Mark Fraser has two points and 29 penalty minutes in 15 games with the Leafs this season. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
With Kevin Kennedy
I grew up in a place called Blackburn Hamlet in the east end of Ottawa. Like a lot of other Canadian kids, hockey was a sport I've always played and loved. I played house league for a couple years, then rep for a few years, all in Blackburn. My brother also played hockey, but no more than the average kid. My parents were both involved in my hockey experience and though my dad wouldn't really give me the gears on the car ride home after games, he definitely loved analyzing my play and the game.
It's hard to believe, but back when I was in peewee I was more of an offensive defenseman and I have some great memories scoring some overtime winners for sure. But most of my memories for minor hockey come from my time off the ice. I'm still good friends with a lot of players from that peewee team and I think that for most hockey players the time hanging out with your teammates is just as good as your time on the ice. A couple years ago I actually found my first ever hockey stick in my mom's garage, which was awesome. It was a wooden stick and that's something I'll hold on to forever.
If there was one coach who had the biggest impact on my career it would have to be Wayne Hughes who was my coach when I played Tier 2 with the Gloucester Rangers. As a 16-year-old, he allowed me to come in and be a big part of the team, and he really believed in me. He definitely came through for me on the ice, but also off the ice. I remember that something went sour between the coaching staff and management of the team and it quickly became an unhealthy environment for me to be in. At the time, I was trying to get an NCAA scholarship and Wayne had a connection with Kitchener Rangers assistant coach, Freddy Parker, and before I knew it, I was playing for Peter DeBoer in Kitchener.
I ended up getting drafted a couple years later from the Rangers by the New Jersey Devils and I'll never forget what Wayne did for me. Both on and off the ice, he was a guy that believed in me as a person and as a player, and to this day I try my best to lead by example.
Hockey was definitely not the only sport I played growing up. I think there was one year when I was 15 that I played seven different sports. I played football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, and I also ran track. I never played much baseball growing up. My brother ended up being more of a ball player than me, but I'm a big baseball fan and loved Juan Guzman when I was a kid, and I even have a Toronto Maple Leafs IBL baseball cap.
I had a few jobs as a teenager and my first was working at Sport Chek in a mall in Ottawa. It was great to be able to sell active gear that I was already interested in, but it was still a crappy retail job. Other than that, the rest of the jobs I had were all manual labor. For two summers I worked as a mover for my friend's dad's company. It was terrible work. After that it was a lot of landscaping. During the summers, even after I turned pro, my buddy and I had a little side project landscaping company and I would train in the morning and then we'd go do jobs for friends and family and whoever else wanted to hire us. I loved being outside and working with my hands so I just kept doing it. I loved the satisfaction of looking at a landscape after we'd completely excavated the land, laid down a foundation and then finished the job whether it was a patio, a walkway, or a garden. It was great to just work with my hands.