by Samantha Wood || for NHL.com
Cade Fairchild almost missed his first NHL game.
The 22-year-old defenseman got the call at practice with his Peoria Rivermen the morning of Nov. 29. He drove himself the three hours to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, only to find out his flight was cancelled. After being re-routed to Chicago Midway Airport, the Minnesota native boarded a plane to Washington, D.C., to meet up with the St. Louis Blues as they prepared to take on the Washington Capitals that night.
He made it just in time to lace up his skates for warm-ups.
“It was kind of a whirlwind of a day, but it was certainly reaching a goal of my life that I’ve had for a long time so it was pretty special,” Fairchild said.
Logging just over 10 and a half minutes of ice time in the Blues’ 2-1 victory over the Caps, Fairchild skated mostly under the radar – he registered one hit, one blocked shot and one shot on goal in his 14 shifts.
But that was enough for him to get a taste of NHL ice.
“I think the biggest thing is just the environment,” he said. “It’s certainly a little bit different of a game. It’s a little bit more of a controlled game, where teams are really ready to capitalize on your mistakes.
“But the biggest difference is just playing in front of that many more people and the players are that much better.”
Five days after his NHL debut, Fairchild was assigned back to Peoria, where he leads the AHL in plus/minus with a commanding plus-18 rating – although he doesn’t focus too much on the stat.
“I’ve been playing with some good players that obviously have helped,” Fairchild said. “I’ve had great coaching here in Peoria and maybe a little bit of luck too.”
In his 21 games for head coach Jared Bednar’s Rivermen, the former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher has notched two goals and nine assists for 11 points.
Since being selected by the Blues in the fourth round (96th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Fairchild said he has worked consistently on his game on both sides of the puck.
“My strengths are on the offensive side of the puck, but at the same time I like to pride myself on being good defensively,” he said. “Since being [in Peoria] I’ve tried to hone the offensive skills by working on my shot – especially from the blue line and getting pucks to the net – but also on the defensive side with positioning and competing on wall battles.”
With the long days and nights on the ice and on the road, Fairchild is grateful for a familiar face and fellow rookie Jay Barriball fits the bill. The two were teammates for four seasons at the University of Minnesota.
As far as a possible Fairchild-Barriball on-ice pairing, Fairchild won’t go that far.
“They don’t like putting the two young guys out together,” he said, “but I think it’s safe to say that if they did that’d probably be a pretty good combo.”
Though he’s only about 20 games into his professional career, and now with one NHL game under his belt, Fairchild stays motivated and optimistic about his future.
“I’m just trying to continue to get better,” he said. “Every player’s always working to get better and get stronger and improve his game and I’m just trying to do that.”
As the Rivermen sit in third place in the AHL’s Midwest Division with an 11-12-1-1 record and 24 points, Fairchild remains focused on helping his team up the standings.
“I think we have a good team here,” he said. “And once we kind of get the ship going the right way, I think there are a lot of good things ahead for the Rivermen.”