Matt Fraser was training in early December in Red Deer, with his good friend Paul Postma.
Fraser had already signed a contract to play pro hockey in Austria, with a team called Klagenfurt Athletic Club (EC KAC).
His phone rang and it was the GM in Austria, asking if he knew any right shot defenceman looking for a job.
“I was literally sitting right beside Paul,” Fraser recalled.
Postma, 31, who happens to shoot right-handed and play defence, had a few offers but nothing had really jumped out until an opportunity to play with Fraser presented itself.
“I said (to Matt) if you’re going to go to Klagenfurt, I’ve never even heard of the place. If you’re going to go, I want to go too. It happened really fast after that,” said Postma, who was drafted in the seventh round, 205th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers.
— EC-KAC (official) (@EC_KAC) January 16, 2021
So, the duo jumped on a plane, without playing competitive hockey in nearly 10 months and got into game action just a week after arriving in Austria.
It didn’t take long for them to make an impact. In their first 11 games with their new club, Postma and Fraser have combined for 10 goals and 20 points.
“I’m running the first power-play unit and Matt’s on that as well in front of the net. There’s a lot of good players on our team,” said Postma, who has six goals and six assists in 11 games in Klagenfurt.
“I’m just trying to keep things fairly simple. Just trying to play with confidence… maybe hold onto the puck a little bit longer than I normally would.”
He added one of his favourite memories early on, was a road game when the two combined on a goal on an odd-man rush.
“Matt got the puck and I joined the rush, kinda made a two-on-one out of it. Matt made a great pass to me and ended up scoring and we celebrated together behind the net. That was awesome. It was one of my first points and for Matt, too,” Postma said.
Klagenfurt has a population of 287,000, is a city in Southern Austria, near the border with Slovenia.
The hockey team has a long history of success and is near the top of the ICE Hockey League this year, with only about a quarter of the regular season to go. It’s fair to say the Red Deer duo brought a little pedigree to the lineup.
Both had a cup of coffee in the NHL, with Fraser suiting up for 87 games between the Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers. He also had 45 points in 51 games with Dornbirn EC in Austria in 2017-18.
Postma played 205 NHL contests, mostly with the Winnipeg Jets and a few with the Boston Bruins. Both are veterans of over 200 American Hockey League games.
— EC-KAC (official) (@EC_KAC) January 3, 2021
All that experience has helped this time around in Austria, but they say it’s just been a blast playing hockey again.
“It’s just fun playing with Paul. We’ve grown up together, we’re best buddies and it’s just fun,” said Fraser, who has four goals and four assists in 11 games with Klagenfurt.
It’s also helped to be there together. They are sharing an apartment – they even cooked burritos on Christmas and watched all the classic Christmas movies they could find.
“It’s fun coming home after a game and being able to talk about the game, just hang out… I think it’s all been a good experience,” Fraser added.
Typically overseas, it’s an opportunity for players to see the world and experience a different culture.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still at the forefront, that hasn’t been the case. Mostly everything in Austria is under lockdown, similar to Alberta. Klagenfurt used to stay overnight on road trips, but now it’s a game-day bus trip no matter where they travel.
There are strict COVID-19 protocols for the players, mostly only leaving home for groceries or to go to the rink. They are tested a couple of times a week.
“It’s just crazy that we were back home and trying to stay in shape and all this stuff is affecting us. Then you go and jump on a plane for 12 hours, you come all the way over here and it’s all the exact same,” Postma said.
“It’s just amazing how this is such a global thing. It’s everyone and it’s crazy to see.”
Still, it’s a chance to play the game they love, on a team that was near the top of the Austrian league last season. Both Postma and Fraser had their European seasons cut short last year and are happy to keep the dream alive for one more year.
“It’s good hockey. We have a good team and it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve both put up some pretty good numbers so far and hopefully, we can keep that going,” Postma said.
Klagenfurt is back on the ice for a pair of games this weekend, as the regular season winds down in early February.