By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008
With two rings, and a potential third in the offing, even Frodo would be envious of Curtis Fraser.
Although his previous playoff championship runs were back in junior with the respective 2001 and 2003 B.C. Hockey League-champion Victoria Salsa and Vernon Vipers, Fraser does bring a championship pedigree to his pro-hockey career and the Las Vegas Wranglers’ quest for the 2008 ECHL Kelly Cup.
The National Conference-champion Wranglers tied the best-of-seven Kelly Cup final 1-1 with a late third-period goal by Adam Miller Sunday to pick up a 1-0 victory over the host and American Conference-champion Cincinnati Cyclones before 6,897 fans at U.S. Bank Arena.
Vegas now returns to the familiarity of the Orleans Casino Arena for the third, fourth and fifth games Thursday, Friday and Monday. The Victoria Salmon Kings can attest to how hard it is for the opposition to win in that place against the likes of Peter Ferraro, Tyler Mosienko, Fraser and Flames draft-pick Adam Cracknell of Victoria.
Having spent 31/2 of his four junior seasons in Victoria with the Salsa (now Grizzlies), Fraser set the BCHL ablaze with his scoring in his final season. But in one of those Salsa mercy trades of that era, which jettisoned players such as Fraser and eventual Canadiens draft-pick Ryan O’Byrne for seemingly little in return, Fraser was sent to Vernon midway through his final junior season and proceeded to lead the Vipers to the 2003 BCHL title.
Having spent most of this season in the AHL with San Antonio, Fraser feels that same sense of being thrown late into a situation that could gain him another ring. Not that he’s complaining.
The six-foot-two Fraser is an opportunistic and nervy-type forward around the crease who makes good use of his deceptive speed and sort of reminds one of Geoff Courtnall. With seven goals in 13 playoff games for Vegas, the Wranglers are happy to have him for their Kelly Cup run after San Antonio was eliminated in the first round of the AHL Calder Cup playoffs.
“The Wranglers have a great core group of guys,” said Fraser, as the team returned to Sin City from Cincy.
But individual aspirations are as important as team goals in minor-pro hockey. While Flames-prospect Cracknell is one of 10 players in the Kelly Cup final playing under NHL contract, Fraser is one of 11 under AHL contract.
“The goal is still the NHL,” said the 26-year-old Surrey, B.C., native, who followed his BCHL career with four seasons in the NCAA at Alaska-Fairbanks.
“I’ve turned down some good European offers because that is not going to help get you into the NHL. You have to be in North American pro hockey in the AHL or ECHL to be seen by the NHL.”
A free agent, Fraser expects to sign another AHL contract next season but isn’t saying with which team.
“Right now, my concentration is on the Kelly Cup final and I’ll see what happens after that in terms of contracts. I’m keeping my options open. The goal is to eventually sign an NHL contract,” said Fraser.
Having played so much of his hockey in Victoria, Fraser said he has fond feelings for the capital and, like Cracknell, expressed regret he couldn’t return to Victoria to face the Salmon Kings in the National Conference final after the Salmon Kings were eliminated by the Utah Grizzlies in the semifinals.
“I have so many great memories of Victoria, especially our Salsa playoff run of 2001, and it would have been really special to return there as a pro for the conference final but it didn’t happen,” said Fraser.
As he knows from the 2003 Salsa trade to Vernon, the road to any championship ring doesn’t always run through the places you expect.