OTTAWA – Regardless of whether or not Mike Fisher is part of Hockey Canada’s plans for the Vancouver Olympics, the Ottawa Senators feel his performance this year is already worthy of a medal.
During a season in which the Senators have had their depth tested by injuries, including long-term casualties Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, they’ve been able to rely on a career-best start to the season by Fisher in order to stay on course for a return to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
“Fish has been unbelievable for us. He’s played great game in and game out,” right-winger Chris Neil said Tuesday, a day before the announcement of Canada’s Olympic roster.
A night earlier, Fisher was a key part of a Senators’ rally from a 2-0 deficit, with linemate Neil scoring the eventual winner in a victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
It was the Senators’ second straight win following the loss of Daniel Alfredsson for four to six weeks with a separated left shoulder.
Prior to that, Spezza was ruled out until around the Olympic break with a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
With the exception of two games missed as a result of his own upper-body injury, Fisher’s been the one to shoulder the load offensively for much of the season anyway while Spezza slumped, Alfredsson ran through a goal drought and newcomer Alex Kovalev failed to make much of an impact.
Tied for the team lead in scoring with 31 points and second in goals with 15, behind Milan Michalek’s 16, the 29-year-old Peterborough, Ont., native has been a driving force at both ends of the rink.
That’s been in stark contrast to last season when he picked up just 13 goals and 32 points in 78 games.
“He’s a guy that shows up ready to play every game,” Neil said. “He didn’t get rewarded last year with the points, but his effort was there and his effort’s there again this year and he’s getting rewarded with the points. It’s good to see.”
Fisher said he’s not doing much differently than he did last year. He’s also been given more responsibility offensively by coach Cory Clouston and is making the most of it, thanks to better fortune around the net.
“The team’s playing much better and Cory’s given me a more offensive role than last year,” he said Tuesday. “The puck’s been going my way … and I’m just getting bounces.”
Before the season began, Fisher wouldn’t have been considered for a spot in Vancouver, but that’s all changed thanks to his strong first-half showing.
Despite winning a silver medal with Canada at the world championship in the spring, he wasn’t invited to the Olympic development camp in August.
His quick start drew the attention of Hockey Canada, who’ve been tracking his progress throughout the fall and early winter and he’s already found his way onto the roster of many pundits in their pre-announcement team predictions.
Although a centre, he’s occasionally played right wing, the spot he’d play if he did crack the Vancouver roster.
A strong performance Monday against the Canadiens showcased his talents – speed, skating, energy and toughness – was his final chance to impress the selectors. Whether or not he makes the cut Wednesday remains to be seen.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’d obviously love it. It’d be a dream come true to be named and I’m sure there will be a lot of anticipation tomorrow, but the games have been played. It’ll definitely be a bonus to be named, but if not, that’s fine, too.
“It’s been a good start, but at the same time, I’ve got make sure I’m getting better throughout the season and focusing on my job here.
“It’s definitely an honour to be considered.”
While Fisher is hesitant to promote his own talents, his coach and teammates don’t mind lobbying on his behalf.
If they had their say, Fisher would be an ideal candidate for the Olympic team.
“He’s competed every night. He’s very strong on the puck. He’s hard to play against,” Clouston said. “He works extremely hard in the areas that some guys don’t like to go to: in front of the net, in the corners, he’ll block shots. He does a lot of little things well.”