Los Angeles Kings forward Colin Fraser looks at his NHL career and then compares it to that of head coach Darryl Sutter.
And then he feels so very blessed.
“I’m definitely very fortunate, very lucky,” Fraser said this week, shortly after arriving at his off-season home in Sylvan Lake from Los Angeles, where the Kings captured the Stanley Cup June 11.
“Darryl Sutter waited something like 35 years to win the Cup. A guy like that puts in 35 years and I’ve put in four and have two Cups.”
Indeed he has. With his fourth NHL season just nicely concluded, Fraser, a former Red Deer Rebels captain, will be fitted for a championship ring in the near future, a hunk of jewelry that will complement the Stanley Cup ring he earned with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
While Sutter — who gradually took the underachieving Kings in a new direction after moving behind the bench in December — finally tasted Stanley Cup champagne after a lengthy run as a player and coach, the city of L.A. waited 45 years before celebrating a Stanley Cup win.
“It was great for the city, especially for the diehards who have been Kings fans since Day 1,” said Fraser. “Forty five years is a long time. Southern California has more hockey fans than people think, I said that even before I played for the Kings. We sold out pretty much every game and set a franchise attendance record this season. The support was awesome.”
No doubt the Kings fans appreciated the potential of their team, which took on a championship look with the off-season acquisition of Mike Richards and then the February addition of Jeff Carter.
Still, the Kings struggled to score and some nights got by mostly on the back of netminder Jonathan Quick. But the club turned it around down the stretch, clinched the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference and was on a nice roll heading into a first-round match with the favoured Vancouver Canucks.
“We did struggle in the middle part of the year for sure, considering the expectations of us were to contend for the conference title and the Cup,” said Fraser.
“Obviously we wanted to finish as high as we could and have home-ice advantage, but at the same time we were like, ‘hey, let’s just get in the playoffs’. We ended up drawing Vancouver in the first round and it was one of those things where we were the eighth seed but didn’t feel like an eighth seed.
“Really, what was the difference between the third- to 10th-place teams? Not a lot. I know we were the first eighth seed to do this, that and the other thing, but the league is so tight now than anyone can win on any given night.”
With Sutter pushing the right buttons and the players buying in to his program, the Kings were already in post-season mode when they took on — and eventually ousted in five games — the Canucks.
“We started the playoffs four to six weeks before they even started. We had to, to get in,” said Fraser. “Our record was very good down the stretch and that momentum really helped us. When the playoffs started we were already playing playoff hockey.”
The Kings carried that swagger all the way through Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, finally snaring the big prize with a resounding 6-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.
And the party was on.
“We had our own fun in the dressing room for quite awhile. Then we moved it upstairs with family and friends to a bar/restaurant in the Staples Center,” said Fraser. “After that we took the Cup to a local bar in Hermosa Beach where a bunch of the guys live.”
The celebrations continued.
“One night we took the Cup to Hollywood and we had (UFC legend) Chuck Liddell, David Beckham and (actor) Kevin Connolly with us,” said Fraser.
Beckham, a universally-recognized soccer player who toils with the L.A. Galaxy, is a big-time Kings fan, Fraser noted.
“He and his boys came to a lot of games during the season. They just didn’t start coming out when we were doing well in the playoffs.”
Fraser also met Tom Hanks during the season and fellow actor Matthew Perry showed his support for the team by flying to the Kings’ post-season games in New Jersey and St. Louis.
Fraser is now an unrestricted free agent, basically free to sign with any club after July 1. He’s hoping he’ll be hearing from the Kings before that.
“I haven’t talked to L.A. at all, but I would certainly entertain the idea of going back there and I actually want to go back,” he said. “I’m hoping everything works out, but if it doesn’t that’s part of the business too. I’ve learned that by being on three different teams (the Edmonton Oilers included). I’ll be ready for whatever happens.”
Fraser and his wife Carli will host the Stanley Cup for a day this summer and will likely visit various locations in Sylvan Lake and Red Deer.