I Want You to Want Me
Hockey players, like most professional athletes, have all sorts of sources of motivation outside of just wanting to contribute what they can to provide their team a victory on a given night. Some will give an extra push if they are in a contract year, with their performances determining the size of the next contract. Speaking of contracts, certain incentives inside of one’s deal, like reaching a career high in goals or points, are almost surefire ways to get the best out of a player. Or maybe some skaters will count on a road trip back to a hometown, playing in front of friends and family, to get going on the ice.
Then there’s Cam Fowler, the 25 year-old Anaheim Ducks defenseman, who has used the looming possibility of being shipped out of town, in the way of trade rumors that swirled around him during the last couple of months, to initiate a true career resurrection.
Those trade rumors seemingly sent Fowler, the 12th overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Ducks, to about every city other than Anaheim last summer, as general manager Bob Murray had three young and important restricted free agents to sign – defensemen Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm as well as forward Rickard Rakell. Add that to the fact that we are one year away from the expansion draft and Fowler was seen as the unwanted one, the one who would be sacrificed.
But here he is, a couple of months later, still playing under the warm California sun, regaining his former glory and showing the Ducks that they made the right decision by keeping him.
“Five games into the season, [Murray] pulled me in and said, ‘Hey, I was a player before too. I heard my name tossed out there all the time.’ He just said, ‘I’m not shopping you. Teams are calling. Teams are gonna call,’” said Fowler this week.
Before Thursday night’s clash against the Senators in Ottawa, the Windsor, Ontario-born Fowler had nine goals and 22 points in 34 games, as he is on pace to break his career-high of 40 points (in 76 games) reached during his rookie season in 2010-11. That rookie season fittingly served as an indicator of what Fowler was able to do offensively and, also, of what he was looking to repeat this year after failing to register more than 36 points in each of his five subsequent seasons.
“I just didn’t feel I was contributing enough offensively as I felt I was able to,” said Fowler. “When I was scouted I was known as an offensive defenseman, and I had a good rookie year in terms of points.”
“I worked really hard this summer on releasing the puck, shooting from all angles, wrist shots…you name it,” Fowler added. “I worked on it all summer long. A lot of it is a mentality. You have to have confidence to shoot the puck, and it’s easy to do that when you see a few go in early.”
As of Thursday night, Fowler – a defenseman, I remind you – had scored more goals than a couple of his more celebrated goal-scoring teammates, forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, two of the biggest offensive threats in the game. The season is obviously still young, but that just says a lot about the improvement that was made by Fowler after a summer that made him think that maybe he wasn’t part of the team’s future.
“It kind of helped me stay in my lane,” Fowler said. “It gave me a little motivation, to be honest with you. I wanted to show teams, if they’re interested in me, they’d be getting a good quality player. It pushed me in the summer and even at the start of the season.”
Size Does Matter
In addition to the extra motivation that came from all the rumors surrounding Fowler’s future with Anaheim, other smaller and more subtle changes to his game are to thank for his offensive explosion this year.
When speaking with the Toronto media as the Ducks were in town to play the Maple Leafs earlier this week, Fowler talked about a piece of advice that his father gave him: suggesting his son increase the length of his Bauer 1S (95 flex) stick by about two inches.
“That’s helped me get more whip on my shots and be able to bear down when I need it and also release from further angles so I don’t get it blocked,” Fowler explained.
He continued: “If you looked at my stick, it was short for a defenseman, especially a defenseman of my size (6-foot-1, 207 pounds). My dad has watched me play hockey all my life and I’m kind of a student of the game and I see some of these guys like Oliver Ekman-Larsson [of the Arizona Coyotes], you can just tell when he walks the line, he has a long stick and he snaps it and you can tell there’s flex in that stick and it comes off hard. I said, ‘Why not? Give it a shot.’ I loved it.”
This change of equipment, added to the fact that he spent most of his summer improving his shot, has led him to where he is today, which is second behind only Mr. Freak of Nature himself Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks for most goals by a defenseman. Fowler is also surely in the discussion for a spot at this year’s All-Star Game up the road in Los Angeles.
Not bad for a player who was thisclose to not even being part of the Ducks’ plans only a couple of months ago.