Vern Fiddler makes no secret about it. He wouldn’t be playing in the NHL if not for his time in the ECHL.
The adjustment to the pro game after leaving juniors or college is a difficult one for any player, and that was no exception for the current Dallas Stars center. Fiddler played four seasons in the WHL for Kelowna and Medicine Hat, and signed with the Arkansas RiverBlades after his breakout 2000-01 junior campaign with the Tigers was over.
He played in just eight games that year, including five in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, but says that stint was integral in his transition to the pro game.
"You’re playing against men, and they’re a lot stronger and quicker," Fiddler told ECHL.com.
"It’s an adjustment no matter what league you go to, whenever it’s different. It was a lot of fun. I’m glad I did it, I look back on it and think it’s a step that I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t do that."
Fiddler spent his first full professional season playing for the ECHL’s Roanoke Express and AHL’s Norfolk Admirals. His 27 goals, 28 assists and 55 points in just 44 games for the Express remain career highs for the now 31-year-old.
"I made a lot of good friends and got to play a ton," said Fiddler of his first full pro year. "It picked up my confidence at the pro level and like I said, got me here today. I don’t think without that time period in my life that I’d be here today, so I’m glad I went through it."
After putting together a standout season as a free agent at the AHL and ECHL levels, the Nashville Predators took notice and signed the relatively unknown Fiddler to a two-way contract prior to the start of the 2002-03 season.
"Nashville didn’t care what my pedigree was and didn’t care where I came from," Fiddler says. "I thank them a lot. They gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL. They told me right when I signed that I could maybe play there next year, and I don’t know if I necessarily believed them, but they believed in me."
Fiddler made his NHL debut in his first season in the Predators organization, playing in 19 games while spending the majority of his season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. Fiddler had a similar year in 2003-04, skating in 17 NHL contests. But he helped lead the Admirals to a Calder Cup Championship that season, and after being forced to return to the AHL due to the lockout in 2004-05, he never looked back after a 2005-06 spent largely at the game’s highest level.
Known as more of a grinder and strong defensive player, Fiddler was a mainstay in Nashville through the 2008-09 season, skating in 305 games for the Predators before signing with the Phoenix Coyotes prior to the 2009-10 campaign. The Edmonton native played in over 70 games in each of his two years in Glendale, helping the Coyotes reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each season before joining his third NHL team, the Dallas Stars, prior to the start of this season.
In six games with the Stars this season, Fiddler has already registered a goal, the 60th of his National Hockey League career.