Eric Fehr: Rising Star still Striving
By Julia Klassen, SNN Editor, Garden Valley Collegiate, MB
It's not uncommon for students to work part-time jobs flipping burgers, waiting on tables, or delivering papers, but what about playing hockey? Eric Fehr, a 17-year-old native of Winkler Manitoba, does just that and gets paid for it! As a 6'3", 180-pound right-winger on the Brandon Wheat Kings Hockey team, going to work means putting on an aggressive show for the 6000 fans that fill the Keystone Centre Arena. It also means making personal sacrifices along the way.
Imagine leaving family and friends behind and moving to an unfamiliar city at the tender age of sixteen; spending every other week on a bus for road trips up to twenty hours long, crashing in crowded hotel rooms, and eating more greasy hamburgers than should healthily be consumed. Imagine having your day laid out for you before you get up in the morning, spending a minimum of six hours a day practicing with the team, training, and going over strategies and plays. And don't forget, this is all in addition to being a normal teenager with friends, teachers, school classes, homework, and the will to "have a life"!
This lifestyle became reality for Fehr two years ago, when the Wheat Kings selected him fifth over all in the 2000 Western Hockey League bantam draft. Now well into his second season with the Wheaties, he sits fifth place in team scoring with 17 goals, and 37 points in the last 42 games, and an impressive eighth overall ranking in the league. Fehr will be the first to admit his life isn't for everyone, but sees the sacrifices as a small price to pay in the big picture. "Everyday I'm gaining valuable experience", he says. "This year our team looks successful and we have a chance at making it to the Memorial Cup, which would be another great opportunity."
What keeps Fehr going is the dream of eventually getting drafted and playing in the NHL. He may just be a step closer to that dream as he takes his place among the Canadian Hockey league's 40 premiere draft-eligible players in this years Top Prospects Game in Kitchener, Ontario at the end of the month. "I think it's a huge step for anybody to not only be named to the game, but to play there in front of all the scouts and all the fans. I think it will be a great time and it's something I've been looking forward to for a long time."
Fehr has impressed scouts with his size and scoring touch while still striving to improve his defensive skills. While Fehr is excited to give it his best shot, he is also mindful of the very present pressure. "Scouts will be looking at speed, shot power and watching to see how you play against others yours age," he comments.
As any Grade 12 can tell you, this is a big and important year. The same holds true for Eric, who like the rest of his classmates, will soon graduate, embark on adult life, and have to make important decisions for the future. This is also his NHL draft year. Depending on his rankings in June, he could be traveling to Nashville where the big shots of this business will be watching to see which of these young and hopeful hockey players are ready to become the future Gretzkys. Eric's present ranking looks hopeful as he is 8th overall in his league, but there's definitely still room to go up. Eric says, "I hope to move up the ranks and get as high as I can before June."
As Fehr's dream of a hockey career begins to unfold, he realizes it's not something one can expect or depend on. Even with his busy schedule and his time on the road, he attends regular high school classes at Crocus Plains in Brandon, and expects to graduate with a regular diploma in June of this year. To compensate for his time commitments to the team, he has a slightly lighter course load this semester than most other students. He is taking three courses: Accounting, Applied math, and English.
Fehr admits that playing hockey so intensively while still in high school is not always ideal but knows it can work; at least it does for him. "Sometimes teachers stack up the home work and it can be easy to fall behind," he says. "Whenever I'm home, I know I need to try to take advantage of that and do the catch up work and extra work at school." The Wheat Kings also support the players who are still completing high school by providing a study hall two hours a week.
Fehr doesn't offer any magical formula to explain how he got this far. "It's just a lot of hard work from when you're younger," he says. "I spent a lot of time working in the outdoor rinks. It's just putting in extra effort whenever you can and trying hard; always working on your weaknesses to improve." Fehr was a member of Team Western at the 2002 "17 and Under World Juniors," and attended the "National Under 18 Camp" in Calgary this past summer.
The road hasn't always been smooth and Fehr knows he still has hurdles to overcome. "There will be physical challenges," he says wryly. "Every time you move up to the higher rank, the other players are going to be stronger and faster and you have to keep up with them. You have to be working out physically and always improving on everything, which is a lot tougher when you go up in the ranks."
There are also emotional and mental challenges that come with being a young athlete playing in an older league and away from the influence of family and friends. There is the temptation to join in on what can look like the immediate fun, the pressure to fit in with the team, and the struggle to make wise choices. "A lot of parties can get out of hand," Fehr says, "You have to make your own decisions."
At the end of the day after the fans have gone home, the locker room is empty, and the equipment is off Fehr wouldn't trade his experience for anything. For him, a simple Nike quote sums up his beliefs and daily aim as a hockey player: "If you wanna get better, concentrate on the areas you'd rather not. Force yourself to work the weak link. Physically. Mentally. But most of all, repeatedly."
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