Finally For Fahey
Caps defenseman Brian Fahey set to make NHL debut at age of 29
Less than two weeks ago, Brian Fahey was the last defenseman cut from Washington’s training camp roster. The 29-year-old native of Des Plaines, Ill. got into four preseason games and acquitted himself well.
With Mike Green and Tom Poti both ailing on the Washington blueline, the Caps have summoned Fahey from AHL Hershey. He made the trip with the team to Nashville on Friday afternoon and is set to finally make his NHL debut tonight at Bridgestone Arena against the Predators.
This isn’t the first time that Fahey has had the sublime pleasure of being called up to an NHL club. Some 11 months ago, the Colorado Avalanche recalled Fahey from its AHL Lake Erie farm club. Fahey spent 16 days in the NHL, practicing and traveling with the Avs, drawing an NHL paycheck and collecting an NHL per diem.
What he didn’t do was play in an NHL game. Fahey was a healthy scratch for all nine games in which he was listed on Colorado’s playing roster.
“I got called up in November for about two and a half weeks and did a lot of seventh man and skating after practice and stuff like that hoping to get in and it didn’t work out,” says Fahey without a trace of bitterness. “Hopefully I get an opportunity this year whether it’s at the beginning of the season or at some point during the course of the year, get ready and be ready for when the time comes.”
It’s hard to fathom how difficult that must have been. After seven years as a pro, to be that close to having your NHL dream come true – nine times – only to be sent back to Lake Erie more than two weeks later.
“It’s one of those things,” says Fahey. “It’s a long time to come to the rink every day prepared every day to play and not get the opportunity. Nonetheless, it was still fun to be up there and be a part of the big club.”
Caps winger Matt Hendricks was with Colorado while Fahey was with the Avs last season, and Hendricks himself did not make his NHL debut until he was 27 years of age.
“It definitely is a roller coaster of ups and downs,” says Hendricks, "especially going through the minor leagues like that. He’s a battler, he’s been a battler his whole career. He keeps playing here; I’m sure he could go over to Europe and make x amount of dollars and more money than he is making here, but his dream is to play in the NHL. Last year he was very close to getting it. I felt pretty bad for him. It looks like he is going to get an opportunity here. We’re very excited [for him]. It’s definitely a tough road.”
Three of Fahey’s four pre-season games were on the road this fall, so the Verizon Center faithful didn’t get to see much of him. He’s a solidly built (6-foot-1, 218 pounds), right-handed shooting blueliner who was steady in his own end and involved in the attack. He has spent the last four full seasons in the AHL, averaging 10 goals, 29 points and 92 penalty minutes during that time.
“He is a veteran guy who knows how to handle the puck and make the plays," says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, who first noticed Fahey at the AHL level years ago. "He’s not going to get awestruck in any opponent’s building. We think he’s going to be smart enough to play the game at the level we have to have him play.”
Washington signed him on July 7 of this year, a transaction that was barely noticed in the District.
“I was told coming in here that I would have a chance to compete,” says Fahey. “I knew I was up against it; they got some guys who have played a little time in the NHL and obviously that’s something that I don’t have. I was told to come in here and show what I have and they’d give me an opportunity. I played four [pre-season] games here and I’ve felt good and every game I feel better and better. The more time I get the more I’m going to be able to help this team and that’s what I’m here for.”
Fahey was Colorado’s fourth-round (119th overall) pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He played for the U.S. National Development Team for two seasons and then played four years of collegiate hockey at Wisconsin. You would think that a guy with his fourth-round pedigree and solid résumé would have gotten at least a sniff in the NHL by now.
“I don’t want to say ‘surprised,’” says Fahey when asked if he thought he would have played in the league by now. “I would have hoped that by now I would have had a few, but it hasn’t been in the cards, for whatever reason. It hasn’t worked out and so each year I’ve pushed that I have more to improve and it makes me hungry.
“I’m an older guy, I’m a vet in the American League and that’s a leadership role down there. But at the same time, I still have a lot of hunger to get up to this league and that’s where I think a lot of older guys in the American League realize that maybe their opportunity is over. I don’t picture it that way. I picture that I still have time to prove and I’m still trying to get that game.”
Fahey played a dozen games in Hershey back in 2003-04, when the Bears were still a Colorado farm club. He has also made the “Boardwalk Empire” circuit, playing in the ECHL in Atlantic City – under current Bears coach Mark French – and in Chicago, near where he grew up.
“It was fun,” he recalls of his two partial seasons in Atlantic City. “It was my first year pro and it was a lot of young single guys not making a lot of money at all. To see all the bright lights and stuff like that, it made for an interesting group. We had a lot of fun with it. It was one of those things where no one was making a lot of money so it was just pure hockey and pure fun. That was a really fun time in my career.”
Chicago? Also fun.
“It was fun,” says Fahey of skating two seasons with the AHL Chicago Wolves. “It’s a great organization. I am always around that group in the summertime because I am from Chicago. They really are a first-class organization and I can’t say enough about them. We had such a high level of talent for that league and it was just one of those teams where you were never out of a game and you knew you could win every night. It was a lot fo fun and we had a lot of good memories.”
In the third of his pre-season games with Washington, Fahey led all Caps’ skaters in ice time, logging 22 minutes in a 4-1 Caps win at Boston. He admitted to being somewhat surprised afterwards.
“I was actually, a little bit,” he says. “I knew during the course of the game I was getting a lot of ice time in terms of power play and stuff like that. I guess I just didn’t realize how much time I had logged until after when I looked at the sheet. But that’s good. For logging that kind of ice time early in the season, I felt pretty good after the game. That’s a positive. I’m used to logging that kind of time down in the American League, so that’s not a shocker. It felt good and to get that kind of time up here is always a positive.
Fahey majored in economics at Wisconsin. Now in his eighth season as a pro, he hopes to put off the use of that degree for as long as possible.
“I have no idea,” says Fahey when asked what his post-hockey career holds. “I’ll probably get a desk job back in Chicago like all my other buddies working finance. We’ll see what happens when that time comes.”
For now, he’s enjoying the ride, the culmination of a journey that began a long time ago.
“A lot of excitement," Fahey says hours before his long-awaited debut. "I’m anxious. I’m ready to get the game going. It’s a short 24 hours, but at the same time it’s been a long time coming for me and it’s a day I’ve been waiting for a long time. More than anything, I’m just excited to have this opportunity. I’m fortunate.”
Fahey’s wife and parents will be in attendance at Bridgestone Arena here in Nashville tonight.
“I know they’re looking forward to me getting my opportunity to play in the NHL and I’m looking forward to having some fun,” says Fahey.
“It’s a dream come true,” says Hendricks of getting to the NHL after years of perseverance. “There is a sense of satisfaction there. Finally, all that hard work is finally paying off. All those years of dedicating yourself on ice and the off-ice work. It has all finally come together for 60 minutes and it’s the best feeling in the world.”