Matt Fraser earns WHL’s Humanitarian award
EDMONTON — Matt Fraser is a caring person.
The fact that he was recognized as the Western Hockey League humanitarian of the year during the league’s awards luncheon Wednesday at the Fantasyland Hotel is ample evidence of his generous persona, but the Red Deer native insisted he didn’t need an award to feel gratified.
“It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s not why we do it,” said the Kootenay Ice forward, who was presented with the Doug Wickenheiser Memorial Trophy. “At the same time, I think it’s a pretty important award for anyone. It shows that we as players like to be involved in our community, that the early-morning school visits and stuff like that doesn’t bother us.
“We want to be out there and be a part of our community, because ultimately the people support us and we should support them as well.”
Fraser, with the backing of his Ice teammates and the entire Kootenay organization, initiated the ‘Shoot for the Stars’ program last year. The program raised $14,000 for the Cranbrook hospital, which in turn purchased medical equipment which will enable cancer patients in the city to avoid travelling seven hours to Kelowna for treatment.
The 19-year-old was spurred into action when his billet mother was diagnosed with cancer eight years after his own mother was stricken with the disease. Both women are now healthy.
“If this has improved the life of even one cancer patient, then I feel I’ve helped someone,” he said.
Fraser, coming off a breakout season in which he scored 32 goals and accumulated 56 points in 65 games, was dealt from the Red Deer Rebels to the Ice early in the 2007-08 season. He was shattered at the time, but that disappointment has long since worn off.
“I grew up watching the Rebels and to be traded from them wasn’t the easiest thing, for sure, but it’s in the past now. As for Cranbrook, I can’t say enough about the town and the Kootenay Ice organization,” he said. “Everyone there has welcomed me with open arms. There’s a lot of people behind the scenes who do a lot of work who don’t get a lot of recognition, and I’d like to thank those people. None of this would have been possible without them.”
Fraser, who turns 20 in May, will be back with the Ice as an overage player next fall.
“I’ll be heading back to Kootenay, for sure. I’m looking forward to it . . . I’m already excited,” he said. “I was telling my parents the other day that if I could start next season this week that I’d be filing my truck with gas and heading there right now.”
“We’re going to have a really good team next year. I think we have all the right people in place to make some noise around the league.”
From there, the six-foot-three winger hopes to parlay his major junior success into a professional hockey career. In fact, he already has some pro experience under his belt after playing two games with the Peoria Rivermen — the No. 1 affiliate of the St. Louis Blues — following Kootenay’s first-round playoff series loss to Medicine Hat earlier this month.
“A week after I got home I received a call from the Rivermen and played two American Hockey League games in Winnipeg versus the Moose,” said Fraser. “That was definitely an eye-opening experience, to see what the next level is like.
“Ultimately, that’s what every player plays for. It was neat to kind of dip the toes in the water there and hopefully somewhere along the line I can make it a permanent place.”