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IN-DEPTH: Fayne finds fit in Edmonton

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Mark Fayne #5 of the Edmonton Oilers looks on against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on October 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)



EDMONTON, AB - Mark Fayne had his sights set on a return to New Jersey.

The impending free agent hadn’t quite considered a career move away from the team which drafted him in the fifth round in 2005. He had played four years for the Devils, logging a lot of minutes and playing some good hockey.

“It’s the only team I’d known,” Fayne said. “I’d been there for four years and I felt comfortable there so that’s where I thought I’d stay. When the summer got going and in talking with the Devils, it seemed like they had some other guys in the pipeline that they were looking at to accelerate up. Right up until July 1, I still wasn’t sure what was going to happen but I wasn’t as optimistic as I was at the beginning of the year.”

So there Fayne sat, listening in on a phone call. The Edmonton Oilers were courting the veteran defenceman in the days leading up to free agency’s opening. It was clear the club wanted him.

The Oilers talked up the city, the fans and the team. They sent Fayne a power point presentation detailing the area and its attractions.

“It wasn’t so much them selling me on it, it was more of them informing me,” he said. “I had originally told my agent that I wasn’t sure about coming up to Western Canada. It was because I was an East Coast guy and that’s all I’ve ever known. I thought I would feel more comfortable staying there. They were just trying to inform me of the area and they did a good job.”

The Oilers going the extra mile paid dividends.

“I learned a lot and actually took a lot of value in that. It sold me.”

The 2014 free agency period opened on July 1, and Fayne agreed to terms with the Oilers on a four-year contract that very day.

Photo by Providence College Athletics

COLLEGE LIFE

Fayne played high school hockey at Noble and Greenough in Dedham, Massachusetts, about an hour drive south of where he was born (Nashua, New Hampshire).

He finished three seasons there, scoring 60 points (14-46-60) in 84 games. Fayne was drafted by New Jersey 155th overall ahead of his final high school year. At the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, he moved south again, this time 45 minutes down the road to Providence College.

At Providence, Fayne played all four seasons. He was an alternate captain as a junior and transitioned into full-time captaincy as a senior in 2009-10. That final year was his best in college from a point production standpoint. He tallied 22 (5-17-22) in 34 games.

“I played a lot of minutes back then, probably 25-30 minutes per game,” Fayne said. “I was usually in that shutdown role.”

It was four years that Fayne wouldn’t trade for anything. His time at Providence gave him an opportunity to prepare for the next step of his career.

“College helped me a lot because I needed that extra time to develop my game,” Fayne said. “I was still pretty raw coming out of high school. It was great hockey-wise because it was the first time I had real, breakdown coaching to get in-depth with different systems and stuff like that. In the prep school level, it’s more just having the best players go out and play then see what happens. It also helped, being at school, with time management. Having to write a paper the night before the game and stuff like that. I think overall, I felt it helped me become a little more well-rounded.”

GOING PRO

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound blueliner made his first step into the professional ranks on October 9, 2010 with the Albany Devils in the American Hockey League. For some defencemen and most players, it takes time to develop before moving up from the minors. But a little over a month after his pro debut, Fayne stepped onto the ice at the NHL level for the first time.

On November 22, 2010, Fayne played his first game for the New Jersey Devils.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Mark Fayne #5 of the Edmonton Oilers looks on against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on October 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

“That was awesome,” Fayne said. “It was against the Washington Capitals, playing (Alex) Ovechkin. I actually got called up the night before, so I went down and had a morning skate. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to play because they had seven healthy defencemen. At game time, they told me I was in so I was pretty excited. My family was able to come down too.”

It was a nerve-racking evening, but Fayne settled in quickly.

“Luckily, we got out to a 4-0 first period start so that calmed the nerves a little bit and I wasn’t as jumpy. I still don’t remember too much of the game. I was trying to fly around and do everything possible but it was a great experience and one of the things you never forget.”

Little did he know at the time that he would play 57 NHL games that season.

“That whole year, every other game I thought there was a possibility I could be sent down because the Devils had so many D in their lineup,” he said. “They had a lot of injuries at the beginning of the season and that’s why I got called up. Then guys started to get healthy and come back so I actually went down for a week about a month after I was called up. Then they had another injury so I was called back up. I would say around the All Star break I was more comfortable. I was playing against other teams’ top lines, playing some decent minutes. You could just tell with the coaches that they weren’t treating me as a young guy anymore and I was just a normal defensive guy.”

Around the All Star break was Fayne’s first time realizing he belonged. After just 19 games in the AHL as a rookie, Fayne was no longer knocking at the door to the NHL - he was a full-time contributor.

LEAVING JERSEY FOR EDMONTON

Fayne played three more seasons for New Jersey following that rookie year. He was pulling some extensive duty with defensive partner Andy Greene and enjoying success in his shutdown role.

The biggest thing he can take from his time there was just how much he learned as a young player.

“My understanding of systems and understanding of the game,” Fayne said. “I think a lot of that was a credit to the coaches that I had there. Jacques Lemaire, my first year, was the smartest hockey guy I’ve met so far with his philosophies on the game. Then also having Larry Robinson and Scott Stevens as defensive coaches, the nuances and different things in the game that you don’t really pick up on and you have to play the game a long time to really understand it and those guys knew everything. I could just pick their brain or they’d see a small thing that would help me then they’d show me. That really helped me a lot.”

All good things must come to an end however. After everything he’d been through with the Devils, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, Fayne would hit free agency and find a new home.

There was interest in the defenceman with a few teams vying for his services, but Fayne was awaiting the right one.

“There were a few teams but I was more just looking for the right fit, the right place where I felt comfortable that I could step in, have an impact and go to a team I thought could win.”

After initial hesitation, Fayne realized Edmonton was that team.

