25th Anniversary Special – Top 25 Rebels in franchise history: No. 20 Colin Fraser
Brent Sutter was a no-nonsense, nose-to-the-grindstone type as both a junior and professional hockey player.
It should come as no surprise then that the Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach, to this day, still admires Colin Fraser and almost certainly sees a lot of himself in his former captain.
“He was a heart and soul character,” Sutter said recently, while looking back at the four seasons Fraser spent with the Rebels. “He had some skill, but the biggest thing was every game, every practice, you knew exactly what you were going to get from Colin.”
Sutter noticed Fraser’s grit and determination the first time the Surrey, B.C., native pulled on a Rebels jersey.
“We brought him in for his first game as a 15-year-old. You could just tell what he was going to be right there as a player,” said Sutter.
Fraser, who was the Rebels’ first-round pick in the 2000 WHL bantam draft and joined the club full time as a 16-year-old in 2001, played four seasons in Red Deer before turning pro with the Chicago Blackhawks organization.
Fraser was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the third round of the 2003 NHL entry draft, but his rights were dealt to Chicago a year later.
He credits his time as a major junior player — and playing under Sutter — for preparing him for his graduation to the play-for-pay ranks.
“First off, you move away from home. You’re 16 years old and you’re on own,” said Fraser. “Then you’re literally going every day, six to seven days a week. It’s a 72-game schedule with practice almost every day.
“It’s definitely eye-opening at first. You think you’re ready, you think you know everything because you’re a teenage boy. But you learn a lot and you have to learn early.”
He and Sutter saw eye-to-eye for pretty much his entire time with the Rebels, although Fraser admitted his head coach was quick to point him in the right direction if he needed a nudge.
“Brent and I got along great. He rewards hard work and I was a pretty honest, hard-working player,” said Fraser. “It’s pretty self-explanatory the way I played. He rewarded me for that and I tried to bring it hard every day, every game.
“That doesn’t mean he was always patting me on the back. He wasn’t afraid to give it to me either, but it came from a good learning place and helped me to be better.
“I really respect him and his coaching philosophies. I probably wouldn’t have made it as far as I did without him.”
Fraser didn’t experience an overly long pro career, but he appeared in 398 NHL games — regular-season and playoffs — and was a member of three Stanley Cup championship teams.
He sipped from the coveted mug while with the Blackhawks in 2010 and twice as a member of the Los Angeles Kings — in 2012 and again two years later.
Fraser was never a big-time points producer as a junior — his best winter with the Rebels was 2004-05 when he scored 26 goals and collected 74 points in 70 regular-season and playoff games— and in the NHL was known primarily for his dogged work ethic and ability to play a certain role.
“I guess I kind of knew what I needed to do to make it,” he said. “Obviously I wanted to score more goals and produce offensively, but I tried early in my career to do whatever it took to make the team.
“Within reason, I thought I did that and I was rewarded from a team standpoint for that. To be a part of three (Stanley Cup winning) teams . . . it was a little bit of luck, a little bit of timing.”
The Hawks dealt Fraser to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the summer of 2010 and although he was excited about the move, he didn’t enjoy his time in the provincial capital.
“I was in and out of the lineup. It was a forgettable season,” he said.
In June of 2011, he was traded to the Kings for former Oilers fan favourite Ryan Smyth.
Fraser could not have imagined how well the move would turn out to be.
“I didn’t know where my career was going. I ended up getting traded to LA and again, fit in nicely on a fourth line,” he said. “I was told repeatedly that they didn’t care if I scored or didn’t score. All they wanted me to do was play hard every night and contribute from an energy standpoint.
“I didn’t have to worrry about other things and I stayed in the lineup every single game and was able to stay there three more years.”
And win two more Stanley Cups.
Sutter isn’t suprised that Fraser was able to ascend to — and find success at – the highest level of the game.
“You always got honesty and effort from him every night and as he got older he contunued to get better,” said Sutter. “Look at the career he had. He goes on to pro hockey and he’s part of three Stanley Cup teams.
“It’s an amazing story, really. He’s someone who was a fourth-line player in the NHL but the reason every team liked him is because he played his role. He knew what he had to do. He knew his job and he had a team-first mindset. He had a great career with it.”
The Rebels never won a league title during Fraser’s tenure, but he was a member of two runner-up editions — in 2002 and ’03. Those extended playoff runs were highlights for the now 31-year-old, but his biggest thrill as a teenage player was wearing a Team Canada jersey in the 2005 world junior championship.
Even better was the fact the Canadian squad dominated the tournament in Grand Forks, N.D., running the table with the likes of Rebels teammate Dion Phaneuf and future NHL stars Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Seabrook, Jeff Carter . . . the list goes on.
Sutter was the Canadian bench boss that season and caught some criticism when Fraser made the team over more offensive-type players.
But Sutter recognized the importance of having a strong-checking fourth line, and Fraser fit the role to a tee.
Clearly, there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room when it came to selecting the squad.
“It was a lockout year so we knew it was going to be a deeper team than normal,” said Fraser. “A lot of those guys would have been in the NHL.
“Brent was the coach so I had a good chance. Not that Brent was picking the team, but it was nice to have him in my corner to pump my tires.
“I wasn’t going to compete for an offensive spot, I wanted to fill a role.
Winning teams have guys who fill roles and it’s not necessarily the best, most skilled players. It’s a matter of where a certain player fits in and I fit in perfectly on that fourth line with Clark MacArthur and Steve Dixon.”
Fraser signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues in 2014 and after spending nearly the entire season with the team’s AHL affiliate — the Chicago Wolves – he headed to Germany the following year.
After 17 games with the Nuremberg Ice Tigers, he decided it was time to move on from the game.
“I wasn’t enjoying hockey anymore,” he said. “Nothing happened to me, nobody did anything to me, I just wasn’t having fun.
“I put so much work into a goal I had since I was three years old, and that’s playing in the NHL, and my career was winding down the other way. I could have still played, I could probably still be playing today, but, for me, you have to enjoy what you’re doing.
“It wasn’t the fact I was in Germany . . . there was no explanation for it other than I wasn’t having fun. It was time to move on. I felt like I was just punching the clock and was letting my teammates down, and that’s just not who I am as a person.”
Fraser and his wife Carli and three children reside in Sylvan Lake. He’s working towards becoming a financial advisor and three times a week runs camps in Penhold and Bentley for dynamite- to peewee-level players.
“I just want to help the kids,” said Fraser, who will also conduct a week-long camp during the Christmas break. “I want to be on the ice in a different role than playing. I just want to spread some knowledge and have some fun.”
Sutter has lost none of his admiration for Fraser.
“I have a lot of time for Colin,” he said. “He’s a tremendous young man and he’s obviously a family man now with three little ones.”
Sutter will always see Fraser as not only one of his best-ever captains, but also as an extension of the coaching staff at the time.
“He held the team accountable inside the room. He had a great group around him to help him with that, but he was the leader,” said the Rebels boss.
“He made guys accountable in practice, where he worked as hard as he played in games.”
Sutter remembers Fraser and defenceman — and now Rebels assistant coach — Pierre-Paul Lamoureux scrapping during practice sessions.
“He and Pierre used to fight all the time in practice. Pierre didn’t have the skill set that Colin had and he played a different position, but he was also a heart and soul guy.
“They were a reflection of the coaching staff. Whatever the coaches were trying to put through to the team, they addressed it and made sure it went through. If not, there were consequences.
“Colin was awsome. He was a warrior.”