Wow, that was fast. Some five days after the Dallas Stars announced that associate head coach Willie Desjardins had been named the new head coach of the club’s top minor league affiliate, the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League, the Stars named his replacement on Glen Gulutzan’s staff with Monday’s announcement that Curt Fraser, 54, had joined the club as an assistant coach.
Fraser, who spent 12 seasons in the NHL as a player with the Canucks, Blackhawks and North Stars, has considerable experience behind a bench in the league, having been the original head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers when they joined the league in 1999. After four years behind the bench in Hotlanta, he was then an assistant in both the NHL and AHL before coaching the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, the top affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, for the last four seasons.
Several weeks ago, Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk contacted Detroit GM Ken Holland asking to talk to Fraser for a position on Gulutzan’s staff. Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill asked him if he’d be interested. He said yes and flew to Dallas for an interview.
“Right from the first time I sat down with Joe [Nieuwendyk], you could tell right away this was a special group and a group of people that I would really like to get involved with,” Fraser said. “It went pretty quickly and all of a sudden I got offered the job and I couldn’t be more excited to get started. Joe, Glen [Gulutzan], Paul [Jerrard], they have an exceptional group here to work with and [it’s] something I’ll be very excited about.”
As someone who has been coaching pretty much ever since he retired from playing in 1990 and during his more than two decades behind the bench, the Cincinnati native has had plenty of time to pick and choose bits of knowledge from everyone he’s worked with over the years so that he can formulate his own coaching philosophy.
“My coaching philosophy is pretty simple-excellence at every position is what I follow. But for me, this is a bit of a change. I’ve been a head coach a lot and now with the position that’s opened up in Dallas, I can bring that experience that I have,” Fraser said. “I’ve learned a ton working with Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings over the last four years. I think that’s what they’ll be looking for me to add. My strength is offense and I think that’s maybe something that they’re looking for. Hopefully I’ll be able to really shore that up for them and help the club.”
The Stars’ biggest weakness last season was a power play that ranked dead last in the NHL and could best be characterized as woefully inept. And since the club’s newest coach is known for being offensive-minded, it might be a bit premature to wonder if he’ll be tasked with improving the club’s power play this season. But whether it’s too early to wonder about that or not, if indeed he is assigned the PP, it’s a responsibility he would welcome.
“They asked me about a lot of things when I was in there interviewing for the position and we briefly discussed stuff like that. But when I go to the draft this week, now that I’m put into place, I’m sure Glen [Gulutzan] will have lots of things for me to start looking at and apply myself to,” Fraser said. “Whatever he needs, I’m going to provide. I’ll find out in the next week or two here more specific what my job responsibilities are but hopefully that’ll be one of them.”
Another interesting aspect of him being hired by the Stars is that he and Gulutzan know each other, not just from coaching against one another in the AHL over the last few years before Gulutzan got his first NHL coaching gig last June, but these two veteran coaches also know each other from the Traverse City Tournament several years back.
While Grand Rapids didn’t face the Texas Stars too many times over the last few years, Fraser did see enough of the quality of players on roster for the Stars’ top affiliate that he came away impressed with the caliber of talent the club had in its pipeline.
“[Matt] Fraser played real well against us. They had a lot of young talented kids. It’s so important now to develop these kids and find a way to get them up to the NHL. The faster you do that, the better chance you’re going to have to win,” he said. “That’s something I’m sure they’ve been looking at for a long time, developing some of these young guys they have here and getting them into the Stars’ lineup. Hopefully that’ll help.”
Something else that he feels has made him the best man for the job is the fact that during his four seasons in the Red Wings organization is that he worked closely with Detroit head coach Mike Babcock to ensure that the club at Grand Rapids mirrored the one in Hockeytown as much as possible. Fraser also feels he has an incredibly strong rapport with young players, another quality the Stars were looking for with in this hire since the organization is intent on building from within more than from free agency.
“With Detroit, it was fantastic working with the young kids,” he said. “We got a lot of guys up who spent a lot of time with the Wings. They’ve run into a lot of injury problems the last two or three years and it’s required a lot of other guys to get up and help out. When I first got hired [Mike] Babcock and I both talked about mirroring the Wings in almost every way so when the kids came up they were well prepared, they can slide right in and fit right in right away rather than just having a good seat on the bench. That’s what our kids have done. That’s been something that’s been great and it’s something that every team needs in the NHL.”