Matt Fraser is preparing for arguably the most important training camp of his life.
After three years of being a top American Hockey League player, the Red Deer native is hoping to build off of his post-season glory with the Boston Bruins and crack the NHL squad’s line up on a full-time basis.
“I’ve been a bubble player between the AHL and the NHL and my goal is to go in there this year and make sure that I am prepared not only to play but be an impact player,” said the six-foot-two, 205-pound, 24-year-old.
Fraser has starred at every level he has played, but late bloomer status led to going undrafted at the NHL level.
He signed a free agent deal with the Dallas Stars after he wrapped up his final prolific season with the Kootenay Ice in the WHL and scored 101 points (70 goals, 31 assists) in 135 games with their farm team the Texas Stars.
He was traded last summer to the Bruins in the deal that sent Tyler Seguin to the Stars and Loui Eriksson to Boston, but he was sent down to the Providence Bruins of the AHL. There he continued to produce, tallying 30 points (20-10-30) in 40 games and got the call up to the big team. But he played sporadically and scored just two goals in 14 games.
However, due to injuries on the Bruins, he was on their roster for their first round match up with the Montreal Canadiens, and scored the biggest goal of his life.
With the two teams tied in overtime in Game 4, Fraser found a loose puck at the side of the net and jammed it past Montreal goalie Carey Price at 1:19 of the extra frame. The next few minutes was a blur for Fraser.
“I remember a lot more of it now when you can sit back and think about it. At the time it was such a rush of emotion that you don’t really comprehend it until a couple of weeks later,” he said.
Fraser became a momentary hero in Boston and roundly hated by Canadian hockey fans who were desperate for anything to get behind as he wrote a new chapter into one of the League’s most fierce rivalries.
Adding another layer to the lore, he did it all on a broken foot after blocking a shot in the AHL playoffs with Providence.
The goal is not something he is resting on. Instead he is using it as motivation. The goal was a taste for what he hopes is future glory, or at least a full-time NHL pay cheque.
One thing is for sure, he looked at home on a line with Carl Soderberg and Eriksson with his physical, all-round game.
“It’s nice to talk about, but in the end it’s in the past and it’s last year,” said Fraser. “You take the confidence from that and build off of that and bring it into camp. But again it was last year and the slate is wiped clean.”
This summer has been all about preparing for the Bruins training camp. First he let his foot heal, but he has been working out and getting back into shape since, while living in Red Deer, still his home.
This week he has been on the ice at the Red Deer Rebels training camp, the team where his WHL career began after lighting it up with the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs in the Alberta Major Midget Hockey League. But it did not work out with his hometown club and he was dealt to the Ice, who he helped to a WHL championship in 2011 while leading the playoffs in goals with 17, finishing with 27 points in 19 games.
However, because it took until his third year in the WHL to start putting up stats (32-23-55 in 65 games with 117 penalty minutes), he went undrafted. His fourth year with the Ice was even better, scoring 74 points (36-38-74) in 66 games, earning his free agent contract with Dallas.
Now he needs to prove he can also produce at the NHL level.
“It’s definitely a fine line,” said Fraser. “It’s not the big things that separates them, it’s the little things and the little things they do so well. That’s why it’s so good skating out here with the guys like Kris Russell and (Paul) Postma and (Colton) Sceviour and Brandon Sutter. Those guys have played games in the NHL and we try to learn off each other and we’re hard on each other because we e