Fraser Becoming a Bright Star in TexasDec 1, 2011
It’s two minutes into overtime back on October 22nd. The Texas Stars have just started a power play against the Peoria Rivermen, in a back-and-forth offensive encounter that featured ten goals in regulation. The Stars control the puck in the offensive zone; from the left circle, Travis Morin slides a cross-ice pass to an open Matt Fraser. Fraser launches a one-timer past the lunging goaltender for the game-winning goal, triggering the horn at the Cedar Park Center and sending the home crowd into a frenzy. It’s Fraser’s second goal of the evening, his fourth on the season. Suddenly, fans and players alike were paying attention to Texas’ 21-year-old rookie winger.
“You knew offensively he had a niche, but you didn’t know he was as good as what he’s shown here,” said first-year Stars head coach Jeff Pyle. “You could have ten other left-handers in the same spot, they might have two or three goals, he’s got nine. He’s just that guy. He finds a way to score.”
Teammate Dan Spang is also impressed with Fraser’s offensive skill. “When he’s not scoring, he’s hitting the crossbar or hitting posts or at least making the goalie make a heck of a save, so he’s got a little gift there.”
Through his first 19 games this season, Fraser is second on the team with nine goals, and tied for third in points with 13. Not bad for a guy who played in just two AHL games before this season started.
Fraser grew up in the Canadian town of Red Deer, Alberta, located directly in between Edmonton and Calgary. Like most areas in Canada, hockey was easily accessible.
“There are lots of outdoor rinks,” Fraser recalled of his hometown. “Everywhere you go you can find one. I spent a lot of time on the ice when I was younger, and I grew up playing hockey there my entire life, and enjoyed every minute of it.”
Fraser found a passion for hockey early in life. But it was the support from his family and friends that allowed him to pursue the dream.
“I owe [my parents] a lot for all the time and money they’ve spent on me. My sister’s played a big part as well. When you play on a travelling team in hockey, some of her extracurricular activities take second place. I owe a lot to her.”
It didn’t take long for his family’s sacrifices to start paying off. At 16 years old, Fraser joined the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. In a little over a season, Fraser played eight games with the Rebels. Then, he moved on to the WHL’s Kootenay Ice. Starting in the 2007-08 season, Fraser showed dramatic improvement in his production. In his first three seasons with the Ice, Fraser registered 20, 24 and then 56 points. During the 56-point season of 2009-10, Fraser saw his first AHL action, playing two games with the Rivermen.
But it was the following season with Kootenay that really turned heads. In 66 games Fraser scored 74 points for Kootenay, leading the team into the playoffs. The Ice stormed through the WHL postseason, took the Ed Chynoweth Cup and came up just short in the Memorial Cup. It was during this season, back in November 2010, that Fraser signed his three-year entry level contract with Dallas.
“My years in Kootenay that I had were great times, and I learned a lot as a player and about myself in and away from the rink,” said Fraser. “Signing with Dallas was a huge step in the right direction for me. It’s obviously something that’s very exciting.”
Coach Pyle didn’t join Texas until July of this year. Even so, he had chances to observe Fraser’s play in the past.
“I watched him in the Memorial Cup; I figured he’d get a contract somewhere,” Pyle recalled. “From what I saw in the Memorial Cup, he was a solid two-way player … you didn’t know how good he was gonna be, but you see him for a few games, and you say this kid’s got some character. Those guys automatically stand out. You can tell right away.”
Pyle was on to something. Early on this season, Fraser stood out, particularly as a goal scorer. One of the keys to Fraser’s production has been the chemistry with his linemates, forwards Travis Morin and Ray Sawada.
“Both Ray and Mo (Morin) have helped me out a lot,” said Fraser. “Mo’s a guy that likes to dish the puck, and I’m a guy that likes to shoot it. Ray can shoot it as well and get his nose dirty.”
Each of these players fills a niche, but where they really shine together is on the power play. Six of Fraser’s nine goals this season have come with the man advantage.
“Playing with Mo and Ray helps him,” Pyle said of Fraser. “On that power play they’re smart enough to know that’s the guy we want shooting it, so they’re feeding him.”
Spang sees Fraser’s value on the power play even if he’s not scoring: “When Mo makes that seam pass to him and he’s able to bury it, teams have to respect that pass. Even if he’s not getting the puck, and scoring goals, he’s opened up lanes for a lot of other plays we’ve set up. He’s a really important part of that power play, and it makes it a lot easier for us moving pucks around and moving pucks to the net when he’s taking some pressure off of us.”
But Fraser’s play goes beyond just scoring goals. Growing up, Fraser idolized the playmaking ability of Joe Sakic. As a player, he’s more in line with two-way power forwards, with skill at both ends of the ice.
“You don’t have to label him as a first line playmaker-goal scorer,” said Spang. “He can fit in on any line. He can get in there on the forecheck. He can toss some guys around. He can be a presence in front of the net too; tipping shots, getting rebounds.”
But for all his ability on the ice, Fraser’s best qualities may be the intangibles: a drive to succeed and a high maturity level.
“He wants to learn,” said Pyle. “He knows you’re here to help him, and he respects that … he’s one of those guys that you know is going to be successful. No matter what he would do, he’d be successful at it, ‘cause he’s that type of kid.”
Pyle is one of Fraser’s supporters. He believes there is a future in the NHL for him. The Stars’ head coach says it’s not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when.’
“I wouldn’t think it would take any longer than two years, at the longest. It wouldn’t surprise me if he made it there shorter either,” said Pyle. “He’s that guy. He’s the guy that you know, who will do whatever it takes. He’ll play any role he needs to play. He’s the ultimate team guy.”
Fraser aspires to get better every day. Showing that sense of maturity, he knows he has some more developing to do to get to the next level.
“The guys who are so successful at [the NHL] level, they do it day in and day out,” he said. “They do the small things that separate themselves from the rest of the pack.”
And while he’s here with Texas, Fraser wants to keep learning but contribute to the team’s success as well. “I don’t really like using ‘being a young guy’ as an excuse for anything. I’m here and I want to make an impact on the ice and off the ice. If I can get that consistent play in my game, I’m taking a step in the right direction.”
So far this season, every step he’s taken is in the right direction.