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Q+A: In first fall since retirement, Fiddler enjoying time away

The former Stars forward, who will be honored as part of 25th Anniversary Reunion Nights, has made Texas his home

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

We catch up with Vern Fiddler shortly after he's returned from a school camping trip with his 10-year-old son, Blake, about an hour and 45 minutes east of Dallas near Tyler. The campers and their chaperones slept in cabins, but there was all manner of outdoor activity, and Fiddler had a blast.

It seems to be the perfect place to start our conversation with the 37-year-old, who retired this offseason after a distinguished NHL career that saw him play 877 regular season games -- none of them the easy way.

Scott Burnside: So, has your first fall as a retired NHL player been different than you thought?

Vern Fiddler: "As a parent, you're always missing everything, and you're always wondering what it's like, so I've got a really good taste of that. I've been thrown right into the fire, which has been really nice. It's obviously kept me busy and it made me realize even more how much I've missed, and made me realize how much more important this is, actually, than trying to grind it out trying to play 1,000 games, or trying to play one more year. It's been awesome. I've really enjoyed it. And to be honest, I really haven't had time to even think about missing the game. I've watched some practices here in Dallas -- we watched one in Toronto, the Golden Knights -- and I can tell you, honestly, I do not miss putting on my skates."

SB: That's the way it should be right?

VF: "A lot of guys you talk to they're like, they still think they kind of got ripped off because they feel they could have played another year, but no one would give them a contract. You can't really look at that. You've got to look at it like you got so much out of this game -- which I did and I'm happy with that -- and I think that's why I'm having an easier transition."

SB: Remind us again about your kids?

VF: "My son, Blake, is 10 and my daughter, Bella, is 7."

SB: So what's on the agenda in the Fiddler household? What kind of stuff are you doing?

VF: "I'm helping coach our '07 squirt Triple-A (hockey) team. We've been to Buffalo, Toronto, Houston -- we're going to San Antonio this weekend, so pretty much every weekend, we have something with that. With my daughter, we do dance, and the majority of time, I take her to figure skating. I don't do a whole bunch of the dance stuff."

SB: What's the impact been like on the kids, having dad at home all the time?

VF: "I really notice with it with my son and the hockey, where he's taken it to another level because I'm constantly at the games and helping him out. He's not listening to some other guy, like two coaches at once. I've just noticed in his personality he's a little bit more involved. I think he's just a lot more comfortable when I'm around, so I've really noticed him come out his shell, which is really nice."

SB: When you first came to Dallas, that was in the summer of 2011 as a free agent after spending a couple of years in Phoenix.

VF: "Yes, Joe Nieuwendyk signed me."

SB: How did that unfold?

VF: "I was negotiating with Phoenix, because they were offering me not quite the same money, but they were offering me a three-year deal, and as you do at free agency, you kind of hold out to the bitter end to get the most money. I had probably 10 offers that summer. My agent mentioned that Joe and the Stars had reached out to them at the draft and said, 'Oh is Vern going to free agency?' And he said, 'Well, we don't know yet. Looks like we might sign in Phoenix.' And they said, 'Well, keep us in the loop, and if you do go to free agency, we'd love to have a chat.' So we kind of kept that on the backburner, and when things got a little dicey at the end of negotiations with Phoenix, and I just said to my agent, 'Give Dallas a call once the market opens and see what they have to offer,' because it was a place I'd always liked to go play. It was just one of those places when you came to play as a visiting player, the atmosphere was always great and it was always great weather."

SB: As it turned out, the Coyotes ended up matching what the Stars were offering, but Fiddler ended up not just signing with Dallas, but making the Dallas area his home.

VF: "Obviously I didn't think now, thinking back then, that I'd still be here. But it's just been one of those places where we really feel strongly about the values that the people in Texas have, and that's what we want to instill in our children so that's why we're still here."

SB: It's funny how it works out, no? Do you ever think what might have happened if Phoenix had offered something more and you'd ended up signing there?

VF: "Oh for sure. We talked about it the other day. Where we'd be. We'd be back in Canada already, or maybe we'd made a home in Phoenix, which is not my style of place, but for sure it's one of those things where you just feel blessed that the opportunity came, and we could make some roots here with our kids. My daughter's even got Texas slang -- she knows nothing better, or different. We just love Texas and the people are so great. There's nothing we don't like about Texas."

Video: Fiddler Announces Retirement

SB: What do you remember of your first impressions of arriving in Dallas, your first training camp or things like that?

VF: "One of the things that sticks out ... was flying in, I remember how hot it was. There was a huge drought here and there was record-setting weather, and I remember saying to my wife, 'Wow, what have I done here? It's really hot here.' One other thing, I remember being nervous to come in the dressing room because playing in Arizona, we had so many battles with Dallas and saying things. Me and Steve Ott would always go at each other. I remember feeling really nervous like, 'Oh, how is this going to go?' But Steve Ott came up to me right away, and he said, 'Hey, I know we've had some great battles, but everything we've said is under the bridge.' I just remember thinking, wow, that was great of him to say that, because it definitely made me feel at ease and make me feel like I was part of the team."

