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Mike Fisher #12 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Anaheim Ducks in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on April 17, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (John Russell/2011 NHLI)
Mike Fisher #12 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Anaheim Ducks in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on April 17, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (John Russell/2011 NHLI)

ROY MACGREGOR

Mike Fisher is a player from a bygone era Add to ...

Mike Fisher joined hockey's modern era this past weekend.

He signed up for Twitter and immediately sent out his first tweet: "Happy Easter to all! Our Lord has rise!! Thank u Jesus."

Three more tweets followed. Not one mentioned his success with the Nashville Predators - leading scorer as the Predators vanquished the favoured Anaheim Ducks in Round 1 - and not a word on how he expected his team might do as they come up against the Vancouver Canucks Thursday evening in Vancouver.

Nothing about himself. Nothing about what he was eating, where he was going, what he was listening to, nothing about what he thought about Charlie Sheen or Justin Bieber or even a vague whisper that might involve the one celebrity he actually does know, his wife, Carrie Underwood.

The country singing star and former winner of American Idol is, of course, far more famous than Mike Fisher will ever be in Nashville. When the Predators pulled off that deal with the Ottawa Senators in February, the Tennessean announced it in a headline as "Predators acquire Carrie Underwood's husband."

The 30-year-old Fisher is an oddity in hockey. He is a throwback in that he plays with such abandon that even his teammates are left shaking their heads with how hard he goes. He plays an old-fashioned style, the classic checker when at centre and almost a Ron Ellis facsimile when he has been put on the wing, a player who moves up and down so directly it sometimes seems as if he is being controlled by a slot. He hardly drinks, rarely swears and attends church regularly. While other players would list golf as their favourite off-season activity, he would rather be out fishing or big-game hunting. While others drive Hummers, his choice of vehicle while in Ottawa was a Ford F-150.

He is of a sports mindset that reaches beyond the black-and-white pictures of Beehive Golden Corn Syrup all the way back to Frank Merriwell, a ridiculously popular juvenile fiction character in the early part of the previous century who starred in novels, comic books, radio serials and even movies - handsome, smart, decent, polite, non-smoking, non-drinking, God-fearing, superb at sports.

"'Frank' for frankness," Frank Merriwell's creator, Gilbert Patten, once explained. "'Merry' for a happy disposition, 'well' for health and abounding vitality."

When Fisher, a native of Peterborough, Ont., was playing for the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves, he was nominated as junior hockey's most gentlemanly player, but it would be wrong to read too much into this. Fisher played 11 seasons in Ottawa and rang up 564 minutes in penalties, virtually all from his overtly aggressive style of play. He was also involved in a rare playoff fight in the series against Anaheim when he took on big Ryan Getzlaf. The two also scuffled in the Stanley Cup final of 2007, when Getzlaf's Ducks defeated Fisher's Senators.

It was while he was with Ottawa that Fisher, whose jersey number is 12, took to writing a small message - Rom 12:12 - on the upper grip of his sticks and then taping over the note. The reference is to Paul's letter to the Romans: "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."

Fisher is unapologetically Christian in a culture where those who worship have also been tagged as those who turtle - players who turn the other cheek, so admired in Sunday school, are considered spineless in a hockey milieu. He is not the first player to have to deal with such a misconception, but he prefers to have his strongly physical play speak for him. His faith, he says, is "part of who I am."

The message on his stick is his small way of giving thanks. He also left a message of thanks to the people of Ottawa when he left, taking out a full-page ad in the Citizen.

(Underwood, not surprisingly, is seen by many Fisher Ottawa fans as the undermining of his time in Ottawa. They met at a Scotiabank Place concert and the romance soon involved the "simple country boy" ponying up for a $150,000 ring and a Georgia wedding rumoured to have cost $500,000. Though they were building a massive home near Ottawa, Underwood made it clear in interviews that her career was in Nashville. Still, she joined Fisher in publicly thanking Ottawa.)

But it is now the Predators who should give thanks. It was considered out of sorts for this tight-budget, built-from-within franchise to deal for a veteran player with a high contract ($4.2-million U.S. this season, $4-million next, $3-million in its final season). Nashville general manager David Poile saw in Fisher a leadership and an attitude that he felt lacking enough that he was willing to forfeit a first-round draft pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012 that could end up a second-rounder if Nashville continues in the playoffs.

Coach Barry Trotz is unequivocal in claiming that no Fisher, no successful push for the playoffs - and no Fisher, no Nashville moving beyond the first round for the first time in its history. Fisher is a proven playoff performer - the brightest spot in Ottawa's failed final of 2007 - and is regarded as pivotal if Nashville is to have any success against the league-leading Canucks.

"It's going to be a challenge," Fisher said in Nashville Wednesday before departing for Vancouver. "We're going to have to be good all round to win."

But he sees in this team much of what he saw four springs ago in Ottawa, when the Senators moved round by round through the Eastern Conference all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

"The way we've been playing, we know we're a confident group," Fisher said. "Once you get on a roll and playing with confidence, finding little ways to win, that's what we did in going to the final.

"Where there's a will, there's a way."

 

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