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Former Stars forward Vernon Fiddler hangs up his skates

The 37-year-old veteran scored 104 goals and tallied 261 points during an NHL career that spanned 877 games

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

Fiddler thanks Stars Fans

Fiddler Announces Retirement

Former Star Vern Fiddler thanks the City of Dallas and Stars fans for their support throughout his career

  • 01:09 •

DALLAS -- Vernon Fiddler is on the ice. No surprise there.

He attended his first National Hockey League training camp in 2001.

But on this day he's wearing a track suit and he's got a whistle.

Around him swirl veteran NHLers and those hopeful of a chance at an NHL life, going through the same kinds of drills and scrimmages that are going on in rinks in every NHL city, the unofficial start to training camps that begin in earnest in just over a week.

When those camps open, Fiddler, 37, will not be among those preparing for the coming NHL campaign. Instead he'll be helping coach his 10-year-old son's team in suburban Dallas and watching his daughter, 7, figure skate and attend gymnastics.

"This has obviously been a little bit different," Fiddler said after Tuesday's informal workout at the Dallas Stars' Frisco rink. "But I just knew at the end of the year that would be it."

"To be honest, I don't have any kind of itch to be grabbing my gear and coming (to camp)," the Edmonton native said. "My body's just been through the ringer a few times."

And so we pause to mark the passage of time and the end of a career, not necessarily because of Fiddler's stats or awards, but rather because it provides us a rare moment to celebrate what was a triumph of what was, as opposed to what was supposed to be.

He showed up at his first NHL camp as an undrafted invitee of the Minnesota Wild in the fall of 2001.

When he got cut by the Wild that fall, a member of the management team - Fiddler won't say who out of respect - took him aside and told him he probably wasn't cut out to be an NHL player.

"I remember getting cut," he recalled with a smile. "I won't mention his name but they call you in the office and he just told me, you know you've got decent skill but you'll just never be an NHL hockey player. And he told me that. And that's one thing that stuck in my head forever."

"And I just remember getting cut and just thinking to myself, now what am I going to do. I don't have anywhere really to go," Fiddler said.

For lots of guys, that's where this story might have ended. No shame in that.

But 16 years and 877 NHL games later, Fiddler penned a completely different script.

"It's just really weird now looking back at it, even going to Minnesota's camp. I don't know if I was just so naïve and stupid that I was like, I can make this team," he said.

Before the Wild camp, there were the four years he spent playing major junior hockey in Kelowna. He hadn't been drafted or appeared on anyone's list leading up to that experience either. In fact, when Fiddler showed up for his first camp with the Western Hockey League team, he didn't even bother bringing his school transcripts with him because there was only a slight likelihood he'd be staying.

He should have.

After being cut by Minnesota in the fall of 2001, Fiddler thought about going back to Alberta and going to university. But he ended up taking a chance playing in the ECHL with Roanoke and before the end of the season he was in the American Hockey League.

Current New Jersey general manager Ray Shero tells a great story of trying to track down Fiddler when Shero was the assistant GM in Nashville. The Predators wanted Fiddler on their AHL team in Milwaukee. But Shero didn't have Fiddler's number and was calling all the Fiddlers in the phone book in the Wheeling area. By the time he got Fiddler on the phone, the hard-skating center had agreed to join Trent Yawney's AHL team in Norfolk.

Shero and the Predators finally got their man, signing him at the end of the season.

But even then, expectations were muted.

You're a good minor leaguer, he was told. Work hard but don't worry about getting called up to the big club.

Seven games into the AHL season in Milwaukee and head coach Peter Horachek called Fiddler into his office after an optional practice.

"There were sticks in my stall and my bag was out and I was, oh, you've got to be kidding me," Fiddler recalled. "I'm going somewhere else? I've been traded or I've been sent to the coast?"

Horachek told him to shut the door to the office.

"And everything's going through my mind right? And he goes, the big boys just called for you, you're going to the show," Fiddler recalled.

Even now, the beauty of the moment shines on Fiddler's bearded face like a beacon.

He was to fly to Nashville and join the team for a trip to the west coast where he'd play his first NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center.

Teammate Dan Hamhuis, now a current Dallas Stars defenseman, had driven to practice with Fiddler that day and the two stopped at a mall on the way home so Fiddler could buy a couple of decent shirts for the trip.

