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Fraser, Haydar happy to join Grand Rapids

by Lindsay Kramer

The Detroit Red Wings have welcomed Curt Fraser
to the organization as the new head coach of the
Grand Rapids Griffins after two years in Belarus.
Curt Fraser was having fun overseas, but he decided to come back.

Darren Haydar was all but ready to board a plane for Europe, but he's sticking around instead.

This is how some organizations keep winning -- they attract winners.

The Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings struck two large blows last week on behalf of farm team Grand Rapids' effort to rebound from missing the 2008 American Hockey League playoffs.

First, although Fraser technically was a Grand Rapids hire, the Red Wings were a reason for him to take the affiliate's coaching job.

Fraser, 50, spent the past two years as coach of the Belarus national men's team, which qualified for the 2010 Olympics with a ninth-place finish at the 2008 World Championship.

Fraser first noticed the passion for hockey in Grand Rapids when he went against it while coaching Orlando of the International Hockey League. He thought about pursing the Griffins job when it opened up last summer, but decided to stay in Belarus.

"This time I wasn't going to let the opportunity pass me by," he said. "To be a part of an organization like Detroit, who couldn't be happy with that?"

Fraser is a former coach of the Atlanta Thrashers and an assistant with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues. In six seasons as a coach at the Triple-A level (IHL Milwaukee, 1992-94, and Orlando, 1995-99), Fraser guided his teams to two division titles and four second-place finishes, posting a 281-158-10-42 record and earning at least 40 wins in every campaign. He led the Solar Bears to Turner Cup finals in 1996 and 1999.

While a side trip to Belarus might not into that career path, Fraser disagrees.

"I would recommend it to any coach," he said. "Learn how to communicate with people that don't speak English. You have to find a way to teach them the game. And you learn the European game. They are a very hard-working group that want to learn, want to improve, so it was a perfect fit for me."

Haydar, 28, was ready to find out whether he'd say the same thing about himself. He contributed 58 points in 51 games for the Calder Cup champ Chicago Wolves last season, but couldn't snag any one-way NHL deals this summer.

He wasn't even going to think about mulling a two-way offer until the Red Wings dangled one.

"To me, this is my last chance to make it in the NHL," he said. "That's the organization I want to go to. They are a skilled team. I fit their mold. For me to give it one last chance with their organization is something I'm willing to try. I didn't want to look back in 10 years and wonder what would have happened if I gave it one more year."

Haydar, the AHL's all-time playoff leader in goals (55) and points (124), is prepared for his last attempt at the NHL starts back in the minors.

The Red Wings' selling point, in his mind, is that when they need a recall they usually reward the most deserving player, regardless of his developmental status.

"Do I think I'm going to make the team out of camp?" he said. "I don't think so. Whoever plays the best, that's who gets called up. That's why I'm willing to take a chance with them. I don't let it affect my game when I get sent to the minors. That's something I've been able to deal with because I've dealt with it so many years in a row."
Friends sticking together -- Defenseman Duvie Westcott and forward Mark Hartigan are long-time friends who will go to great lengths for each other.

Real great lengths. Like, say, the distance between their homes in Minnesota and the rinks of Latvia.

That's where the veterans have signed to play for the same team in 2008-09. It wasn't precisely a package deal -- Westcott agreed first -- but they talked it over before deciding to take that sharp career turn.

"We should have a good time with each other," Westcott said. "Hopefully, we won't get too sick of each other."
"We can't shake each other," Hartigan said. "It's definitely nice to have someone to go with. It seemed like it could be pretty adventurous."

Hartigan and Westcott were teammates at St. Cloud State, and then with the Syracuse Crunch and Columbus Blue Jackets. Both could use a change.

Westcott, 30, was bought out of the last two years of his contract earlier this summer. Hartigan, also 30, has been a great AHL player, but hasn't been able to settle into an NHL rotation.

"We were both kind of in the same situation," said Westcott. "We weren't getting the contracts we were hoping for. It's my hope I can go over there and prove myself and get back in the NHL."

His limited NHL playing time aside, Hartigan counts himself fortunate in one sense. Actually, two. He earned Stanley Cup rings each of the past two seasons, with Anaheim and Detroit, despite seeing action in just five playoff games total.

"I have to be somewhat happy with what happened," Hartigan said. "But you wish you could play more, which makes it bittersweet."

Fahey going out on top -- Leaving home isn't so bad when one of the things you are leaving behind is a championship banner.

That was part of defenseman Brian Fahey's rationale when he said goodbye to his hometown Chicago Wolves earlier this summer.

Fahey, 27, inked a pact with the New York Rangers after posting 14 goals and 23 assists for Calder Cup champ Chicago in 2007-08. It was an especially sweet season because Fahey is from nearby Glenview, Ill.

But when the Rangers offered him a two-year deal, which is one-way the first season and two-way the second, sentimentality took a back seat. It's hard to blame Fahey -- since turning pro in 2003-04 he's played for two ECHL teams and four AHL squads.

"Being able to play at home is unbelievable," Fahey said. "Obviously I had a dream of playing in the NHL. When the opportunity to play for the Rangers came along, I felt it was the best place for me. If we would not have won (in Chicago), I would have left with the sense there was some unfinished work. It's always easier to leave when you go out on a win."
Bertani overcomes long odds --
Matthew Bertani was ready to leave hockey behind and start selling fitness equipment.

The New York Islanders had other ideas -- like hiring him to help in Bridgeport.

In an out-of-nowhere story that could match that of any long-shot player this season, the Islanders have tabbed Bertani, 32, as an assistant coach for the Sound Tigers. Bertani will specialize in video work and skill drills.

Bertani had been an assistant coach at Penn State, which fields a club hockey team. He resigned from that post after last season and was prepared to go into sales.

But an old connection changed that plan. Before working at Penn State, Bertani was an assistant at Johnstown of the ECHL. The coach at the time was Toby O'Brien, now a pro scout for the Islanders. When he heard of the opening in Bridgeport, he tipped off Bertani. He took a shot, and even he was startled when it hit the target.

"It was an opportunity that was a surprise to me," he said. "I think my video knowledge was the biggest thing that attracted them to me. I don't think the adjustment will be that hard. Hockey is hockey at any age level. The guys still make the same mistakes that the kids do when they are younger."

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