Looking back, Todd Fedoruk said, fighting Thrashers tough guy Eric Boulton in the first game of the season was "stupid." At the time, he believed he had no other option. The challenge was made, and he responded. It is the way Fedoruk has always played. The Lightning left wing was careful to shield the right side of his face, which was so badly damaged in an October 2006 fight with the Wild's Derek Boogaard that five titanium plates were needed to put his orbital and cheekbones together. Titanium mesh holds the eye in place. "If I take a punch in the right spot, I could lose it," Fedoruk said. So what the heck was he doing with Boulton?
"I wanted to get my 1,000th penalty minute in a fight," Fedoruk said. "It's a pride thing."
He has swallowed his pride, and kept his fists to himself, since.
Fedoruk, 30, has 10 titanium plates in his face. Three hold together orbital and cheekbones around his left eye, shattered in a November 2003 fight with the Islanders' Eric Cairns. Two others hold together a sinus bone broken by a flying puck.
Fedoruk knows it is best that he no longer fights. But if he doesn't fight, how can he play?
"The way I was taught is, if you play a certain way, if somebody challenges you, you back it up, and you take that guy down," Fedoruk said.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has been good at it, too, and prolific, with 117 fights in a nine-year NHL career in which he has taken on the biggest and baddest.
"He was," said Zenon Konopka, Fedoruk's teammate with the Lightning and Ducks, "one of the toughest guys in the league."
The dilemma is how that toughness should be applied now.
How can he play his usual feisty style if he can't answer the bell when challenged? It just doesn't seem right, he said: "It's a shock to your pride and your manhood."
He has wrestled with that so much this season, his play has suffered, and he was scratched for nine games from Nov. 22 to Dec. 7. He said it was for the best, as he had time to evaluate his career and reinforce how it affects his wife, Theresa, and their kids, Luke, 5, and Sienna, 3.
"I had to learn I don't owe anything to anybody," said Fedoruk, acquired by the Lightning in July from the Coyotes in the Radim Vrbata deal. "I want to stay here as long as I can, and whatever I have to do, I'll do. If that means reinventing my role, that's the biggest thing.
"I came into the league saying if I play with an edge, I have to back it up. It's just not like that anymore. I've got mortgages to pay, a family to take care of."
Said coach Rick Tocchet: "There are lots of guys who agitate and are always in your face, and get rebounds and are in your face, chip the puck and are in your face. Those are the guys he has to be like to be effective."
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Fedoruk said at least one doctor told him he should not play after he was crushed by Boogaard. Yet Fedoruk, who split that season with the Ducks and Flyers, fought six more times that season and took on the Rangers' Colton Orr in March.
Orr broke Fedoruk's jaw.
"I felt I wanted to keep the same game that got me here," Fedoruk said. "You want to keep that respect. It's something you earned. But if you go into a chaotic situation worried that something will happen to you, you're not going to do very well."
And that brings us back to the battle with Boulton.
Said Theresa: "The first thing he said was, 'I got in a fight. I turned my face so I wouldn't get hit, so I got hit in my ear and lost my balance and went down.' I thought, 'My, God, what is he doing? Where's your head? You don't need to do this.' ”
"If he feels weird, he can't fight. It's absolutely ludicrous. He's paid his dues. He's fought everyone. He is a warrior."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 2000, AHL Philadelphia
Stick blade in the mouth during practice
Result: Lost three teeth
Fix: Implanted posts
November 2003, Flyers
Fight with Islanders tough guy Eric Cairns
Result: Orbital and cheekbone fractures
Fix: Three titanium plates
November 2004, AHL Philadelphia
Deflected puck hits Fedoruk while on bench during game
Result: Sinus plate fractured
Fix: Two titanium plates
October 2006, Ducks
Fight with Wild's Derek Boogaard
Result: Orbital, cheekbone and eye socket fractures
Fix: Five titanium plates, titanium mesh to hold eye in place