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Top 10 Unsung Heroes: Fernando Pisani (3)

For eight weeks during the spring of 2006, the Edmonton Oilers treated their fans to a roller-coaster ride in the NHL playoffs that took them to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against the Carolina Hurricanes. It was a thrill that the faithful in Edmonton hadn’t experienced since 1990, when the Oilers sipped from the Cup for a fifth time. For unheralded Fernando Pisani, those were the best eight weeks of this career. They still are.

It’s not Pisani’s playoff-leading 14 goals, including his five game-winners, that puts him at No. 3 on this Top 10 Unsung Heroes list. Had there been a civic election that summer, Fernando might have won had he run for mayor. Likewise, the unforgettable run landed Pisani a four-year contract worth $10 million, so that remarkable stretch made him both rich and famous. The unsung part? Well, let’s talk about what it took to get Pisani to that big stage in 2006 in the first place and the struggles he endured after it.

Fernando Pisani

Right Wing — shoots L
Born Dec 27 1976 — Edmonton, ALTA
Height 6.01 — Weight 205 [185 cm/93 kg]

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Drafted by Edmonton Oilers

Round 8 #195 overall 1996 NHL Entry Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

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G

A

PTS

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+/-

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PIM

S

S%

TOI

ATOI

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2002-03

26

EDM

35

8

5

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13

9

10

32

25.0

375

10:43

2003-04

27

EDM

76

16

14

30

14

46

99

16.2

971

12:46

2005-06

29

EDM

80

18

19

37

5

42

131

13.7

1108

13:51

2006-07

30

EDM

77

14

14

28

-1

40

142

9.9

1301

16:54

2007-08

31

EDM

56

13

9

22

-5

28

96

13.5

926

16:32

2008-09

32

EDM

38

7

8

15

-1

14

72

9.7

582

15:19

2009-10

33

EDM

40

4

4

8

-16

10

54

7.4

583

14:35

2010-11

34

CHI

60

7

9

16

0

10

72

9.7

754

12:34

7 yrs EDM

402

80

73

153

5

190

626

12.8

5846

14:32

1 yr CHI

60

7

9

16

0

10

72

9.7

754

12:34

Career

462

87

82

169

5

200

698

12.5

6600

14:17

PLAYOFFS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

TOI

ATOI

2002-03

26

EDM

6

1

0

1

-2

2

8

12.5

83

13:48

2005-06

29

EDM

24

14

4

18

4

10

49

28.6

413

17:12

2010-11

34

CHI

3

0

0

0

-1

0

3

0.0

24

7:55

Career

33

15

4

19

1

12

60

25.0

519

15:44

WHY HE MAKES IT

Pisani was pretty much the most celebrated Oiler player in a city that was turned on its ear that spring by series wins over Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim before that date with the Hurricanes – a series that produced his unforgettable shorthanded goal in overtime of Game 5 to send the series back to Rexall Place. That was a highlight that was years in the making for Pisani, who didn’t even make it to the NHL until two weeks past his 27th birthday — in a game against Anaheim Jan. 8, 2003.

Pisani spent three seasons in the AJHL before the Oilers took a chance on him with the 195th overall pick in the 1996 Entry Draft after he’d put up 103 points with the St. Albert Saints. Getting even a sniff of the NHL – even one game — when you’re selected that late is a longshot at best, but it’s a shot Pisani made good on by travelling a long and winding road to beat the odds and eventually make it to the spring of 2006.

He left home and spent four seasons, a total of 147 games, playing with Providence College of Hockey East. Then, came parts of three seasons and 172 games in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Pisani had parts of just two seasons in with the Oilers when the NHL lockout sent him to Europe for stints in Switzerland and Italy in 2004-05. He’d already ridden the buses and taken the short pay in the minors at that point. He could have walked away and called it good. Then came the 2005-06 season, when he scored 18 goals and had 37 points as the Oilers snuck into the playoffs…

THE FINE PRINT

I watched Pisani work his butt off to elevate his game back in those days when he was trying to break in. Yes, that’s part of being a pro. Pisani went well beyond that with extra skating and extra drills. Never once that I saw did Fernando take his place in that Oiler line-up or in that dressing room for granted. It was as if somebody had cloned Ryan Smyth. The spring of 2006 didn’t just happen for Pisani. His dedication and determination to get better set the stage. Mercy, did he grab the spotlight when the time came.

Then, just like that, a condition known as ulcerative colitis – Pisani was first diagnosed with it in 2005 but it didn’t really progress and hit him hard until 2007 – sent him sideways. Pisani lost 40 pounds. He was weak. Just walking up a flight of stairs took all the energy he had. It became very obvious Pisani needed to take time to get healthy again. He’d play just 38 and 40 games during his final two seasons with the Oilers.

While taking treatment and trying to get healthy enough to continue with his career, Pisani spoke about his condition to various groups. In 2008, Pisani’s battle with and comeback from ulcerative colitis made him a finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Pisani closed out his career by playing 60 games with Chicago in 2010-11. He never did regain the lightning in a bottle he’d captured in the spring of 2006, but it’s the road he took to get there in the first place and the grace and grit he showed at the end of his career that’s the real story.

This series of various Top 10 lists will focus on the post-1990 Oilers – the players who haven’t played on a Stanley Cup winner in Edmonton.

The List: