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Grand Rapids Griffins coach Curt Fraser leaves to join Stars’ coaching staff

Updated 3x at 2:31 PM: Pretty stunning news regarding the future of the Grand Rapids Griffins, per the Dallas Stars’ PR department:

Frisco, TX – Dallas Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk announced today that the club has named Curt Fraser as its assistant coach.

Fraser, 54, has spent the last four seasons as head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. While in Grand Rapids, he compiled a 146-130-40 record and is that franchise’s career coaching leader in regular season wins (146) and games behind the bench (316).

“We feel that that the depth of Curt’s experience in the game speaks for itself, including a four-year run as an NHL head coach,” said Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “That experience will be an invaluable asset to our organization, and his dynamic personality will be a great complement to Glen Gulutzan, Paul Jerrard and the rest of our team.”

A native of Cincinnati, Fraser brings over two decades of coaching experience to the Stars, including as the first head coach in the history of the Atlanta Thrashers. He has also worked for the Milwaukee Admirals, Syracuse Crunch, Orlando Solar Bears, New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues. He also served as head coach of the Belarus national team for two seasons (2006-08), helping them qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics and a ninth-place finish at the 2008 IIHF World Championships. In all, Fraser has coached over 1,000 games at various levels, including 279 NHL contests with the Atlanta Thrashers.

“You can tell that there is something special happening with the Dallas Stars, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this franchise,” said Fraser. “I’ve certainly experienced a lot in this game as both a player and a coach, and I am anxious to get to work with Joe Nieuwendyk, Glen Gulutzan, Paul Jerrard and the rest of the Stars organization.”

Vancouver’s 22nd overall selection in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, Fraser played 12 years in the National Hockey League with the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota North Stars. In 704 career NHL games, he amassed 193 goals and 240 assists for 433 points with 1,306 penalty minutes. Having grown up with dual citizenship, Fraser played internationally for both Canada (1978 World Junior Championships) and the United States (1987 Canada Cup). 

Fraser and his wife, Rhonda, are the parents of sons Casey, Jesse and Luke, and has been heavily involved with helping raise awareness and funds for diabetes research and education after being diagnosed with diabetes in 1983.

Update: Here’s the Grand Rapids Griffins’ press release about Fraser:

CURT FRASER NAMED ASSISTANT COACH WITH DALLAS STARS

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The longest-tenured head coach in Grand Rapids Griffins history has become the club’s third bench boss to earn a promotion to the National Hockey League, as the Dallas Stars on Monday hired Curt Fraser as an assistant coach.

Fraser, 54, ends his four-year run in Grand Rapids with a cumulative 146-130-18-22 record (0.525), ranking first in franchise history in both regular season games coached (316) and wins (146). His most successful campaign was his debut season of 2008-09, when he led Grand Rapids to an impressive 43-25-6-6 regular season mark – a 28-point improvement in the standings from the prior season – and its first-ever playoff upset, a six-game toppling of Hamilton in the North Division Semifinals.

Additionally, Fraser played a major role in developing 20 players for the Red Wings since 2008, including current regulars such as Justin Abdelkader, Cory Emmerton, Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm, Jimmy Howard, Jakub Kindl and Jan Mursak, and budding stars like Joakim Andersson, Gustav Nyquist, Brendan Smith and Tomas Tatar.

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Curt since the mid-‘90s, when he was with the Orlando Solar Bears,” said Dan DeVos, co-owner, president and CEO of the Griffins. “More than just a fine coach, he has been a great representative for the Griffins over these last four years, setting an example for both our players and our staff with his tremendous attitude and his desire to positively impact people’s lives. We’re thrilled to see him return to the NHL and wish him nothing but the best with the Stars.”

Fraser follows in the NHL footsteps of Guy Charron (1998-00) and Bruce Cassidy (2000-02), who each spent two seasons behind the Griffins’ bench before earning positions with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (assistant) and Washington Capitals (head), respectively.

“The Griffins are a first-class organization, and Dan DeVos and (co-owner and chairman) David Van Andel have been fantastic to work for,” said Fraser. “They trusted me with their team.

“Grand Rapids is a great place to live, the arena is second to none, and the fan support that the Griffins receive is excellent. It certainly makes it a lot of fun to have that much energy in the building. It’s just a great group in Grand Rapids, and I can’t thank everyone enough for the last four years,” he added.

