- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

While his Hershey Bears teammates were experiencing the emotions of another long run in the Calder Cup playoffs, there were mornings when it was a struggle for Eric Fehr just to make it out of bed.

Walking and tying his shoes became arduous tasks for Fehr, a first-round pick by the Washington Capitals in 2003. He had a herniated disc, one bad enough that 10 cortisone shots could not help.

“My spine was just locked up, and that’s what it came down to in the end. It was a steel beam, and it wouldn’t move,” Fehr said. “Hockey was really in the back of my mind. I was just trying to get healthy.”

After 10 months of waiting in frustration, Fehr returned to the ice with the Bears. About three of those months involved nothing but rest. Eventually, he spent about 2½ weeks in Montreal with Dave Campbell, an osteopath who is a consultant for the Canadiens. After he returned to Hershey, Bears defensemen Josef Boumedienne set him up with an osteopath from Finland.

He was cleared to play and did so in 10 games for the Bears — picking up two goals and six points. Washington recalled him, and he practiced with the Caps yesterday. Tonight in Columbus, a nearly year-long process filled with setbacks and adversity will be complete when Fehr is in the lineup.

“When I was sitting in Hershey, I was just having trouble getting out of bed and getting to the rink,” Fehr said. “It was a real tough time, just standing beside my bed for five minutes to let my back unseize so I could walk around for the day. It was getting pretty bad.

“Things just went downhill, but I think that is behind me now and I am feeling a lot better. I am pain-free, and it is back to hockey — back to business.”

If he is really 100 percent healthy, Fehr’s arrival might come at the perfect time. At 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, Fehr is a bull on skates. A classic power forward with soft hands and hockey sense to spare around the net, Fehr has been one of the team’s top prospects since he was drafted.

He also has been considered one of the top prospects in the entire league since posting back-to-back 50-goal seasons for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League. Despite not playing after Feb. 21 because of what was classified as a back/hip ailment, Hockey’s Future still rated Fehr as the game’s No. 41 prospect before this season.

“He is just one of those guys that can score,” said Caps center Boyd Gordon, who played with Fehr in Hershey. “He has a big body, and he gets in front of the net. He’s a good player, and he’ll show that now that he’s healthy and ready to go.”

Coach Bruce Boudreau has criticized his team recently for not doing enough of precisely what Fehr is good at — causing havoc in front and creating “dirty” goals. Fehr has played 25 NHL games in two seasons, but most of them have been in limited roles.

That would not appear to be the case this time — he skated with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top line in practice yesterday.

“We’re going to see what he can do. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” Boudreau said. “He played really well for me [in Hershey]. I think if he’s not too nervous and plays his game, he’s going to be an OK fit over there.”

Added Ovechkin: “I think me and [Backstrom] have to help him because he play with us. Me and [Backstrom] talk to him, and he said, ‘My game is just go to the net and try to find some rebounds and make some dirty plays.’ It is good for us. Me and [Viktor Kozlov] and [Backstrom] play together for long time, but coach is right. We can’t have just one line.”

Fehr has dominated in juniors and been productive in the AHL (22 goals in 41 games last season), but now is his chance at the highest level.

When he received the phone call Sunday afternoon, he was on the road to Arlington in short order.

“I drove down during the Super Bowl. I was listening to it on the radio on the way,” Fehr said. “I saw the highlights. … I was a little bit surprised [about being on the top line] when I got here, but I am excited. It is a great challenge.”

Today’s game

WASHINGTON CAPITALS AT COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

TV/Radio: CSN, FM-107.7, AM-1500, AM-820

Goalies: Capitals — Brent Johnson (6-6-1, 2.74). Blue Jackets — Pascal Leclaire (19-11-3, 2.11)

Injuries: Capitals — Out: RW Chris Clark (strained groin tendon), D Brian Pothier (concussion), C Michael Nylander (torn rotator cuff). Blue Jackets — Out: C Sergei Fedorov (concussion), LW Frederik Modin (hamstring), LW Alexandre Picard (left knee).

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