NEW YORK – There aren’t too many players in professional hockey who can say they’ve accomplished what Ruslan Fedotenko has.
The New York Rangers winger has won two Stanley Cups — scoring the Cup-clinching goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and winning it again with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 — and has ten double-digit goal seasons under his belt, including a career high 26-goal season with the Lightning in 2005-06.
But the 32-year-old native of Ukraine might not have been so fortunate without first getting an opportunity in the ECHL, where his career was at an early turning point during the 1999-00 season. Fedotenko played in eight games with the Trenton Titans, scoring five goals and three assists, and showed the first signs of that scoring touch.
Fedotenko’s role has evolved has his career has progressed, and now in his second season with the Rangers, his contributions don’t always show up in the box score. But that certainly doesn’t mean they go unnoticed.
"He’s a guy you always can count on," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan told ECHL.com
"He’s getting pucks in, getting pucks out. This year, he’s putting a lot of production up too, he’s got a lot of points. He’s one of those guys, I think, that you’re not afraid to play in any situation and he’s brought a lot to us. You can see his game grow, and he’s a big part of why this team has success."
ECHL.com recently caught up with the personable veteran before a recent Rangers-Devils game, and Fedotenko spoke about his beginnings with the Titans, his two Cup wins, his time with the Rangers and much more:
Mike Ashmore, ECHL.com: You split your first pro season in 1999-00 between the Phantoms and the Titans…what do you remember about your time in Trenton?
Ruslan Fedotenko: "You know, I was impressed. It was a pretty good league. I think I played eight games there, and there were a lot of bus trips. I think we played five out of eight games on the road, something like that. I remember it was a lot of away games. I was surprised how good the league was, I guess I didn’t know that to expect. I was coming from the AHL and going to the ECHL and thinking it would be a dramatic change. But I felt like they had good talent there and it was a good atmosphere. We played in Trenton, and there were a lot of fans there. I thought it was pretty good."
ECHL.com: You had five goals and three assists in eight games, was it as easy as you made it look?
Fedotenko: "(Laughs) No, I felt like I really needed to work for it. I felt like it was maybe more hooking and holding at that time, and even in the AHL compared to the ECHL, I thought even more there. I thought that was a harder part, it made me battle through. You really needed to go through, so it wasn’t as easy, I thought. But that’s why they said they sent me down, to try get my scoring touch back, to get in the areas and get some goals and get some confidence. So I went there, played eight games, and they called me back up and finished up strong in the AHL. So hopefully that’s exactly what they were looking for from me to do, and I did it, so I was pretty excited."
ECHL.com: It’s a long road to the NHL for anyone who comes through the ECHL…how gratifying was it for you to make your NHL debut the following season with the Flyers?
Fedotenko: "Oh, it was unbelievable. Playing hockey, you always dream to play in the NHL, and I feel like it was obviously a little bit of luck with the timing and everything else. They gave me an opportunity and I felt like I was trying to grab it with my teeth and show what I could do, that I could play in the NHL and be productive. They gave me a chance and I stuck with it. I was pretty happy about that."
ECHL.com: I’m sure people ask you about this all the time, but scoring the goal to win the Stanley Cup in 2004 like you did, what was that experience like for you?
Fedotenko: "It was great. You know, it was great, but at the moment it was just a goal, we just wanted to win. Yeah, it’s special when you look back. We won 2-1 and you score both goals, the game-winner in Game 7, it’s like there’s no other way it could have been any better. But at that moment, when we played, I didn’t even care if the goalie scored. It doesn’t matter who scored, as long as we get the win. We got the win and we raised that Cup, and that was unbelievable."
ECHL.com: Was the experience any different when you won the second one?
Fedotenko: "It was, a little bit. I guess they’re both unique in certain ways. They’re both special. I feel like both teams rallied, you have a connection from both teams. I think people ask which one do you like better or which one was better, and they’re definitely a little different, but it was a great experience with both of them. I’m looking forward to a third one."
ECHL.com: When you initially came to the Rangers last season, it was on a tryout deal. Was that a little surprising to you given what you’d accomplished?
Fedotenko: "I was, I was. But I knew with the coach here, if you’re better than the guys you’re playing against, you’ll get a spot. That’s why I was agreeing to do that. I knew I was preparing, I was ready, I was still skilled and had the quickness. I know everybody’s thinking about the age, but when I started playing, the average age was 33-34. I was ready and thought it was a great experience to play in New York, so I was excited for it."
ECHL.com: This whole experience with the 24/7 cameras following you around and the build-up to the Winter Classic, what has that been like?
Fedotenko: "It’s been good. They’ve been following us, but not too, too much. It’s not overwhelming or there’s not cameras in your face all the time, not at all. It was an easy transition. Everybody’s looking forward to that game, and we all are, but we still have a lot of games left and we’re trying to take it one game at a time."