Photo: Dave Sanford/NHL via Getty Images
Former Washington Capitals forward Eric Fehr had just retired from hockey. But than an itch from within to play in the Beijing Olympics changed his plans.
Fehr, who officially retired from hockey last summer, resumed his career and played for the Canadian team at the Channel One Cup in Moscow in December. The plan was to get in shape and then try to make the Canadian National team for the Olympics. It was there that representatives of KHL’s Ak Bars reached out to Fehr about playing for them.
Fehr told Business Online Russia he was disappointed to hear he hadn’t make the Canadian Olympic team.
“Of course, I am very disappointed that I will not play at the Olympics. I learned about this from our head coach Dmitry Kvartalnov when we returned from one of the games. This was very sad news. I didn’t have any communication with the Canadian team after the Channel One Cup. Apparently, they made a decision on the composition, based on what they saw at the tournament and in the KHL matches in January,” said Fehr.
“For me, playing at the Olympics would mean a lot. Actually, it was largely because of it that I returned to hockey. I ended my career in the summer and had no plans to return, but the idea of playing for the Canadian team in Beijing seemed interesting to me. It’s a pity it didn’t work out.”
But Fehr accepted Team Canada’s decision and began to look ahead at his new opportunity to play hockey in a new league and a new country.
“We need to turn this page and focus on the next goal – a victory with Ak Bars in the KHL. I ended up on a very good team and I want to help. Now I’m getting in shape, and I think we have a chance for the championship. I was very impressed with our team. I can imagine how hard it is to play against us. There are talented guys on every line, so I’m looking forward to the playoffs,” said Fehr.
Fehr, 36, has been given the nickname of “Batya” (Dad) from his new teammates at Ak Bars. But he said he feels the nickname may be premature.
“I can’t say yet what my role will be. Usually I played on the power play, went out a little on the penalty kill, but let’s see how it will be in the playoffs. In Switzerland, I got a lot of playing time, but in Ak Bars the line-up is deeper and there are many more strong players. It’s nice that they call me Batya, but, probably, I haven’t earned this nickname yet.”
Like most players who have spent time on the Capitals playing with Alex Ovechkin, Fehr heard about the Great 8 very early on in his time with Ak Bars.
“It’s funny, but recently in training I shot on one of our young goalkeepers. I later asked him how things were going, and he replied that he was a little nervous. I asked why? And he says: “I grew up on Washington games and saw how you played with Ovechkin.” I was a little surprised and confused. I didn’t even think that many in Russia watched the Capitals matches and knew me as a child. In general, Ak Bars has a very friendly team, many guys who speak English. I was warmly received, I made friends with everyone and there were no problems with adapting.”
Ovechkin called Fehr when it was publicly announced that Fehr had signed in the KHL with Ak Bars. It turns out Ovechkin has an excellent memory.
”Ha! He called me when I signed a contract with Ak Bars. The story is that I once told him that I was not going to play in the KHL. He remembered this and laughed: “I told you that you would, Eric.”
Fehr has very fond memories of playing with Ovechkin and recalled when he first met him back in 2004.
“It was our first NHL pre-season camp in September 2004. I don’t remember the details, but it was fun to watch him then and now. I remember how his clothes were discussed on the team. Ovechkin wore tracksuits and skinny jeans and stuff and didn’t try to fit in to please anyone. He dressed the way he was comfortable and did not change his style.”
Fehr also recalled his first goal with the Capitals, which was assisted by Alexander Semin.
“The goal turned out a little strange. Semin passed the puck into the zone, moved to the center, and I rushed to him, practically took the puck away and shot at Cam Ward in goal. But playing with Semin was very cool. He is the most talented guy. Almost as talented as Ovechkin,” said Fehr.
Semin’s turmoil in Washington has been well documented. But for Fehr, part of it was due to the language barrier.
“Yes, he did not talk much in the locker room, as he had problems with the language. He mostly talked with the Russian guys, but now I understand him very well. When I ended up in Russia, I also didn’t speak Russian with anyone. I can imagine how difficult it was for him,” said Fehr.
“In general, I do not believe that he was to blame for the failure of “Washington” in the playoffs. Semin is a great player, he scored a lot of goals in the NHL and with him the team won the regular season and scored more than a hundred points. He had many great seasons with Washington, and it would be wrong to blame one person.”