Edmonton, AB - Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 will be a date forever burned in my memory.
Certain moments can leave a more damaging impression if you witness them live and in person. Sitting high above the ice at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN, I was certain a promising young player's career had come to an end.
As Taylor Fedun awkwardly slammed into the boards behind Devan Dubnyk, the rink went silent. A pin drop would have been deafening, but a welcomed distraction at that, as the eerie quiet was short-lived.
Within seconds, screams filled the air and time stood still. Oilers Athletic Therapist T.D. Forss rushed to Fedun's side -- others did, too, as the situation worsened.
Just as Fedun's nightmarish cries rattled me, I did my best to explain what happened in that night's game story. Accidental or not, I didn't hold back on Eric Nystrom's careless play. It didn't help that I glanced over my right shoulder and saw the scratches in the press box -- most notably, Ryan Smyth -- standing and staring at the ice in obvious concern.
The Oilers went on to the win the game 4-3 in a shootout. But you'd never have guessed it, given the team's post-game mood.
That night, we boarded the plane and air-bussed our way to Vancouver. Fedun, along with Athletic Therapist Chris Davie, were noticeably absent on the silent, four-hour trek.
There wasn't a single person who didn't feel the emotional impact of what we'd all been a part of. So when I got a chance to catch up with the 24-year-old prospect Sunday at Rexall Place, his story had become all the more miraculous.
255 days later, Fedun isn't thinking about his once-broken leg anymore. He's training like normal, as if he'd played the 2011-12 campaign as he should have.
"I tried to get to the point where -- once summer training started – I'd forgotten about everything that happened in the past and I could train as if I did play the season," he said.
"I'm at the point now where I'm back with the group that I've trained with every summer, and I'm not thinking too much about [my leg]."
Fedun's recovery involved multiple surgeries, a wheelchair, crutches, pools and everything in between to help heal, rehabilitate and rebuild strength. The process was as speedy (relatively speaking) as it was phenomenal, giving the Princeton graduate an opportunity to return to full team, full contact practices late in the season.
"The way the progression worked out, I was skating on my own with the skills coach [for a while]," he said, noting that the process helped eliminate any back-at-it nerves. "Then, with a couple guys (with no contact) and then back at practice. Small steps like that helped me not think about it too much, and I didn't have to."
The 6'2", 190-pound rearguard was having a sensational pre-season prior to the incident, halting his chance to establish a permanent spot on the Oilers' roster. But Fedun isn't concerned, as he's prepared to take what he's learned over the past year and apply it to next, beginning later this month at the club's week-long prospect development camp.
"I wouldn't be putting in all the time if I didn't think there was an opportunity to be here at some point next year," he said with a determined smile. "Ultimately, I'm trying to prepare as well as I did last summer -- if not better, because I feel like I know a little bit more about what to expect, whereas last year I didn't. I'm going to keep working hard and taking all the opportunities I have, like at development camp."
"There were so many highlights throughout the year (2011-12). We've got so much young talent and there were so many glimpses of what we want to be. That's something to be excited about heading into next year."
So is the tale and pedigree of this well-spoken prospect, whose career is back on the rails.