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Sunday, September 18, 2011
Vernon Fiddler defines hard to play against

By Mark Stepneski

CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island -- The Dallas Stars want to be a harder team to play against this season. Hard to play against is Vernon Fiddler’s identity. He said it has to be.

Being hard to play against is a term that gets tossed around a lot. In Fiddler’s case, there are several parts to the equation.

“He provides us a presence in faceoffs, he can play against the other team’s top lines, he's a top penalty killer in the league. It's that versatility, that hard to play against style of play,” said Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan. “You can’t misconstrue [hard to play against] for body checks. The faceoff circle, the PK, the tenaciousness on the forecheck and backcheck, those things are actual hard things to play against. He’s going to bring that to our club.”

Fiddler said hard to play against is is doing little things that can be a big nuisance to the opposition.

“It’s being a pain in the [butt], doing little things that get other players off their game,” he said. “It’s nothing is given easy out there. Every inch that they get they have to earn it. That’s how I feel I can contribute to this lineup.”

Fiddler, who signed a three-year, $5.4 million contract with the Stars in July, was a top priority for GM Joe Nieuwendyk in free agency. The 31-year-old Fiddler is an important part of the Stars’ plan to have a strong group of role players that will give them a deeper, more balanced lineup.

“Probably the biggest key will be Vern Fiddler,” said Nieuwendyk. “Here’s a guy that will be our third line center, kind of solidify that line and give us an identity on the bottom grouping of our lines.”

The Stars are familiar with Fiddler, who spent the last two seasons with Phoenix and was with Nashville before that. Stars captain Brenden Morrow has learned even more about Fiddler now that he is seeing him on a daily basis.

“I didn’t know how fast he was,” Morrow said. “He’s a speedy guy, really reliable; someone that Gully can put out in any situation and feel comfortable with him out there.”

And Fiddler’s reputation of being hard to play against? Morrow said some guys annoy you with words, but Fiddler does it with his work.

“He gets under your skin because he doesn’t give you any free space out there,” said Morrow. “Seeing him skate out there, now you know why. He’s such a slick skater he can get around pucks and get around you, turn pucks over and he doesn’t give you any space. That’s what’s kind of annoying.”

Mix in some annoying with the team’s skill and Fiddler thinks the Stars will be just what they are hoping to be – hard to play against.

“You look around the dressing room with young (Jamie) Benn, Morrow, [Mike) Ribeiro, Loui (Eriksson) and (Michael) Ryder, there’s some scoring punch there,” said Fiddler. “We’re going to have some tough lines to play against, not only are they scorers but they are guys that are hard to play against like (Steve) Ott. You look at our lineup and you see some hard guys to play against. That’s what we’ve got to get to, getting teams to be scared to come into our building and being miserable to play against.