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PRINCIPE: Fedun it Right

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers

About the only thing missing from Tuesday night's game between Edmonton and Florida was some guy with a camera at the end of the game walking up to Taylor Fedun and saying, "You just played your first NHL game and scored your first NHL goal where are you going to celebrate?"

Fedun's response would have been, "I'm going to Disneyland."

It's a take off of those commercials from the past, shot right after the Super Bowl with the game MVP. It felt like Fedun had conquered an opponent much greater than the Panthers. He beat the odds.

There are human interest stories and sports stories, and then there is the 25-year-old who is both. A human interest sports story that can't help but make you want to cheer for him.

I first met Fedun in Penticton, B.C. at the Young Stars tournament in 2011. He had just signed with the Oilers and was making his organizational debut. As an Edmontonian who dreamed of one day wearing the Oil drop, I always found it interesting talking to those who actually had that chance. It took just a few minutes to realize this kid was smart, personable and savvy. He was a little older than many at the tournament but he seemed even older than that. There was a lot to like about him, even if he said he grew up watching me. Ouch… That hurt. But it was true, as he was 10 when I started working in Edmonton.

His confident demeanour spilled over to the ice, where you could see he was ahead of so many of the teenagers at the tournament.

It was a nice story developing as he worked his way through camp, and while more familiar names were being sent to the minors Fedun was still at main camp. But that all changed in one moment. A routine play of touching the puck for a potential icing went bad, very bad for Fedun.

Eric Nystrom tripped the defenceman into the boards and his leg wasn't just broken, but shattered and so to, it seemed, was his dream to play in the NHL.

As he lay there, howling in pain, Taylor Fedun's hockey life must have flashed before his eyes. He was a crumpled mess of a young man who did nothing wrong but was paying a severe price for a careless and mistimed play by an opponent.

After that, the next time I saw Fedun was when his dad wheeled him into the Oilers locker room to talk about what had happened. His son, near tears, describing the incident. However, I remember like it was yesterday that Fedun said he would play again and make it to the NHL. I'm not sure if anyone believed that to be possible, but he did and really that's all that mattered.

After that, I would bump into Taylor when he would be in for therapy. From a wheelchair, I saw him progress to crutches. Then a cane, to a slow walk with a limp, and eventually he looked like nothing had happened. I just summarized months of rehab in two sentences.

While the Oilers practiced, I would see Fedun work on different leg strengthening drills with a member of the Oilers staff. He was relentless. I still wondered how a nondrafted, then 23 year old, who had never played professional hockey other then a couple of pre-season games, would be able to fulfill his dream. A great story, but was it realistic?

It was up to Taylor Fedun. He's listed at 6'0-198 pounds, but that doesn't measure the size of his heart or determination. The defenceman made it back. A heartwarming tale. If he only played in the American Hockey League, that in itself would have been a great success. Instead, he never stopped to pat himself on the back for what he had done. Fedun was still focused on what he was going to do. That happened November 5, 2013 in Sunrise Florida when he made his NHL debut.

At the 2:39 mark of the second period he scored his first NHL goal off a slick pass from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. It was a special moment for any hockey player, but one to savour for Taylor Fedun. The long road to recovery had been completed.

In that game against Florida, Fedun became the first and only player in Edmonton Oilers history to wear the jersey number 81. That seemed appropriate because Taylor is truly one of a kind.

Gene Principe is the host of Oilers games on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers.

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