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Wheeling Watch: From tragedy to skating with Mario to pro hockey

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Hunter Fejes. -- ZACK RAWSON / WHEELING NAILERS

Hunter Fejes goes through his days with a greater appreciation for life than some others may have.

When he was 10 years old, he was in a car accident that took the life of his mother and left him in a coma for almost a week.

It was June 2004, and Fejes was on the way to an early-morning hockey practice in his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska with his mother, Gail.

"A vehicle kind of cut us off, and cut right in front of us," Fejes remembered. "My mom had to swerve out of the way. My mom honked the horn, that guy flipped us off, my mom flipped him off and honked the horn. Then that guy sped up and instantly put on the brakes. We had to swerve out of the way, but we didn't swerve out of the way in time.

"That's when our car nicked the side of their car, and we started rolling."

The next thing Fejes remembered was waking up in the hospital five days later. "Right when I woke up I asked my dad where my mom was," he told me, "and he just said 'She wants you to get better.'"

"Come to find out, when my heart started to flatline when I was in the hospital, right when my mom passed away, my heart started to pick back up again."

Fejes, now 23 years old, has two older sisters -- 28 and 31. The loss was hard for the entire family, but he was especially concerned for his two older sisters, who he said were at an age where they especially needed their mother.

The other driver was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to only three months in prison.

Fejes continued to play hockey, and shortly after the accident was able to meet one of his favorite players -- Mario Lemieux. Fejes' father, Sam, was a long-time friend of one of Lemieux's doctors, Phil Ripepi. Ripepi invited the Fejes family out to Pittsburgh, and set up a one-on-one skate with Lemieux and Fejes.

[caption id="attachment_504163" align="aligncenter" width="575"] Hunter Fejes and Mario Lemieux. - COURTESY HUNTER FEJES[/caption]

Seven years later, only a few hundred yards from the scene of his last accident, Fejes was in another serious accident.

Fejes was running an errand for his father, transporting fuel drums in his truck, driving down the same main road.

"There's a car packed with four people," he said. "It was one lane each way. They were stopped with their steering wheel already turned, ready to turn into their driveway. And that's when some lady rear-ended the back of them because she was on her phone."

The car was pushed into Fejes' direction, and he was forced to swerve to avoid a head-on collision. Just like before, his car got nicked, and it sent him rolling into a ditch.

"It felt like it was all in slow motion," he said. "I was upside-down in this vehicle, in a ditch, and I just punched out the window with my foot and crawled out."

He didn't have a scratch on him.

"I just felt like there was a bigger reason for me to be alive," he continued, getting emotional. "Without a scratch. If I wouldn't have swerved out of the way, then I would have killed at least two people in that car. It's just weird how life works."

A year later, while playing for Shattuck-St. Mary's, Fejes was drafted in the sixth round by the Coyotes.

He spent the next four years at Colorado College, and parts of two seasons playing in the Coyotes' system, before signing with the Nailers last summer.

"They've always been a good team in years past," he said of his decision. "The Pittsburgh organization does a great job of developing their prospects and their players, and moving them on to the next level."

Fejes thinks his style of play is a perfect fit, too.

"I kind of pride myself on my ability to skate and my speed," he said. "I try to use my assets to my advantage and I think that's one of my assets being in this organization, I think that makes it appealing for moving up."

His speed is evident on goals like these:


He plays a fast, gritty, hard-nosed kind of game, and is strong in the defensive zone. His 13 goals lead the team, and ranks him third in the league. He said that he tries to model his game after that of Scott Hartnell, laughing that it might not earn him any points with Penguins fans.

Fejes showed off both aspects of his game on Saturday. He lifted one of the Walleyes' sticks to force a turnover, passed the puck to Cam Brown, and netted Brown's pass for his 13th goal of the season:

With his early success, it wouldn't be surprising to see him in the AHL at some point this season.

"You gotta try to figure out your best opportunity to move up, and that's why I chose Wheeling," he said. "My goal is to finish out the year in the AHL, or if not, just have a great season that will set the stage for the following year."

He draws inspiration from his mother, but wishes that she were still here to see his success in person.

"I've come to terms with everything and I know one day I'll see her again. Until then I know she's watching down on me and guiding me along on this journey.  It just sucks because, you know, she won't be there for the greatest accomplishments of your life. Like getting drafted, or meeting my future wife or kids. Those things, it sucks."

"There's not a day that goes by where I don't think about her or wish she was here," he continued. "But everything happens for a reason."

"Guys kind of give me a hard time for always taking pictures, but you never know when your last day is going to be, or you're spending your last day with somebody."

BIG WEEK FOR WBS GUYS

Wheeling got an influx of players reassigned from Wilkes-Barre this week -- Freddie TiffelsEthan ProwTroy JosephsJarrett Burton, and Colin Stevens.

It didn't take long for the new additions to show up on the scoresheet. Burton scored this goal in the first period on Saturday, his second game since being reassigned:

12 seconds later, Josephs scored his first goal of the season:

Burton scored another goal in the third period:

Burton's two goals were his only points in his two games this week. Josephs tallied two assists in addition to his goal, and Tiffels has 11 points in his 12 total ECHL games this season. Prow was recalled to Wilkes-Barre after his three games in Wheeling.

Head coach Jeff Christian sounded excited about the return of goaltender Stevens on Friday's radio pregame show, saying that he had "access to the expert kind of goalie coaching that they have in Wilkes-Barre that we don't" during his time in the AHL. Stevens was scheduled to start that game, but was injured after taking a shot to the torso in warmups.

MORE FROM WHEELING

• Dec. 6: at Reading, 2-1 loss
• Dec. 8: at Indy, 3-2 loss
 Dec. 9: at Toledo, 4-2 win

• Cody Wydo was wearing the captain's "C" in Toledo after Derek Army was recalled to the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, and Nick Sorkin and Danny Fick remained alternate captains. After Saturday's game, Sorkin was given the "C".

GOALS OF THE WEEK

Riley Bourbonnais scored two goals in Friday's loss:

WHEELING FUN THING

Language warning on this one. Paul Bissonnette told a ridiculous story from his Nailers days:

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