WINNIPEG — You’d never guess the biggest surprise Eric Fehr has encountered during his rookie season.
"It’s the travel," said Fehr, a Winkler, Man., product who spent the past four seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League and is participating in the 2006 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic. "I thought it wouldn’t be quite as bad for a guy coming out of Brandon, with all of the bus trips. But it hasn’t been easy for us, that’s for sure."
The one thing that has always come easily for Fehr is his work in the offensive zone.
Some wondered if his gift would translate into success at the professional level, but wonder no longer.
Fehr, the first-round pick (18th overall) of the Washington Capitals in the 2003 NHL entry draft, is off to a roaring start with the Hershey Bears in his first pro season, producing 21 goals and 44 points in 48 games to sit fourth among rookies.
"I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’m happy so far," said Fehr, who made his NHL debut on Dec. 18 against the Florida Panthers. "I had a really good chance (to score) in the third period. The puck popped out to me in the slot, and I took a shot on (Roberto) Luongo, and it hit him in the upper shoulder."
Playing for head coach Bruce Boudreau has been a treat for Fehr.
"He’s probably the ideal coach that I need," said Fehr. "He was an offensive player during his career and realizes how important it is to work on your defensive game as well. Offence has always come a little easier than defence, but if I want to make a career in the NHL I have to work on that part of the game."
PENNER’S THOUGHTS: Portland Pirates forward Dustin Penner was bummed about missing out on the opportunity to play before family in friends but did a good job keeping things in perspective.
"It’s bittersweet. The last time I was in an all-star game, I was in Grade 11 or 12 in high school," Penner told the Orange County Register yesterday. "That was a lot of fun. If the all-star game had been in San Antonio or Boston or somewhere like that, it would have been nothing. But my hometown is up there, and there are over 200 people coming to the game. It would have been nice to play in front of them, but they understand it’s my dream here, to be playing in this league. It’s just too bad, I guess."
SPECTATOR SPORT: Manitoba Moose defenceman Sven Butenschon was in uniform for last night’s skills competition but didn’t take part in any events due to the lingering shoulder injury he suffered last Wednesday in Rochester, N.Y.
After some careful consideration, Butenschon will be in the starting lineup for PlanetUSA tonight, but he won’t see much action.
"I’ll take the opening shift, set up behind the net and try to go end-to-end," quipped Butenschon, who could have been a candidate for the hardest shot competition. "No, no. I’ll just take the opening shift. It’s a shoulder strain, and I’m going to give it a couple weeks of rehab and hope that it responds. It’s tough to swallow. This was going to be pretty special for myself and my family."
THEM’S FIGHTIN’ WORDS: Who knew the AHL All-Star Classic could provide bulletin-board material?
Philadelphia Phantoms athletic trainer Sal Raffa, who is working with PlanetUSA this week, has thrown down the gauntlet.
"Our trainer is working for the other team and says they’re going to kick our (butts)," said John Stevens, head coach of the Phantoms and Team Canada during the event. "He says they’re younger and faster."