A timetable for hiring Fraser’s replacement is being established. As part of the Griffins’ new five-year extension of their affiliation with the Red Wings, the parent club will be responsible for identifying candidates and selecting the Griffins’ ninth head coach in 17 seasons.

After compiling a tremendous head coaching resume in the International Hockey League during the ‘90s, Fraser was named the first head coach of the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers on July 14, 1999. He spent three seasons behind the expansion team’s bench and helped the Thrashers’ 2000-01 squad improve by 21 points over its debut season.

Fraser’s NHL resume also includes stints as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders in 2003-04 and St. Louis Blues in 2005-06. He joined the Griffins as their eighth head coach on July 23, 2008 after spending two years (2006-08) as the head coach of the Belarus national men’s team, posting a 23-12-5 record and qualifying for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“We feel that that the depth of Curt’s experience in the game speaks for itself, including a four-year run as an NHL head coach,” said Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “That experience will be an invaluable asset to our organization, and his dynamic personality will be a great complement to (head coach) Glen Gulutzan, (assistant coach) Paul Jerrard and the rest of our team.”

The Vancouver Canucks’ second pick (22nd overall) in the 1978 NHL Draft, Fraser spent his entire 12-year playing career (1978-90) as a left wing in the NHL, exhibiting a rare combination of scoring touch and toughness. He accumulated 433 points (193-240—433) and 1,306 penalty minutes in 704 contests with Vancouver, the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota North Stars, highlighted by a personal-best 29-goal, 68-point season with the Blackhawks in 1985-86 and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Canucks in 1982.

I would imagine that Wings assistant GM/Griffins GM Jim Nill might simply tap Jim Paek on the shoulder as he’s done a fantastic job as the team’s main assistant coach over the past three years.


Update #1.5: MLive’s Peter J. Wallner’s confirming the news, and if I were to guess on other assistants, Jiri Fischer’s worked with the Czech under-20 team…But Chris Chelios likes his role with the Wings as a player mentor and less absent dad right no.

 

Update #2: Fraser spoke to the Grand Rapids Press’s Peter J. Wallner about the reasons why he left the Griffins:

“This was not something I expected, it was an opportunity out of the blue and it has turned out to be a really good opportunity for me,” he said early Monday afternoon.

Fraser said Dallas Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk contacted the Red Wings to inquire about his availability about two weeks ago.

“They were looking for a coach like me to fill a need in Dallas, and they asked me if I’d be interested in talking with them,” Fraser said. “So I did, and what a great, great group of people. It was fun just sitting through the day and talking hockey and it just seemed to be a real, real good fit me and one I’m pretty excited about now.”

Fraser said his contract is for two years. He plans to be with the team for the NHL draft, which starts Friday in Pittsburgh. A timetable for hiring Fraser’s replacement is being established, the Griffins said. As part of the Griffins’ new five-year extension of their affiliation with the Red Wings, the parent club will be responsible for identifying candidates and selecting the next head coach. It will be the Griffins’ ninth head coach in 17 seasons.

Fraser leaves Grand Rapids as the all-time coaching leader in wins (146-130-40) and games coached (316). The Griffins also failed to make the playoffs the past three seasons. His contract status was not a factor, said Fraser, whose three-year deal in Grand Rapids expired following the season.

“No, not at all,” he said. “Kenny Holland and Jim Nil just thought it was a real good spot for me and they were exactly right.”
...
“The flipside to all this is I’m going to miss Grand Rapids a lot,” Fraser said. “The people, the staff and the people and staff in Detroit – they’re all fantastic. It’s been a real good experience for me.”

 

Update #3: The Dallas News’s Mike Heika adds more quips from Fraser and Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk:

The Stars today announced that Curt Fraser will be their new assistant coach. Fraser steps into the job vacated when Willie Desjardins was named the new head coach of the Texas Stars last week. It’s a good fit for a couple of reasons. Fraser, 54, has coached at pretty much every level, and the Stars could use that experience behind the bench with relatively young coaches right now. In addition, Fraser has spent the past four years as the head coach of the Grand Rapid Griffins in the AHL and has been closely working with the Detroit Red Wings system, and the Stars could use that experience, as well.

“I guess if I had to say I was known for one part of the game over another, it would be offense,’’ Fraser said. “I think working closely with Mike Babcock and with all of the coaches in Detroit, it’s something they emphasize. Puck possession, special teams, ways to create scoring.’’

