It’s a stereotype which has been around probably as long as the hockey puck: That NHL tough guys are better at throwing checks and punches than they are at articulating the game.
As we know, that belief is more than a bit of an exaggeration. Some of the best hit men also make good analysts and commentators because they started their careers at the ground level and had to work their way up the hard way.
Todd Fedoruk is a perfect example. In his playing days as “Fridge” (as in refrigerator, for cooling some hothead’s heels) he wasn’t all that outgoing when post-game microphones were shoved in front of his face.
So more than a few people expressed mild surprise when it was announced he had won the audition for the vacant Flyers’ radio analyst job left open by the retirement of Steve Coates.
It turns out Fedoruk has a lot to say and he does that in a crisp, endearing and sometimes humorous fashion. Those who followed his hockey playing days were aware he actually knew enough about the game to become an assistant coach with the Flyers’ former ECHL-affiliate Trenton Titans from 2011 to 2013.
This season he’s had a lot of fun working alongside veteran play-by-play man Tim Saunders. Fedoruk says if there were any jitters at his new position at the outset, they’re gone now.
“Right when I retired I wanted to stay in the game,” Fedoruk said. “I coached in Trenton for a year. But I really didn’t want to do that. I was too close to the game. When ‘Coatesy’ retired, I expressed an interest and here I am.”
What made him think that he could do something like this?
“Well, I called some games up in Allentown (for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Flyers’ AHL affiliate) and it just came down to personality,” he said. “I didn’t know I could do it until Allentown. I did some TV work up there. They just kind of showed me the ropes. This was before COVID and then everything came to a stop.”
Fedoruk, 44, then dabbled in sales and health care but his heart was always in hockey.
“I just bided my time and spots always open up,” Fedoruk said. “I don’t know how many guys threw their names in the hat but with the experience I had in the minors, it all led to being selected for it.
“And I love it.”
In his playing days, Fedoruk won his share of fights but also lost a few that resulted in surgery. He was on the wrong end of scrapes with the Islanders’ Eric Cairns, Minnesota’s Derek Boogaard and the Rangers’ Colton Orr. Fedoruk had plenty of experience with facial surgeries, including one for a broken orbital bone as well as one for the implanting of titanium plates to repair other fractured bones.
Being an enforcer offers little in the way of job security. To put it bluntly, they’re expendable. The ones who dedicate themselves to their craft last the longest.
That work ethic serves Fedoruk well in his new profession.
“You have to know the game, man,” he said. “You have to know the game more intimately than anyone else. Just like when you were a player. Because if you give them any reason for them to send you down (to the minors), they will. So you can’t give them any excuses. That means going to rookie camp every five years. I was always a bubble guy. I had to make the team every year.
“It helped me because it helped my approach. I was good at fighting. I was always sticking up for my teammates. I guess I just survived. But you can get pigeon-holed by not being fully developed as a player. I think one of the things that kept me in the NHL was my skating.”
So when Fedoruk sees physical play on the ice these days, he knows of what he speaks.
“I was a fun-loving guy, boisterous, and it worked well here,” he said. “Now, it’s the same way. If I’m doing anything with the Flyers, I love it. Even when I got traded, I didn’t cut the cord (he was later traded back to Philadelphia for a second stint).
“There’s a certain reputation that hockey gets because of us. (Coach John) Tortorella alluded to it. I don’t want to say it’s fighting, but it’s the physical element. It’s who the person is and the fighting is just the end result.”
That’s why when a physical player speaks up in the locker room, usually most players pay attention.
“In the locker room, we speak up,” Fedoruk said. “And everyone listens.”
Now people who are tuning into Flyers games on the radio are the ones doing the listening. When they’re hearing Fedoruk, everyone is paying attention, too.