Hayden Fowler was it.
He was the player the Erie Otters had their eyes on when negotiating a deal for star-winger Taylor Raddysh. He along with the mass collection of draft picks would be the start on the road to recovery for the team.
Otters’ fans saw flashes of the talent once Fowler arrived in Erie. He finished the 2017-18 season with 10 goals and 22 points in 28 games. Considering he is a late birthday and not draft eligible until 2020, the future looked very bright.
Then the unthinkable happened.
On Nov. 14, 2018 against the Kitchener Rangers, Fowler fractured his clavicle. As expected, this injury was too devastating to overcome. Although he came back 16 weeks later on Mar. 7, 2019 and helped down the stretch, the Otters still fell short of the playoffs.
Fast forward to now. It is season three for Fowler with the Otters. He embarks on his draft year as one of the leaders of the team. Expectations are higher with a veteran team back who haven’t been in a playoff game in two seasons. They are eager to get going.
Fowler was kind enough to sit with the Hockey Writers this week to discuss several things. He opens up about the injury and recovery, his draft season and why there is excitement around the Otters. In case you missed our first Q & A, here is the one for head coach Chris Hartsburg.
Hayden Fowler Q & A
THW: What do you recall in the first moments after you knew you were injured? What thoughts were going through your head?
Fowler: “I think I knocked out when it actually happened. Once I got up, Kup (head athletic trainer Andrew Kupniewski) was right there. He was pretty quick on the ice. He was pulling on me. I thought I was alright. Then I tried to put my hand on my stick and I couldn’t really do it.”
THW: Were you thinking oh my goodness, how long am I going to be out?
Fowler: “Yeah, for sure. That was one of the first questions I asked everyone. I was asking how long I’d be out and how long until I could play.”
THW: Take us inside the rehab. How good was the team and what kinds of things did you have to do in those weeks?
Fowler: “The team was really good with it, especially Kup and Dr DeLullo at Hamot (orthopaedic surgeon Dr. James DeLullo.) They gave me a lot of rehab stuff to get myself back in the swing of things. When you’re not playing, you put on a couple of pounds just from eating and not doing the same routine everyday.”
THW: In looking back to last season, why do you think the Otters fell short of the playoffs?
Fowler: “I just think we were very young and I don’t think we were as experienced as we are now. We had a lot of second year guys who are now on their third year and now being one of the oldest teams in the league, we have a lot of experience now.”
THW: You are now one of the leaders on this team. What goals do you personally have and then as a leader, what does the rest of the team have to do to get better to make sure that you get to the level you’re looking for?
Fowler: “We have to hold the younger guys and also the older veteran guys to a standard that everyone follows. The older guys on the team we have to set that standard and expect everyone to follow.”
THW: Have you put any thought into the draft at all? Some don’t like to think about it this early but have you?
Fowler: “It has crossed my mind. But it’s not something you can really control nor think of.”
THW: Let me put it this way. Bell Center. Montreal. You’re a Kingston guy, three hours away. How cool would it be to hear your name called in that building?
Fowler: “That would be awesome. It would be the best feeling ever.”
THW: Why did you choose to become a forward in your hockey career?
Fowler: “I have always been a forward. I have never played another position. I did play goalie one time and got lit up pretty bad so I stuck with forward (laughs.)
THW: Who do you model your game after?
Fowler: “Maybe like Brad Marchand, the way he plays with an edge but not go over the edge. I try to play on that edge where you’re feisty but are not hurting your team.”
THW: What do you do when it’s time to disconnect from hockey?
Fowler: “I like to golf. I like to spend time with my family. I didn’t get to golf very much but when I went out I was alright (laughs.)
THW: Why will the Erie Otters be exciting in 2019-20?
Fowler: “We have an older group and have a lot of guys that have experienced the feeling of losing. We’re sick of losing and we’re ready to win.”
Fowler doesn’t have a lot of words, but when he speaks them, you can tell he has leadership all over him. He and the rest of the Otters hope that the losing is behind them and better days are ahead.
The Otters open their regular season on Friday Sept. 20 against Quinton Byfield and the Sudbury Wolves. For Fowler, it’s a clean bill of health and a clean slate as his draft year begins.