“I was still kind of banking on Jersey,” Fayne said. “Once I started realizing that wasn’t a sure thing, I started feeling open-minded of the idea of moving to different areas of the country and North America. It was just kind of one of those things. I would say two days before free agency I was really open to the idea of coming out here. Before that, I was still a little hesitant but a couple of days before I was getting comfortable with the idea of coming here.”

Fayne made the choice to sign with the Oilers and he hasn’t looked back, except maybe out of fear of the looming winter.

“Maybe in a couple of months when the weather turns bad but so far it’s nice,” Fayne joked. “I like the team, I have a lot of faith in this team that we can do good things and I think we’re a team that can catch people by surprise.”

The players already on the Oilers roster were watching the free agent frenzy intently that day. His decision to come to Edmonton did not go unnoticed.

“I think with the interest level in him in free agency, we knew we were getting a good player,” Oilers winger Jordan Eberle said. “He’s stepped in really well and has played well for us. He’s a great guy, he’s great to have in the locker room. It’s great to have that leadership and when you have a guy who signs here that wants to be here I think it helps a lot more.”

SHUTTING IT DOWN

Fayne was expected to be a fixture on the Oilers blueline. He had played in a shutdown role before against other teams’ top players, but it was interesting to see just how quickly the Oilers trusted their newcomer with that very task.

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 11: Mark Fayne #29 of the New Jersey Devils and Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals battle for possesion of the puck during the game at the Prudential Center on November 11, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the Oilers sixth game of the season, Fayne was paired with 22-year-old Martin Marincin against the Tampa Bay Lightning’s elite player: Steven Stamkos. The centre was held to zeroes on the stat sheet as the Oilers skated to their first win of the season.

Next up: Ovechkin and the Capitals. That pairing of Marinicin and Fayne was once again tasked with stopping one of the league’s best scorers and they, along with their teammates, did just that.

Flash back to the defenceman’s first NHL game, which was also against Ovechkin’s Capitals. Fayne never thought at the time that he’d one day be squaring off against that very player.

But for years now, Fayne is making a habit out of taking on that challenge. The Oilers are the beneficiaries now.

“Just his steadiness,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “I think he really relishes his role here, he’s embraced it. It’s a tough thing that he has to do every night, to go out against other teams’ top line or top six. With that role, there comes failure but he sticks with it. He’s had a good run against those top guys and he’s just brought a real sense of calm to our back end. It just goes to show if you’re a student of the game and play simple on that back end you can get a lot done.”

Having a defenceman with the ability Fayne has gives the team confidence.

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 27: Mark Fayne #5 of the Edmonton Oilers heads to the dressing room prior to a game against the Montreal Canadiens on October 27, 2014 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

“Just having his presence against Ovechkin and Stamkos, he played against them a ton and just shut them down,” Eberle said. “It helps in the defensive zone. (Ben) Scrivens obviously loves it, playing goalie. To have that comfort level in having a defensive defenceman to shut people down is something we haven’t really had in the past.”

Fayne couldn’t be more to own that responsibility in Edmonton.

“I think it’s an honour really, especially when you get matched up with Stamkos or Ovechkin, just knowing that they’re the best guys in the league and they’re dangerous and are able to change a game,” Fayne said. “The coaching staff is counting on you and your partner to try to minimize them or shut them down. You know that sometimes they’re going to score and are going to do stuff because they’re the best players in the world. I think you’ve got to be realistic with it but it’s also a challenge you have to want to accept.”

THE CALM PRESENCE

As Eakins mentioned, Fayne has brought a calming presence to the Oilers blueline. Packed full of youth and inexperience, the club’s defensive core could always use another veteran guy.

You’d think it all comes naturally to Fayne. However, his calm, veteran demeanour wasn’t embedded in the 27-year-old’s DNA. It was something that he had to work at, which all started in New Jersey.

“I wasn’t always like that,” Fayne admitted. “When I first came into the league, I would get real worked up over mistakes or turnovers and stuff like that. I had Henrik Tallinder and Andy Greene as two of my defensive partners my first year. They were real good with telling me, ‘calm down, don’t worry about it, everyone makes mistakes.’”

In watching Greene and Tallinder and how they operate, Fayne was given a road map to owning a smoother approach to the game.

“Just on the bench I was amazed with how composed they were,” Fayne said of his teammates. “Even in close games, they’d be calm right to the end. In Jersey, games came right to the last minute and they were just so calm on the bench that I started to work on that myself. I started to relax and I found that helped a lot. I wasn’t worried about all these different things and I could forget about things, move onto the next shift, evaluate my mistake and move on.

“Those two guys were so good at it that I started to do that. I feel that over the past few years I’ve gotten better at it and I’m still trying to do it. There are times when I get worked up and I know other people feed off that. When there’s one guy getting worked up, someone else will. It’s just unsettling on the bench so it’s a lot better when you’ve got an even-keeled guy, especially in the d-core where there are mistakes that are going to be made and usually they’re pretty evident mistakes that result in a goal or something. I think you’ve just got to keep your head on straight and move onto the next play.”

Calm, cool and collected, Fayne has made an impact already in his short time with the Oilers.

THE FUTURE

Fayne signed a four-year contract with the Oilers, so it’s safe to say that Edmonton is not just a pitstop for the fifth-year pro.

I asked Fayne what he wanted to take from his time here in his new city. He paused for several seconds before answering with conviction.

“I think right now the Edmonton Oilers are looked at as a rebuilding franchise,” Fayne said. “I want to get that stigma out. I think that we have enough guys in this locker room and this organization that we’re over the rebuilding era. We’re onto making the playoffs and making noise in the league. I think we have the ability to do that and it’s something I want to accomplish in the next few years.”

Back in July, Fayne was looking for the right fit. He appears to have found it in Edmonton.

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