The Griffins struggled a bit this season, as they had to provide a lot of depth for the injured Red Wings. They finished 33-32-11 and allowed the second most goals in the league at 249. However, they also scored the second most goals in the league at 245. That means Fraser has some knowledge that could help head coach Glen Gulutzan and assistant coach Paul Jerrard.

“He has a wealth of coaching experiences in every aspect of the game, and we expect he will fit in perfectly,’’ said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “He’ll be working with the forwards and Glen, and they’ll put their heads together and figure out the responsibilities. Paulie’s got the defense covered, so Curt will be working with the forwards.’’

Fraser was a left wing who played with Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota. He played 704 NHL games, tallying 193 goals and 240 assists. Fraser retired with the North Stars in 1990, and then coached as an assistant or head coach in the IHL for the next nine seasons. His 1998-99 Orlando team lost to Dave Tippett and Houston in the IHL’s Turner Cup Final and then he became the first head coach of the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999. After getting fired by the Thrashers in 2003, Fraser served as an NHL assistant for two seasons (Islanders and Blues) and then decided to take a flier and become the head coach of the Belarus National Team.

“The whole Atlanta thing was tough in the end, and I wanted something different, and that was definitely something different,’’ Fraser said. “But I’ll tell you what, it might have been one of the most important things I’ve done in my career. I lived in Europe and learned about European players, but I also learned what it’s like to come to a new country and try to adapt. I’ve been there, and I think I understand players who are going through that now.’’
...
“You always want to be in the NHL, but I have had some opportunities to become an NHL assistant, and I didn’t really pursue them because I wasn’t sure they were the right fit,’’ Fraser said. “On this one, so many people I talked to said good things about the Stars and where they are heading, and I just think it’s the right time and the right team.’’

 

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Comments

Nathan's avatar

He did a good job running a club that was centered around player development for Detroit. That being said, it’s not terribly surprising that he’s finally been scooped up for an NHL job. With his track record, and with the way the NHL is more and more about getting young players into the lineup ASAP, he could be a great assistant coach to have with that mold and experience of getting young players ready to be hard-working, full-time pros.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 06/18/12 at 01:24 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

He did a superb job, but yeah, he was going to return to the NHL sooner than later, and given his inability to push the Griffins to a playoff spot, it’s entirely possible that this was a mutual decision.

I know that the Griffins’ press release states that the team’s engaging in a “coaching search,” but in all honesty, Jim Paek’s the best pick to coach the team by far. He’s been around for a long time now and has paid his dues, and he’s a wonderfully positive guy.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 06/18/12 at 01:42 PM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Wow, this really surprised me as I had no idea he was looking for a job.  But all the best to him.  I’m sure he’ll be great.  Too bad he had to leave the Wings family though.

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 06/18/12 at 01:43 PM ET

TheFreak's avatar

Anyone really surprised though? Wings passed him over last year in favor of the two outside assistants they have now. Fraser probably saw the writing on the wall after that.

Posted by TheFreak on 06/18/12 at 01:47 PM ET

DrewBehr's avatar

Very good point, Freak. Can’t blame Fraser for looking elsewhere. I have a feeling a few players out of GR might be going the same route.

Posted by DrewBehr from The Mitten on 06/18/12 at 02:30 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Congrats to Curt…just not against the Wings.

Agree, George.  I hope Jim Paek finally gets his chance to be the head coach of the Griffins.

Posted by SYF from Alana Blanchard's Bikinis and Surfboards on 06/18/12 at 02:31 PM ET

Savage Henry's avatar

I always admired the job that Fraser did in Atlanta in a tough situation, and i hope has has success in Dallas.

Posted by Savage Henry on 06/18/12 at 03:19 PM ET

Avatar

I would have no problem with Jim Paek coaching there…

but I would suggest that Babcock and management take this opportunity and send Jeff Blashill down there as the power play was less than stellar (remember that 1-3-1 junk they tried from the NCAA at the beginning of the season). In fact it got worse as the year went along (coached down?).....

Posted by dca from in Mich on 06/18/12 at 06:09 PM ET

Avatar

He surely hoped his NHL stint would be with Detroit ... but hey we’ve gotten other assistant coaches.

Posted by Alex on 06/18/12 at 10:36 PM ET

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How about JP Parise (Zach’s dad)  for head @ Griffins. This would be awesome considering the outrage it would cause. I would love it.

Posted by beelza on 06/19/12 at 05:13 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.