Kerry Fraser – 2007 Special Achievement Award
by Jennifer Reardon / Ashburn Scholarship Winner – For 33-year veteran National Hockey League referee Kerry Fraser, professional accolades are nothing new.
After working his 1500th game on Nov. 30, 2003, the NHL honored Fraser with an engraved crystal star and framed portrait sketched by New York Rangers captain Mark Messier. Since then, Fraser has worked 200 additional regular season games, a record 225 more than Hall of Fame NHL referee Andy Van Hellemond, and 257 Stanley Cup Playoff games, the most of any current official.
It’s no wonder then that the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association selected Fraser for a 2007 Special Achievement Award, just one more honor he can add to his mantle.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be part of such cherished, revered company in a major, demanding market like Philadelphia,” said Fraser, upon learning of his selection.
Despite Philadelphia’s reputation as being tough not only on players and coaches, but also on officials, Fraser described the city and its fans as “tough, but fair to me,” and credited the city’s deep hockey tradition as a major reason for his family’s relocation to the South Jersey area.
“The more I talked to former Flyers players, the more appealing Philadelphia appeared,” said Fraser.
Those Flyers impacted Fraser in more ways than one.
In 1972, the native of Sarnia, Ontario, had just finished playing hockey at the Junior A level in Canada when former player Ted Garvin approached him. Garvin, who would go on to coach the Detroit Red Wings, was coahing in the International League at the time.
“Ted told me that hockey needed refs who understood the game. ‘You can play at this level,’ he said, ‘but your body can’t take the pounding in the NHL,’” remembered Fraser. “And he was right, too, because at the time players like Dave Schultz, Moose DuPont, and hte rest o fthe Broad Street Bullies formed part of an intimidating era of the NHL.”
Taking Garvin’s advice, Fraser enrolled at a referee school that summer, where scout Frank Udvari invited him to the NHL training camp for officials. Fraser signed a contract in 1973 to referee in the American Hockey League and “earned his stripes.” Shortly thereafter he joing the NHL.
Over the past 33 years, Fraser has seen it all, from players such as Mario Lemieux, Bobby Clarke and Wayne Gretzky, to a new wave of faster hockey following the strike that wiped out the 2004-2005 season. Games 2 and 4 of the 1985 Stanley Cup Finals remain Fraser’s most memorable, however, pitting the Flyers against Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers; it was Fraser’s first Stanley Cup final.
“The first time you achieve a selection like that it’s really special, especially when it involves Gretzky,” he said. “i remember trialing him when he was a young player and thinking, ‘I don’t believe I saw that.’ To do the things he did was magic.”
Regardless of what part of the season it is, Fraser’s commitment to the game never wavers.
“I analyze every game I’ve officiated, trying to improve. I’m going to keep giving everything I have from my first game to my last, hopefully making a contribution to the league by allowing players to compete within its parameters.”
While players may not always agree with those parameters (only Gretzky ever thanked Fraser for calling a penalty on him), most likely recognize Fraser’s accomplishments that may one day have him accepting another special achievement award, this time for the NHL Hall of Fame.
Reprinted from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s collectible program from the January 2008 dinner.