekend in Montreal next winter!?
"Shooting is one part of my game that I've improved since I first entered the League," he admits.
Hmm, you think?
His contributions at both ends of the ice were recognized in 2006 when he was nominated for his first Selke Trophy as the League's top defensive forward. The trophy went to the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour, who would win a second straight Selke last winter.
"I was thrilled when told that I had been nominated for the Selke," Fisher told NHL.com. "I kept hearing the rumors that I might have a shot, but you never really know. I'm not the type of player who's going to win the scoring race or be an All-Star, but to win a Selke, while playing a role that certainly embodies that honor, would be something very special. I want to be the best at what I do and becoming the best two-way forward in the League is always a goal."
Fisher learned his craft during his first year with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League in 1997-98. It was there coach Tom Watt, who won the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year after leading the Winnipeg Jets to a 48-point improvement in 1981-82, offered his first-year player from Peterborough, Ontario, the advice he needed.
"I had a lot of good coaches growing up, but Tom Watt really was the one who helped me make the defensive transition," Fisher recalled. "He had a way with players and made me appreciate and understand the defensive side of the game. I really believe the fact I could play well defensively was a big reason I was able to make the jump to the NHL as a 19-year-old. The transition was a little easier for me because I was playing with a lot of energy and having fun."
The transformation also paid offensive dividends for Fisher, who led all first-year players at Sudbury in 1997-98 with 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists). After being drafted by the Senators in the second round (44th overall) of the 1998 Entry Draft, Fisher collected a whopping 106 points (41, 65) to finish second in team scoring and fifth in the OHL in 1998-99.
Not until his fourth season with Ottawa (2002-03) did Fisher really begin to feel comfortable in his role as a shutdown center.
"I have struggled with some injuries over the years, but it was just a matter of getting accustomed to and feeling comfortable during the early stages of my career," Fisher said. "I played on the third and fourth line and was more of a role player than anything else. It was in my fourth season where I really felt good about my game and was relied upon more to shut down the other team's top line. I wanted to be that hard player to play against and remain physical. When I was confident in my all-around game, that's when my offensive numbers improved."
Fisher, who occasionally acts as Ottawa's alternate captain, collected 38 points (18, 24) in 74 games in 2002-03. Following the lockout, Fisher set personal bests in 2005-06 with a plus-23 rating, 64 penalty minutes and a 14.09 shooting percentage in 68 games to help the Sens finish the regular season atop the Eastern Conference. He was also fifth on the team with 109 hits, third in faceoffs won with 444 and tied for the team lead with linemate Antoine Vermette in shorthanded points with seven (four goals).
Fisher established career highs in points (48) and assists (26) last season and, barring injury, will shatter those marks this winter. Through 67 games, he has 42 points on 19 goals and 23 assists. Even with his impressive offensive numbers, which includes four game-winning goals, Fisher hasn't neglected his defensive game. He ranks first in hits (194), third in faceoffs won (534), sixth in blocked shots (61) and third in shorthanded points (four) among his Ottawa teammates.
He admits, however, playing a defensive style does take its toll over an 82-game schedule.
"When you're playing a lot of minutes against the top lines, it's tough to remain physical all the time so you try to be more positional," Fisher said. "Sometimes, when I go on a little scoring streak, I do actually feel as though I haven't been physical enough, but you have to conserve your energy because the physical side of the game takes so much out of your body. It's a matter of being smart, not overdoing it and learning to pick your spots."
Fisher is certainly accustomed to picking his spots and, as a result, was awarded a five-year contract in September. The new deal will kick in at the start of next season.
"I was thrilled with the long-term extension," Fisher said. "I can't see myself playing anywhere else but in Ottawa. It's especially neat for me, being a Canadian kid, to be playing in a Canadian city. I'm only three hours from my hometown in Peterborough and have a lot of friends nearby, so I love it."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.