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Durability Just One Quality Defining Fiddler This Year

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

Vernon Fiddler is in pretty select company these days. The Dallas Stars’ third-line center is one of four regulars who have skated in every game to date for the current Pacific Division leaders. Through 70 contests, the 31-year-old centerman has 20 points (7-13-20) and has taken more face-offs (906) than anyone else on the Stars, but the bulk of his contributions don’t come on the stat sheet.

Vernon Fiddler Highlights
That’s because this gritty center is part of Dallas’ third line, a group normally sent over the boards by Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan with a simple mission-slow down or even stop the opposition’s top line. It’s a job he and linemates Radek Dvorak and Eric Nystrom not only take great pride in, but one they have done with the highest level of effectiveness.

And it helps that Gulutzan had kept this workmanlike trio together for the bulk of this season, at least until Dvorak’s recent injury, which has allowed them to develop strong chemistry off the ice as well as to become a highly cohesive unit on the pond.

“It’s great. They’re both really good guys off the ice and we get along so well that on the ice we can talk to each other when we’re not doing things right. We seem to straighten each other out right away,” Fiddler said. “It’s also nice to have the same linemates. You know you’re going to have the same linemates no matter what happens.”

Talking to his linemates, it quickly becomes abundantly clear how much mutual respect there is between the three of them. “He’s been a guy with great character. He’s a hard-working guy. You can see it every game and shift, he’s working very hard to make us better,” Dvorak said. “It’s been fun to play with him. He’s brought a lot of character to this team and he’s got a lot of experience.”

Nystrom concurs. “He’s unreal, a great guy to play with. Who wouldn’t want to play with a guy that just battles so hard, gets in there and does everything right? He’s always in the right position. He plays super hard defensively, got the right attitude,” he said. “He’s a guy you love to play with. I’d love to see him shoot the puck more, but he’s a great player.”

But his linemates aren’t the only ones who are big fans of what he has brought to the Stars in this, his first of a three-year contract. His head coach is also pretty happy with what “Fidds” has brought to the ice as well as to the room.

“He’s just one of those hard-working guys. He looks after himself here every day, maintenance day in and day out,” Gulutzan said. “Fidds plays a heavy game, so it’s a credit to how he looks after himself. Down this stretch, he and all of those guys, they’ve taken on a role, that line. Fidds has done a heck of a job for us.”

The Edmonton native is now in his ninth NHL season and he’s been playing this game long enough to know that he and his linemates aren’t going to be at the top of their game every night, but more often than not they will make a positive contribution to the club.

“You’re not going to have a good game every night, but majority of the time we seem to be able to play hard out there. When you have the same linemates every night, you know exactly where people are going. Our game is to eat minutes up and play hard against other top guys to make sure that we can take some minutes away from our top-end guys. I think that we’ve done a pretty good job of that this year,” Fiddler said. “But at the same time, we’ve got better hockey in front of us and we know we can play a little bit better.”

But considering the style of game he plays, which can be characterized as hard-driving and gritty, it’s amazing to consider that he is currently on track to play all 82 games of a regular season for the first time in his career. He played in 79 games during the 2007-08 season when he was in Nashville and logged 78 games the following year, also with the Predators, but even he admits this is somewhat uncharted territory.

“You have to take care of your body by eating good, getting a lot of rest and getting your recovery when you come to the rink in cold tubs, staying loose, stretching and stuff like that. But when you get rest, you’ve got to take advantage of it and when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. Past years I’ve obviously missed games but that was one of my goals at the beginning of the year, was to try and play every game,” Fiddler said. “It’s still my goal. I try to be accountable before and after every game and I think my preparation’s actually been a little bit better this year than ever.”

So, what has been the secret to him staying so durable thus far in his first year as a Dallas Star? He admits it’s a simple formula but he also gives credit where it’s due for some sage advice he received from someone very close to him.

“Just resting [has been one key], I’ve got to give my wife a lot of credit for that because there are times I probably should be up, around and helping out but she’s given me that,” Fiddler said. “I’ve been sleeping a lot more and I think that’s one of the things that as I’m getting a bit older, the rest is definitely important. It also comes with luck. You’re going to get injuries over the course of the year and I’ve just been fortunate not to get any of that.”

And as he looks at his new teammates, especially at guys like captain Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott, players who have a style and a skill set similar to his, and sees them miss games with a variety of ailments, he’s even more amazed he has yet to miss one this season.

“Yeah it is [tougher to stay healthy with the way I play],” Fiddler said. “You look at guys like Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott, those kinds of guys and it’s bound to happen. Brenden Morrow’s played so hard over the course of his career. Sometimes it catches up to you and you have to take some time to regroup and recover. It’s a little bit of luck. But if you take care of yourself, at the end of the day you’re going to miss less games and that’s just what I’m trying to do right now.”

Like the rest of his teammates, he definitely has his eyes on the price-reaching the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. But unlike many of his fellow Stars, making the postseason won’t be an entirely new experience as he has 23 games of playoff hockey on his resume-13 games with the Predators and 10 more with the Coyotes, most recently last season.

“Yeah, it gives you goose bumps down your body just thinking about that. I think it’s extra special when you start the year, nobody gives you any chance and your expectations, you don’t really have any,” Fiddler said. “We’re one of those teams where we’ve just battled and battled all year. We’ve overcome injuries. We’ve overcome bad play. We’ve overcome a lot of things, I don’t think it’d be fitting if we don’t make it just because of the things that we’ve accomplished this year. We’ve still got a little ways to go, but we’re just taking it game-by-game and it seems to be working for us right now.”

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