Nashville head coach Barry Trotz stopped Fiddler when the team got to Los Angeles.

"He said, 'do you think you can help us?'" Fiddler recalled. "And I felt like saying, well, I'm not quite sure but I'm going to give it my best shot.' But I was like oh yeah, yes sir I can."

His parents flew in from Edmonton and Fiddler recalls them sitting in their seats, stricken with nerves.

They needn't have worried.

Former Dallas captain Brenden Morrow played against Fiddler in the WHL and then against him after Fiddler broke in full time with Nashville and finally alongside him in Dallas.

"He was just a good leader, a good teammate and he had the best of intentions all of the time," Morrow said. "He wasn't looking out for himself, he wasn't selfish. Just an all-round good team guy that was in it for the right reasons."

But as much as Fiddler accomplished on the ice as an excellent face-off man and determined penalty killer, Morrow will recall the moments away from the rink that helped define Fiddler's character and his importance to the team.

Like the picture of Fiddler, current Dallas captain Jamie Benn and Benn's brother Jordie, grinning from a single metal ice bath tub that occupies a special place on Morrow's phone and in his heart.

"They are clothed but it's a pretty special picture that I giggle at every time I'm scrolling through my phone," Morrow said this week. "I have it in my favorites, when I see it and I see the expression on those guys' faces, I giggle every time I see it."

Trotz, who coached Fiddler in Nashville for the first part of Fiddler's career, said he always looks forward to connecting with Fiddler and recalls fondly the moments when the longtime Nashville coach would walk by and Fiddler would warn his coach that he was ready.

"He'd say, 'I've got three in me tonight Trotzy, put me out there,'" Trotz said laughing at the memory. "He had that great ability to take you out of the moment for a second when you got too serious."

"For me, having coached Vern Fiddler, I have a great appreciation for the value of the person and I love the fact that he was able, when things were tough, he never had any excuses and he'd laugh and say, we'll plough through this," Trotz said.

Trotz, the current Washington Capitals coach, recalls one night Fiddler getting into it with Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa in such a way that it even cracked up Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault.

"We always kind of had a thing going at each other, that was kind of my job out there," Fiddler recalled. "We were just going at it one game and he always would give me the angry face and I just happened to skate by him right in front of his bench I gave him the angry face and Vigneault just couldn't stop laughing."

Whether you're an analytics devotee or something more 'old school,' the parity in the league suggests that any kind of an edge is a good edge. If that means having a guy that knows when to crack wise and when to crack the whip like Fiddler, well, what's the harm in that?

"He was always the one with the best Halloween costumes, he was the most animated at Christmas with the bad sweaters, he was always up for the team parties and he went above and beyond to be the life of the party in those certain events," Morrow said.

Added another Dallas teammate, Marty Turco, "when you talk about guys like Vern Fiddler, you're talking about being a good character guy, but when you need to go win hockey games you need guys like Vern Fiddler."

"He did all the little things on a nightly basis, did them all, did them well, took a lot of pride in it and I think that rubbed off on all the other guys around him," the longtime Stars netminder said.

That's certainly what Nashville had in mind when they acquired Fiddler from New Jersey at the trade deadline a year ago.

Fiddler had signed with Shero and the Devils last summer opting to leave his wife, Chrissy, whom he'd met during his junior days in Kelowna, and their two children in the Dallas area.

By the end of the season, he was back in Nashville ultimately falling two wins short of what would have been his first-ever Stanley Cup as the Predators enjoyed their longest playoff run in franchise history.
But if there was any niggling nibble of regret or longing to give it one more try, it evaporated the moment he returned home.

"The minute I got back, I told my wife I'm sleeping in this bed every night I'm not leaving," said Fiddler.

"This game owes me nothing," he said. "It gave me everything. It's given me every nice thing I have in my life, my beautiful family, a chance to meet tremendous people and all the general managers and coaches that I've gone through."

And isn't that just about perfect?

Fiddler walked onto the Staples Center ice for his first NHL game hoping to feel the cool air rushing through his hair on NHL ice during warmups just once and he got so much more than he'd bargained for.

So, too, did the teams he played for and the players who played alongside him.

"They don't build 'em like that too much anymore," said Turco. "And I think it makes him that much more valuable and when it's time to go, it's time to stand up and salute him and be happy for him."

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB

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