SB: It's interesting, because you don't really think of those things when a player goes to a new team -- the history that might be there. Are there moments where you go, 'Wow, I can't believe he said that.' Or 'I can't believe I said that,' especially given the way you played the game?

VF: "Oh yeah. It got pretty ugly a few times. Even there's times you're lying in bed and thinking, 'I can't believe he said that,' or 'I can't believe I said that.' Or 'I shouldn't have said that.' But at the end of the day, you're just doing your job. And the majority of the guys -- from word of mouth or whatever -- I knew Steve Ott was a good guy, and I'm sure he knew I was a good guy. And at the end of the day, we became really good friends out of it, and I'm sure glad I got a chance to play with him."

SB: Are there favorite Dallas memories that you've taken with you?

VF: "The playoff games were always really exciting. And I remember we'd missed the playoffs a couple of years and when we finally had got it, Lindy Ruff had come in and we'd finally got over that hump, and I just remember coming out that first playoff game, we were playing Anaheim, I just remember the energy in the building and the fans were like 'Playoff hockey's back here.' That was one of my great memories."

SB: What else?

VF: "With my son being his age, he was starting to be able to come to the games and roam around the lower bowl in warmup, and watching him and my daughter in warmup, I'd get to throw them pucks. That's something that always sticks in my memory is coming down the tunnel (to the ice) and thinking, 'Where are my two kids going to be in the lower bowl to throw them a puck?' And they were at that age where they could see what dad did. And driving home with my son after the game, those are the things that I really remember about Dallas."

SB: For them to have those memories of you playing, that's pretty important stuff, going in the dressing room and things like that.

VF: "For sure. My daughter really couldn't come in the dressing room all the time, but my son, he'd be in the hot tub/cold tub room with us after going over the turnover sheet and telling the guys what they were on faceoffs and stuff like that. The guys were always really good. Like Antoine (Roussel) came and stayed with us at training camp one year. They (the kids) still talk about stuff like that being around all the guys. The guys were always so good to them. That's what's great about hockey players."

SB: Lots of organizations are like that, but Dallas has, for a long time, had a real family feel to it.

VF: "It started coming in here with Joe (Nieuwendyk). That was a big thing for Joe, too. Your dad would be standing outside the dressing room and you'd just tell your dad in the morning, 'It's the morning skate, dad, just stay out of the dressing room.' And you'd come in after a meeting or something, and your dad would be all sprawled out in the lounge having the breakfast omelet and the coffee, because Joe had told him. I'd say, 'Dad, I told you not to be in here,' but Joe was like, 'Mr. Fiddler get in there.' That's how they've always been, and then Jim Nill took over, and it was the same thing. It's always family first. That's what it's always about, and when you retire, that's the stuff you look back at, and that's what's most important to me. I don't know if that's the most important thing to everybody, but that's why I keep bringing stories back about my kids, because that's what I wanted them to remember."

SB: Your kids must have been wide-eyed the whole time Antoine Roussel was at your place.

VF: "We had just bought a new house, so he was helping us hang pictures. We put this big huge picture collage up on the wall and me and Rouss were leveling it all up and hanging it on a ladder. The kids' buddies come over and they go 'Oh, my dad and Antoine Roussel did that picture collage.'"

SB: You haven't had a chance to miss hockey yet, which is probably a good thing, but do you still have an emotional connection to this team and the franchise?

VF: "One-hundred percent. I still feel the same way about Nashville, and it wasn't just because I went back there in the playoffs (last spring). Those were two places I spent a long time, both Dallas and Nashville. I spent small parts in New Jersey and Phoenix, which I don't feel the attachment to those organizations, but definitely, in Dallas, I feel a connection and I don't know whether it's because I was here for the five years, or whether this is my home now. They've always tried to include me now that I've retired."

SB: One of those invites came in the form of helping to run the captain's skates prior to the start of training camp in September.

VF: "They might not think it was a big thing, but it was a huge them to me. I'm such a guy's guy and I got to be around the guys and I knew that going into retirement that that's what I was going to miss the most was being around the guys and going for dinner and joking around and teasing everybody. And that gave me another two weeks to be like, 'Okay, this is another two weeks and then it's time to leave these guys alone and let them do their job.' They've always made me feel special. I know I'm just a fourth line guy. I'm not the hugest part of a hockey team, but they always made me feel like I'm superstar and I'll forever be grateful to them for that."

Vernon Fiddler returns to American Airlines Center on Saturday at 1 p.m., where he will be honored throughout the Stars' game against Edmonton as part of the team's 25th Anniversary Reunion Nights. For more information, and to purchase tickets, click here.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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