“They both told me this is a great spot, a great leadership group led by Joe Nieuwendyk,” Fraser said. “They said ‘you’ve got to go talk to these guys.’”
And he did, flying to Dallas for an interview.
“What a great group, just phenomenal,” said Fraser. “I was comfortable with it.”
|Fraser , a 12-year veteran of the NHL, registered 433 total career points and 1,306 penalty minutes. |
About a week or so later, he had the job. He’ll be joining head coach Glen Gulutzan and assistant Paul Jerrard, filling the void left by the departure of Willie Desjardins, who is taking over as head coach of the AHL’s Texas Stars.
“It’s real exciting,” said Fraser. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this to come along where I could slip in with a real good group and I’ve heard nothing but great things about Joe Nieuwendyk, Glen Gulutzan, Paul Jerrard, the entire staff and the team. It’s a good fit for me.”
The Stars see it as a good fit as well. Fraser joins the Stars after four years with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. He’s been in the coaching business since 1990, including stints as the head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, assistant coaching jobs with New York Islanders and St. Louis and two years as the head coach of the Belarus national team. He also has extensive experience as an NHL player.
“The most important thing is, he has to be the right personality and the right fit with Glen and with Paul, and he was impressive that way,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “I think everybody felt real comfortable with him.”
Nieuwendyk said Fraser’s experience will complement the experience Gulutzan gained last season, his first behind the bench in the NHL.
“Glen’s a terrific coach and has benefitted from a year of coaching in the NHL,” said Nieuwendyk. “Nothing will be new to him this year. Curt will be a good voice for him, a good support for him. I think he will have a lot of credibility with players because of his experience.”
Fraser is familiar with both Gulutzan and Jerrard. His history goes way back with Jerrard, whom he coached with the Milwaukee Admirals, then of the International Hockey League (IHL) in 1993-94. He met Gulutzan at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, a few years back. The two coached against each other in the AHL, Gulutzan at the helm of the Texas Stars and Fraser behind the bench for Grand Rapids.
“Our teams played very similar, we had great games and it was fun talking to him when I saw him,” said Fraser. “(Glen and Paul) are really great guys. They did a great job with that team. It was fun playing against them and now I am going to be a part of their staff. I am really looking forward to the challenge. I can’t wait to get going.”
Fraser, who was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 24, played 12 years in the NHL, registering 433 points (193 goals, 240 assists) and 1,306 penalty minutes in 704 games while playing with Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota.
Once his career ended in 1990, Brian Burke, then Director of Hockey Operations in Vancouver, and Canucks coach Pat Quinn helped pushed him towards coaching. He was an assistant with Milwaukee for a couple of years before becoming head coach and then moved onto the bench boss job with the IHL’s Orlando Solar Bears. In 1999-00, he got his first shot at an NHL job – head coach of the expansion Atlanta Thrashers.
“The first time I was interviewed by the media, they were like, ‘Curt, why would you want this job?’ I was like, what are you talking about? This is coaching in the National Hockey League,” Fraser said.
It was a tough three-and-a-half years in Atlanta. The Thrashers never won more than 23 games in a season.
“I thought nothing could bother me, but when you get in a situation like that, you grow some real thick skin. That was a great experience to toughen me up,” Fraser said. “It’s a challenge every day with an expansion team. There were a lot of situations there that made me a lot better coach. It was a tough experience, but a good one.”
After being relieved of his duties in Atlanta, Fraser held assistant coaching jobs with the St. Louis Blues and the New York Islanders. Then it was overseas as head coach of Belarus’ national team. It was another learning experience for Fraser, who found out what a European player went through when he came to North America to play.
“It was a great experience for me,” he said. “I was now that guy going across the other way. I didn’t know how to speak Russian. It was hard to deal with that. The two years I worked in Belarus gave me a better appreciation of the European athlete coming over here to play.”
From there, it was back to North America to coach in Grand Rapids, and be a part of the Detroit Red Wings organization. It was another chance to grow as a coach. Fraser, who early in his coaching career had a reputation of being volatile, learned some patience as he helped Red Wings prospects find their way to the NHL.
“I was a pretty demanding coach. There are no easy ways to win. You’ve got to push hard. That’s what I did,” Fraser said. “The last four years, working with young kids, developing them, I’ve become much more patient and you’ve got to be a real great communicator. You’ve got to speed them up and teach them to play a much different game than they are used to. I think the experience in Grand Rapids and working with Detroit really helped me.
“I’ve been around for a while but working with a guy like Mike Babcock, he’s a fantastic coach. Ken Holland and Jimmy Nill, there’s not much better than that. I’ve got great memories of the last four years of working with the Wings. I’ve learned a ton, it’s helped me as a coach and hopefully I can bring some of it to the Dallas Stars.”
And joining the Stars is a bit of a homecoming for Fraser. He played with the Minnesota North Stars in the late 1980’s. He was Mike Modano’s first roommate. He played with Shane Churla and Kari Takko, now part of the Stars’ scouting staff. He also knows Les Jackson, Stars Director of Player Personnel.
“I think that’s another reason it’s a good fit for me,” Fraser said. “I know some of the people there. They are good, good people. It’s a great situation for me and I can’t wait to get started.”