Fehr shouldering the load

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Eric Fehr felt like a kid in a candy store yesterday, all because he was allowed to strap on the blades and hit the ice -- for the first time in four months.

It was a far cry from not being able to feed or dress himself, which is where the 23-year-old was in May.

"It was awful," Fehr told the Sun yesterday. "I was lucky I had my wife, who's a nurse. So she was able to take care of me 24 hours a day."

Back then, both of Fehr's shoulders were in slings, after surgery to repair torn labrums, the tissue that helps keep the shoulder joint stable.

The product of Winkler suffered the injuries in separate games with the NHL's Washington Capitals last season -- his left shoulder in January, the right one in the second round of the playoffs.

The former first-round draft pick still managed to record career highs of 12 goals and 13 assists in 61 games, finally finding his range after three seasons split between the NHL and AHL.

But after the Caps fell to Pittsburgh in Game 7 of Round 2, Fehr had a decision to make: have surgery on one shoulder this year, another next summer -- or bite the bullet and do both.

He bit.

And in the middle of May, Fehr reverted to being a baby again.

At least, that's what his wife said.

"You really can't use your arms for anything," he said. "I couldn't feed myself or do anything for the first two or three days. You need your arms for everything. Just opening a door, I couldn't do."

For three weeks, Fehr's arms were in slings. He managed to climb onto an exercise bike to keep his legs in shape, but that was about it.

Things didn't get any easier when the slings came off.

"The hardest part is just trusting them (the doctors) at that one-month mark, when you can barely move, that you're going to get better," he said. "It's frustrating, but they know what they're talking about, so you've got to listen to them."

Listening meant stretching and rebuilding his atrophied shoulders, under strict supervision, one small movement at a time.

Eventually, the 6-foot-4, 212-pound winger, who scored 59 goals for Brandon in his last season of junior hockey, was able to lift weights.

Sort of.

"You start with one-pound weight and you work your way up," Fehr said. "All your life you've been used to lifting heavy weights, and you have to go back to the one, two, three-pounders. It's kind of tedious, but it's something you need to do."

Two weeks ago, doctors told Fehr to circle Aug. 12 on his calendar.

So he and some buddies rented the ice at the University of Manitoba and he began counting down the days.

Yesterday, Fehr got reacquainted with his inner hockey player.

"It just felt good to be back on the ice and shooting some pucks with decent speed. I missed it a lot."

It's doubtful he'll be ready for Caps training camp, but the good news is those shoulders should be stronger than they've ever been.

Good thing, because Fehr wants to take on a little more of Washington's heavy lifting, now that he's established himself as a full-time NHLer.

This time, he knows he'll have a good chance of staying up with the big club. A full season under his belt has done wonders for his confidence.

The shoulder troubles that first bothered him in junior should be history, allowing Fehr to concentrate on a bright future.

"I might not start the beginning of the season," he said. "But when I start, there will be no excuses."


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