fter a successful NHL stint that resulted in three Stanley Cup championship rings and the admiration of just about everyone he ever encountered, Colin Fraser packed up his family and headed to Germany in 2016 to continue his hockey career.
Everything seemed ideal, from his coach, to the city of Nuremberg, to the apartment he shared with his wife and two children (with another on the way) to the team that was in first place when the calendar turned to November of '16.
While all appeared right with the world, it wasn't.
"There were all of these things that were really, really good and I still had this feeling that I just wasn't enjoying it," Fraser said. "Nothing happened to me. I don't have a story where someone screwed me or hurt me. I just didn't want to play anymore."
For the first time in his life, Fraser, who helped the Blackhawks win the Cup in 2010 and the Kings in'12 and '14 as part of an NHL career that spanned 359 games over parts of nine seasons and also included stops with the Oilers and Blues, had lost his passion to play hockey.
"It's not something that I talked about, it was just a feeling I had for quite awhile," Fraser said. "I got into November in Germany and I just couldn't fight it anymore. I felt like I was playing for the wrong reasons. I felt like I was playing for a paycheck and to hang out with the guys and the lifestyle.
"I'm a character guy and I still worked hard and played hard and I wasn't physically mailing it in but mentally I didn't care if we won or lost," Fraser continued. "For the first time in my life it became a job and I found myself not being excited to go to the rink and not being excited to play and just kind of gutting it out."
So on an off-day for the Ice Tigers, Fraser called his coach, Rob Wilson, and asked him to go to coffee and when they sat down, "I essentially quit. I hate that word, but I did. I quit," Fraser said quietly. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I was very emotional."
It was not the ending to his playing career that Fraser envisioned.
"It wasn't like this Wayne Gretzky-like moment where you're skating around the ice and you know when you're done," he said. "It's kind of weird because you obviously know you're not going to play forever but at the same time you feel like the end is never going to come."
Growing up just outside of Vancouver, hockey was all Fraser knew and suddenly it was no longer a part of his life. Even a post-retirement offer from the Blackhawks to become a scout didn't appeal to him so Fraser ventured out into the so-called real world. Like many former players, he found the transition a difficult one.
"You identify as a hockey player," Fraser, now 34, said. "For me, since I was 3, 4, 5 years old I was always good, I was always a top player in my age group and I was just going to be a hockey player. I never had a job in my whole life. Outside of landscaping for a day here or insulation for a day there, I never had a job. I graduated high school and never went to college. I consider myself a smart person but at the same time I'm uneducated and I never had a job.
"Everyone was like, 'Well, what do you like to do?' and would say, 'What do you mean what do I like to do? All I do is play hockey,'" Fraser added. "It's not an easy transition. We all talk about it, all of these players struggle. It's not easy."
For the first year or so, Fraser spent time with his family but then realized he had to do something to make ends meet. He tried his hand working with his financial advisor to recruit players but soon discovered "it was an uphill battle."
"I learned that in the real world you think it's going to be easy and nothing is easy," Fraser said. "They don't care if you play in the NHL or not. It just didn't work out. Eventually, I said, 'OK, I have to do something. I can't see myself sitting in an office 9 to 5.' I found myself wanting to get back into hockey."
It was a conversation with Blackhawks Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Al MacIsaac - who two years previously had offered Fraser the scouting job - that got Fraser back into hockey. The Blackhawks had an opening for an amateur scout in Western Canada and MacIsaac believed that the attributes Fraser displayed during his playing career would make him a fit as a scout.
"I had an opportunity to work with Colin as a player (in Norfolk of the AHL) and I knew what type of person he was," MacIsaac said. "I knew what his work ethic was and that's what we're looking for: Guys who are willing to put the time and effort in, don't complain, are low maintenance and to get to the NHL they had work their way up."
It wasn't long before MacIsaac, Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman and Vice President of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley knew they'd made the right choice.
"We got even more than we hoped for," MacIsaac said. "(Fraser) has been dynamic in the role. He's already created a voice for himself. Some guys are nervous initially and don't say a lot and kind of keep to themselves out of respect for the guys who have been around, but not Colin. When he knows he has something to say he shares it. That's important for Stan and I and for Mark Kelley because we pay these guys to have a voice."
Said Bowman: "(Fraser) is a very curious guy and he dove in with both feet and I think that's what made him a good player. Whatever his role was, he just did what was asked of him and was all in and it's the same things as a scout."
What appeals to Fraser about scouting?
"The puzzle of trying to project a player," he said. "What's he going to be and how good is he going to be and does he have the intangibles or at least one or two elements to be a professional hockey player? There are lots of good hockey players out there but what sets Player X or Y apart from his peers?
"I'm more passionate about hockey now than I was at the end of my career but in a different way," Fraser added. "I like to talk about it, watch it, dissect it. I quite enjoy it in a different way."
Fraser was instrumental in the Blackhawks' selection of Kirby Dach, who played the previous two-plus seasons with Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League, with the No. 3 overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft.
"I saw Kirby play a lot," Fraser said. "He's big, 6-feet-4, 200 pounds with a lot of room for growth. He can be a dominant centerman. If he wants to be, he can be Ryan Getzlaf. I know that's a big projection, Getzlaf being who he is, but Kirby has those attributes. Good, long reach, good size, little bit of pushback, a little bit of bite, a 200-foot player with a ton of skill."
As far as his playing career, Fraser has nothing but fond memories, especially of his time with the Blackhawks that spanned from 2007-10. Of all the things Fraser accomplished as an NHL player, he considers his greatest legacy being the role he played in the introduction of the Blackhawks' title belt, which is given to the player who has the best game during a victory.
"Not many know this because I'm not a Blackhawks legend like some of those other guys," Fraser said. "But I was partially behind the addition of the title belt."
In the spring of 2010, the Blackhawks were in Glendale, Ariz., to play the Coyotes and on an off-night, several members of the team were out in an entertainment area not far from the arena. Fraser was to be a scratch the next day against the Coyotes, along with Brent Seabrook, who was recovering from a concussion.
"There were Blackhawks fans everywhere because it was spring training for baseball and the DJ at the bar had this title belt," Fraser said. " Seabs was like, 'How much?' and the DJ said, 'It's not for sale.' I don't remember the numbers but Seabs kept offering him more and more money and finally the guy said, 'Sold!' Seabs went to the ATM and got the money, paid for the belt and when we won the next day, Seabs came out in a speedo like a wrestler with the belt wrapped around his waist and handed it out to one of the guys. We were having a good laugh and that was the start of the title belt."
While that anecdote, which can be verified by a certain unnamed sportswriter who was also in attendance when the title belt was purchased, is one of the funnier moments of Fraser's career, he is proud of what he accomplished on the ice.
"When I sleep at night I can say as an NHL player based on my skill set I think I carved out a pretty good career for myself," Fraser said. "I wasn't a natural skater or goal-scorer but I think all my teammates liked me. I think I can lead by example for my own children of what hard work can get you. I retired knowing that I gave everything I had. I'm proud of that in a sense that I don't have any regrets. We all can't play 1,000 games and make $10 million a year. I was lucky to have the career that I had."
Now, Fraser is onto a scouting career that will continue for at least the next two years after he recently signed an extension with the Blackhawks.
"I'll see where that takes me," Fraser said. "I'm absolutely content with where I am, covering the West and having three kids. I just take it one step at a time as cliché as that sounds. I like where I'm at right now."