Don’t let anyone tell you the Winter Classic Alumni Game is for old, washed up players who’ve passed their prime. So what if half the roster is eligible to be card-carrying members of the AARP – on Dec. 31, these guys brought their A-game.
Philadelphia Flyers alumni defeated their “mature” New York Rangers counterparts in winning fashion, 3-1, at the matchup held outdoors that day at Citizens Bank Park.
The game was like a trip back in time for both players and fans alike. But for one Winter Classic alumni participant, the game meant much more.
For Kerry Fraser, the famed NHL referee who closed the books on his near-four decades career in 2010, the game reminded him of life growing up in Sarnia, Ontario.
“We grew up in outdoor rinks. My dad was a hockey player. Just as kids in the U.S. aspired to become baseball players, we aspired to play hockey,” Fraser said. “In stepping outside, you go back to your roots. Going out on ice is like returning to your childhood.”
Fraser’s career began in 1972, when he realized he couldn’t see himself progressing past the amateur hockey level. He said he wasn’t big enough or good enough to go pro.
So he did the next best thing by enrolling in referee school that summer, where NHL officiators quickly scouted him out.
He fell in love with his new role, making a name for himself (and his hair) along the way. After a decade or so in the NHL, Fraser moved his family to Voorhees, N.J., ironically into the home of former Flyers coach Mike Keenan, who was en route to Chicago to coach the Blackhawks in 1988.
“I recalled how NHL President John Zeigler was too impressed that I bought a coach’s house and even wanted to know how I could even afford a coach’s house. He knew full well what he was paying me,” Fraser said.
Fraser said he enjoyed his time in Voorhees, where his seven children attended Voorhees Middle School and Eastern Regional High School. Three of his children received Division I scholarships to continue their athletic endeavors after Eastern and one of his daughters received the Viking Award for best female athlete.
A hair affair
The mane helps his game.
It’s no secret that Fraser loves his hair, so much so that he was willing to forgo a helmet until the NHL mandated it for everyone on the ice in 2006.
He was permitted to let his locks loose during the Alumni Game, which allowed him to revel in his past, he said.
In his book published last year, “The Final Call: Hockey Stories from a Legend in Stripes,” Fraser devotes an entire chapter on the evolution of his hair.
Fraser didn’t get the best hair in hockey overnight, he said. In the 70s and 80s, he had a shaggy look, but his wife, Kathy, wanted something new for him.
A break in the NHL schedule allowed him and his wife to travel to Marco Island for vacation. Kathy shipped him off to the salon and Fraser came back with his signature blowback look.
His first game back after the ‘do re-do was in Madison Square Garden in New York. Fraser said the house lights were kept down low as the officials took the ice and skated around. When the lights came up during the National Anthem, players were shocked to see Fraser’s new look, he said.
Fraser further confesses about his tresses, retelling a story of when a play-by-play commentator captures the moment during a Boston Bruins match. During the game, a puck was unintentionally hurled near Fraser’s helmet-less head.
“And down goes Fraser! And not a hair out of place,” the commentator remarked.
Fraser said he loves the notoriety his hair receives, including a Top 10 spot on a hair website and accolades such as “Notoriously well groomed” and “Best hair in hockey” from his colleagues.
On the glory days
The Alumni Game gave Fraser a chance to catch up with old friends to the likes of former player and Flyers’ executive Bobby Clarke, Eric Lindros, Mark Messier and Bernie Parent. Fraser called the matchup a game of grownup kids on a frozen slab of ice.
“The Winter Classic brings out the best in everyone,” Fraser said. “I looked intensely at the faces of the former Flyers players as God Bless America rang throughout the park and saw emotion rise up in them recalling glory days across the parking lot where the Spectrum once stood.”
Chants of B-E-R-N-I-E, B-E-R-N-I-E lingered throughout the stadium and fans cheered for Lindros, who looks fit enough to still play hockey, Fraser said.
The sound of 50,000 screaming fans brought Fraser back to a place he longed for, the childhood he remembered playing on frozen lakes.
“The Winter Classic is truly a world-class event. The emotion, enthusiasm, nostalgia, camaraderie and the sportsmanship that was demonstrated by these legendary players transcends the game,” Fraser said. “The City of Brotherly Love opened up her arms and embraced this event.”
After participating in 2,165 games, Fraser’s collected many memories, storing them away and reliving them from time to time. Fraser has officiated Winter Classic games, All-Star Games, the Stanley Cup Finals and the Winter Olympics.
But this Winter Classic was one of the most meaningful because of the company he shared it with.
Fraser’s son, Ryan, who has refereed more than 700 AHL games, participated in the Alumni Game, as did Fraser’s son-in-law, Harry Dumas, a former NHL referee.
“I can’t express the emotions I felt of sharing that stage with my family,” Fraser said. “I can’t tell you what an honor it was for me and my sons to be part of it.”