Ruslan Fedotenko may not be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he is one of the more notable players to have ever played in the NHL. Fedotenko has won two Stanley Cups — Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-4 and Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-9 — in 863 career NHL games and recorded 366 points (172 goals, 194 assists), despite being undrafted. Such success has made Fedotenko the face of Ukrainian hockey and is just one of 14 to have ever played in the NHL.
After electing to return to Ukraine in efforts to increase hockey interest in 2013 and play for the KHL’s Donbass Donetsk, war and conflict forced Fedotenko to return to North America in January. Fedotenko play 12 games for AHL’s Iowa Wild last season on a professional tryout agreement. On July 1, the Minnesota Wild signed Fedotenko to a one-year, two-way contract to keep him in the organization. As an assistant captain, Fedotenko has four assists in 16 games with Iowa this season.
The Hockey Writers caught up with Fedotenko in Chicago to discuss his role within the Wild organization, how he has been affected by the conflict in Ukraine, his impressive career, among other things.
Colin Fitts: What have been your impressions since you’ve been with the Iowa Wild? You played for Iowa for some of last season, but now you are playing there for likely the rest of this season, correct?
Ruslan Fedotenko: I guess so, but you never know in this business. The organization is good, and the fans are really good. We have a good team. We just need to find a way to win some games.
CF: You are a leader, veteran and assistant captain on the Wild. How do you plan on leading this team?
RF: With experience and work ethic. I have played hockey for a long time — over 1,000 pro games. I feel like I can bring a lot of things to the team.
CF: Obviously, you will want to play in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild, so how do you think you will be able to reach that?
RF: That was my goal coming into training camp to make the team. It didn’t work out. At this point, [I just have] to work hard and play [in Iowa]. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity [to play in Minnesota]. If not, then I will still try to help develop the young kids for their next step.
CF: What are you working on most while in the AHL?
RF: I will be working trying to help develop the young kids into better players.
CF: You played one-and-a-half seasons in the KHL. Describe the difference in play between the NHL and KHL.
RF: [There are] a lot of differences. The main difference is the ice surface is bigger. Because the ice surface is bigger, you have the opportunity to make some plays. You have a little bit more time to have puck possession. You have more opportunity [to create offense] because of the bigger ice surface.
CF: Did you return to North America because of what is occurring in Ukraine?
RF: Yeah. I have two more years on my contract, and it has basically been cancelled because of the instability there. War is going on, so that’s why I came back.
CF: How has the conflict in Ukraine affected you?
RF: I signed for a three year deal, and after one year, the contract was basically void[ed]. The biggest things … a lot of people are dying there. Yes, I am out of a job there, but people’s [lives] who have been affected weigh in on a greater scale than me. People are losing lives there. To put it in a bigger perspective, there are bigger issues there than not having a hockey team.
CF: Do you know what the current situation with Donbass is? I know they are currently playing in a Ukrainian league, but is there any hope they can return to the KHL?
RF: I don’t know what the plan is. The first thing [that needs to happen] is to get the peace and let the borders re-open. Donetsk is blocked off from Ukraine, and nothing is going in or out business-wise. They still have a big issue with the conflict before any sports can come back.
CF: You and Alexei Ponikarovsky are the faces of Ukrainian hockey. What is the status of hockey in your country?
RF: The whole goal [when we returned to Ukraine] was for us to try to revive hockey in Ukraine by building rinks across the whole country. But with the war, they have different issues there. People have no jobs, people are losing lives. Eventually, I’m sure they would like to rebuild [hockey], but I don’t see it in the near future. Donbass, as a team, [still plays] in a local league out of a different city, but it will take a while to rebuild [hockey].
CF: We are going switch gears here. Looking back on your NHL career, you won two Stanley Cups — one of with the Tampa Bay Lighting and the other with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Which one was a little bit sweeter?
RF: No, they’re both incredible. The first time, [I didn’t] even realize what was happening. The second time, maybe [I had] a little bit more time to look back and realize where [I was] at the time. Plus, my family and even my kids were in Pittsburgh at that time, so that was a great year for me.
CF: When you won the Cup in Tampa Bay, you scored the Cup-clinching goal. Just describe that feeling, if it’s even possible.
RF: I’ve always said it’s not about who scored. It’s not an individual sport, it’s a team sport. It was a great effort by everybody. Yes, I ended up scoring the goal. At the time, who cares who scored the goal? It’s a team effort. [Nikolai Khabibulin] played unbelievable. Everybody did what they had to do, and we ended up with the rings.
CF: You’ve played on multiple teams throughout your NHL career, who would you say is the best player you’ve played with?
RF: I couldn’t say that. I have multiple great players I have played with on each team. Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, [Sidney] Crosby, [Evgeni] Malkin, Henrik Lundqvist, you name it. Every team [I’ve played with] has unbelievable super stars. I have been lucky playing with a lot of great players.
CF: Lastly, as an undrafted player, how were you able to battle through that and still have the extensive NHL career you have?
RF: Never give up, and follow your dreams. I was hoping I would get drafted but never did. I was given the opportunity [with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1999] to go to training camp, and I impressed the team. From there, I tried to make an NHL team from the AHL. It’s like I always say, one step at a time. Yes, it’s important to have a bigger goal, but to [reach it], you need to take the other steps.