Fraser earns first full-time hockey job



Mike Fraser’s time to shine has finally arrived.

The 42-year-old Brandonite was named the director of player personnel for the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips on June 10, giving him his first full-time job in the game after 16 years of scouting.

He’s eager to officially get started on July 1.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Fraser said. “This is the first time I’m going to be full time so I can put both feet in. I can spend the time getting to know the players and the families better, and getting to see them a little bit more after the fact.”

Hockey has been a big part of his entire life.

Fraser was born in Virden but the family moved to Brandon when he was two years old. He played his minor hockey in Brandon, moved to high school hockey with Vincent Massey at 16, moved to the under-18 AAA Wheat Kings when he was 17 for the 1995-96 season, and tried out for the WHL Wheat Kings when he was 18.

He later played with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Dauphin Kings and B.C. Junior Hockey League’s Victoria Salsa during a three-year junior career.

He finished up his competitive playing career with four years between 1999 and 2003 with the NCAA’s Iona College Gaels during the stretch they played Division I.

The communications graduate weighed the possibility of continuing to play, but instead landed a newspaper job with the Swan Valley Star and Times.

When Swan Valley Stampeders coach Del Pedrick and GM Leonard Strandberg heard he was in town — Pedrick knew Fraser from teaching and coaching him at Massey — they quickly recruited the newcomer to the coaching staff.

He spent two seasons with the Stampeders from 2003 to 2005, before landing a job with the Wheat City Journal in Brandon. Around that time, Strandberg discovered the Swift Current Broncos needed a scout in the area, and brought up Fraser’s name.

“It was a little bit of a fluke,” Fraser said. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to coach anymore and I knew my job was going to make it more difficult to do that. When Leonard presented me with that opportunity and got me in touch with Swift Current, it seemed like something that I could do that would still allow me to do the newspaper thing.”

The overwhelming majority of WHL scouts hold full-time jobs and scout as a sideline, so he stayed with it even after jumping to the Brandon Sun for a year from 2007 to 2008 to work as a sports writer.

In his early years of scouting, Fraser received a lot of early help from Jamie Porter, who was Swift Current’s head scout at the time, and Dean Chynoweth, who was the team’s head coach and GM.

Fraser moved to Calgary in 2008, leaving journalism for sales. He stayed there for three years and came back to Brandon in 2011 for a year, all the while scouting for the Broncos.

When he came home, he was missing Alberta, and wanted to live closer to his sisters and nieces, so he headed to Edmonton in the summer of 2012.

A second motivation for the move was his hometown Wheat Kings were looking for somebody there, and they quickly brought him on board as a travel scout.

“Just the way things fell together, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Fraser said. “… The opportunity to work for them was a bit of a dream come true, to get to work for your hometown team, the team you grew up watching.”

With the Wheat Kings, Fraser had a chance to work with a talented group that included Al Macpherson (in his final year of scouting), Wade Klippenstein, Kelly McCrimmon, Mark Johnston and Darren Ritchie.

Fraser happened to join them at an opportune time. The talented 1998 draft class was on display that year, so the players in his area included Kale Clague, Sam Steel and Tyler Benson.

As a result, McCrimmon, who wasn’t coaching, spent a lot of time in Alberta watching hockey, and Fraser was able to sit with him at games and learn.

In 2016, the fruits of the entire Brandon scouting staff helped lead to a championship. On the winning club, 13 players had been selected in the WHL draft, one was taken in the import draft and three were listed players. The others came in trades.

“That championship in 2016 was the culmination of a lot of work,” Fraser said. “When you see all the reports and see all the guys going to the rinks, getting the opportunity to work with Wade Klippenstein for those years and seeing how those players that we drafted and panned out and contributed to that championship, all of that combined.

“It’s so hard to win. You’re dealing with 21 other teams, and it’s really hard. It’s one championship in the 16 seasons I’ve worked in. Hopefully there are more in the future.”

After the 2017-18 season, Everett offered Fraser a promotion to become their head scout, a position held in the Brandon organization by the highly regarded Johnston.

He said it was tough to leave the organization after six years.

“I was very comfortable there,” Fraser said. “In the same breath, I knew in the end that this was the best step for me and a really good opportunity.”

He knew about half the Silvertips scouts, and was coached in Victoria by Everett general manager Garry Davidson of Virden and Souris, so that helped.

Everett has quietly built themselves into one of the top organizations in the league, finishing in the top five teams overall in the 22-team league in each of the last five seasons.

In fact, since joining the league for the 2003-04 season, they’ve never missed the playoffs, and they’ve won 35 or more games 12 times. They were on pace for that again this year in the shortened season.

Fraser said one of the reasons for their success has been the ability to grab players later in the draft or listed after not being picked.

Star forward Gage Gonclaves is a good example of a listed player who excelled, while former captain Connor Dewar of The Pas was grabbed in the fifth round in 2014.

“Everett has done a great job of finding talent,” Fraser said.

That’s his job now.

Fraser has run Everett’s bantam draft for the past two seasons, although he hasn’t had a first- or second-round pick due to trades. Four players he drafted in 2019 — Ben Hemmerling, Austin Roest, Matthew Ng and Evan May — made their debuts with the club this season.

However, the Silvertips underwent a massive reshuffling after they won the U.S. Division this spring.

Davidson’s contract wasn’t renewed, and former director of player personnel Alvin Backus retired. On June 10, the club announced Fraser would take over for Backus, with Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams named interim GM.

“In his three seasons as head scout, Mike has gained valuable experience suitable for a new opportunity in our hockey operations department,” said Consolidated Sports Holdings chief operating officer Zoran Rajcic said in a release. “His judgment is respected, he has a great eye for talent, and worked with tireless commitment to finding the next wave of future Silvertips, some who have already begun making an impact on our roster.”

Fraser’s tasks now include roster management, co-ordinating scouting prospect evaluation and recruiting. Backus, who was retired from his first career, handled a lot of the phone calls to parents and prospects while Fraser worked full time. Now those calls will be Fraser’s responsibility.

At the rink, the promotion means Fraser won’t just be scouting for the draft — he will still run it — but will also watch the team’s prospects play.

He certainly has odd timing.

In the wildest year in league history, the WHL is staging two drafts, two American drafts and two import drafts in the next 12 months. The main draft — the WHL no longer refers to it as the bantam draft — and the U.S. draft were moved from May to December because scouts weren’t able to get a proper look at players this season due to COVID-19 restrictions across Western Canada, where the overwhelming bulk of prospects live.

“This is one of those years where things are going to happen in a hurry,” Fraser said. “With the pandemic and everything that’s happened, it’s really made it tough to see much hockey.”

He has watched many games online but said it simply isn’t the same. But there is some good news on that front: A number of showcases are planned for the 2006-born draft class this summer, so scouts will be in the rinks soon.

“It’s going to be a sprint to December,” Fraser said.

Fraser is wrapping up his final week at Roofmart, the Edmonton company that allowed him to have a flexible schedule over the past eight-and-a-half years. Now he can finally start the job that’s been 16 years in the making.

It’s a perfect fit.

“For me, it’s been a great way to stay involved in the game because I think it’s the best game in the world,” Fraser said. “Also for me, a lot of my close friends are from hockey and from scouting.”

 

» pbergson@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @PerryBergson

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