The Kootenay Ice have been freezing out their Western Hockey League opponents at a dizzying pace since October, and Matt Fraser has played a big role in the team’s reversal of its early-season woes.
The Red Deer product, in his third season with the Cranbrook-based Ice since being dealt by the Red Deer Rebels early in the 2007-08 campaign, is enjoying a break-through year with a career-best 27 goals and 49 points in 57 games.
“It’s nice to have some personal success, but at the same time personal success doesn’t really mean much unless the team is clicking,” said Fraser, who was a bit bothered following Kootenay’s 4-2 loss to the Rebels at the Centrium.
Until he was reminded that the setback was just Kootenay’s ninth — versus 34 wins — since Oct. 30.
“Yeah, we’ve had (just) a few blips on the radar since then,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to the coaches.”
Fraser also credits the Ice coaching staff for his individual accomplishments.
“The coaches have given me an opportunity and have shown confidence in me,” he said, in reference to head man Mark Holick and assistants Kris Knoblauch and Scott Beattie. “But at the same time, we need everyone going.”
The Ice have had most of their hands on deck during their torrid run, after starting the season with five wins in 16 outings while playing short-handed.
“We had a lot of guys hurt at the start of the year and if we could have been even .500 through that stretch we’d be in better shape now,” said Fraser, referring to Kootenay’s fourth-place status in the Eastern Conference. “But I guess we’d rather have (injury problems) at the start of the year than at the end of the (regular) season going into playoffs.
“Just getting guys healthy and back into the lineup sparked the big turnaround for us. Plus, everyone has bought into the system. The big thing with this team is everyone plays within his limits. When we play as individuals we don’t fare as well as we should, but for the most part that hasn’t been the case.”
The six-foot-two, 207-pound left winger sniped 10 goals and collected 24 points last season and was then passed over in the NHL entry draft as a 19-year-old.
Fraser will celebrate his 20th birthday in May, which will likely hinder his chances of being selected in this year’s NHL draft despite the fact he’s talked to pro scouts this winter. Whatever, he hasn’t lost any sleep in relation to that scenario.
“Being drafted would be something spectacular and a real honour, but at the same time you have to kind of put that in your back pocket and just go out and play,” he said. “It would be awesome if I was drafted, or even it I got into a (NHL training) camp somewhere. That would be a great thing, but I have to focus on the task at hand and play well and then hope that everything else will take care of itself. There’s still a lot of hockey left to be played.”
The Ice will definitely be playing a ‘lot’ of hockey if they extend their regular-season success into the post-season.
“I think that we have the team that can go far in the playoffs,” said Fraser. “We just have to stick to our game plan and make sure we don’t play down to teams. We can’t take teams lightly.”
Fraser was understandably upset when he was traded to the Ice two and a half years ago, just as it appeared that he would be starting his WHL career with the Rebels. But he quickly became accustomed to his new team and his new surroundings and it’s been a marriage made in heaven ever since.
“I absolutely love it in (Cranbrook), I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” he insisted. “It’s always fun to come back and play against the Rebels and see friends and family, but at the same time they’re just another hockey team.”