Fraser Joins Family Business


MANCHESTER, N.H., Oct. 26 – In his first year as a professional hockey referee, Ryan Fraser reacted quickly when a player yelled, “You’re half the man your father is!” His answer? A 10-minute penalty.

His father, the 26-year National Hockey League referee Kerry Fraser, wasn’t impressed with his decision in the 1998 United Hockey League game.

“He asked me, `Where in the rule book does it say you can give a guy a 10-minute misconduct for telling the truth?’ ” Fraser said. “We laughed about it.”

Like most young hockey players, Fraser said he grew up with a dream of playing in the N.H.L. At 13, he assessed his talents and decided that he would have a better chance at making the N.H.L. by following his father’s career path.

Fraser, 25, now referees games in the East Coast Hockey League, two steps below the N.H.L. He moved up another level to the American Hockey League for four games this week.

“He’s come a long way,” said Bryan Graham, the E.C.H.L.’s vice president for hockey operations and its former director of officiating. “He’s got good presence on the ice. He’s a very good communicator and knows how to call a game and keep it under control.”

Fraser’s ability to do that was tested during his first A.H.L. game Wednesday night between teams from Manchester, N.H., and Springfield, Mass.

With Manchester leading by 5-1 late in the third period, two fights broke out and Fraser assessed a spearing penalty, which is subject to an automatic review by the league office, to Springfield’s Ryan Tobler. Like a veteran, Fraser declined to comment on the specifics of the penalty other than to say it was the right call to make.

“You never want to look for controversy, but it’s a good feeling when something controversial does happen and you saw it and make the right call,” he said.

While he might not be a favorite in Springfield, Fraser is making a name with N.H.L. referee supervisors. He was one of two referees chosen by the league to work a week’s worth of preseason games in Traverse City, Mich., between the league’s top prospects.

“He carried himself extremely well and showed solid judgment,” said Dave Newell, an N.H.L. referee for 23 years and now a league supervisor. “I certainly was impressed.”

Fraser isn’t the only referee’s son trying to make the N.H.L. Jamie Koharski, whose father, Don, is a 25-year N.H.L. veteran, referees in the E.C.H.L. and the Ontario Hockey League, one of Canada’s three main junior leagues.

With more than 1,400 N.H.L. games and 11 Stanley Cup finals appearances to his credit, Fraser’s 50-year-old father is a mentor and refereeing encyclopedia for his eldest son.

“I definitely have a resource and an asset at my disposal that many aren’t fortunate enough to have,” said Fraser, who grew up playing youth hockey in the Philadelphia area. “It’s a huge benefit.”

And with the N.H.L.’s recent decision to use two referees in all of its games, the Frasers could become the first father-son tandem to call a game together. Until that happens, the elder Fraser said he would put off retirement.

“I don’t know if my wheels are going to stay on long enough, but that’s the goal,” Kerry Fraser said. “If it does happen, it would mean a great deal to our family.”

In the meantime, the younger Fraser plans to put his business degree from Rowan University in New Jersey to use next year in a Monday-to-Friday job while refereeing on weekends. He makes $190 a night in the E.C.H.L., $300 a game in the A.H.L. First-year N.H.L. referees make about $62,000 a year.

He accepts that some comparisons to his father are inevitable.

As a senior official, Kerry Fraser isn’t required to wear a helmet and is easily recognized by N.H.L. fans by his tightly combed light brown hair, which remains in place no matter how intense the game. So when the younger Fraser removed his helmet briefly between periods of a game in Trenton, it prompted a fan to take notice.

“Some guy yells, `Hey Ryan, you don’t have hair like your father!’ ” Fraser said. “It doesn’t bother me.”