All guts, no glory.
Thus is the life of your average fourth line hockey player. Hits, shot blocks and post-whistle scrums are the norm. Dazzling breakaway goals and jaw-dropping passes? Not so much.
It's a life that Dallas Stars center Vern Fiddler knows all too well.
The grizzled 35 year-old has been either a third or fourth line hockey player for the wide majority of his NHL career, never quite possessing the raw skill to play regularly in a top six role, but it's safe to say that he has honed his game in his own ways over the years to excel as a bottom six player. And while Fiddler doesn't get the same media or fan attention as the superstar players that the Dallas Stars employ - Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg and others - he nevertheless deserves a noteworthy share of the credit for the success that the team has been enjoying so far this season.
Fiddler has done pretty much everything that a team could reasonably expect from its fourth line center. On the offensive side of the puck he's chipped in 20 points in 67 games this season. Not exactly world-beating numbers, but pretty impressive given he's only averaging 9:08 of ice time per game at even strength and practically nothing on the powerplay.
Defense, though, is his true calling card. He's third among Stars forwards in terms of starting shifts in the defensive zone, at 33.5 DZFO%, yet still possesses a 52.4% CorsiFor and, even more telling, a 1.76 GA/60, which is the best of all forwards of the team. In other words, Fiddler regularly gets tasked more than most of his teammates with protecting his own end of the ice, yet still manages to consistently help keep the puck out of the Stars net and at the other end of the ice. He also leads the forward group in shorthanded ice time, at an average of 2:09 per game.
Possibly most important of all, however, is that Fiddler is one of the most trusted players on the team when the Stars are defending a lead in the dying minutes of a game. Recently, he sealed a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday evening by taking a knee and tying up a faceoff in the final seconds, as well as sending home an empty net goal against the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, a goal that, in truly fitting fashion, was the 100th of his career.
Fiddler, like he did back in Dallas' hard-fought playoff appearance in 2014, has saved his best hockey for when it matters the most. The Stars have been slumping as of late, at a terrible time with less than 20 games to go before the playoffs begin, but Fiddler has done his part to help get his team back on track, scoring four points over his last four games and centering a line with Colton Sceviour and Radek Faksa that has been one of the team's best over the past stretch (they're over 54.0 CF% as a trio).
An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and with a bevy of talented young forwards nipping at his heels, there's no telling what his hockey future has in store, but one thing's for certain: you can bet that ol' Uncle Vern is going to leave absolutely everything on the ice as the Stars look to make a big push this postseason.