The Road to RedemptionMatt Frattin is a notorious prankster. So, when he called Evan Trupp last August to say that he had gotten in trouble and was getting kicked off the UND hockey team, Trupp naturally thought it was a joke. But this time, it wasn’t.
By: Brad Elliott Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald
Matt Frattin is a notorious prankster.
So, when he called Evan Trupp last August to say that he had gotten in trouble and was getting kicked off the UND hockey team, Trupp naturally thought it was a joke.
But this time, it wasn’t.
After his second alcohol-related run-in with police in two months — this time a DUI charge he later would be acquitted of — Frattin was dismissed just days before the 2009-10 school year was set to start.
He packed up and moved back home to Edmonton, Alberta, to ponder his future. And while UND left the door open for his return in 2010-11, it seemed likely that his time in Grand Forks was finished.
After all, the easy route was for Frattin to cash in on the NHL contract that the Toronto Maple Leafs offered and pick up his hockey career right away in the pro ranks.
Frattin thought about it, and took a different path. He decided to change his lifestyle, sit out for up to a year and attempt to return to UND to make things right.
He’s back here now, 16 months later, on his road to redemption.
Frattin is the nation’s leading goal-scorer, with 17 goals, and it’s not even Christmas.
To put that in perspective, Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie both scored 18 goals in their All-American final college seasons, and the only Sioux player in the last five years to score more than 20 was Ryan Duncan, who won the Hobey Baker Award.
But Frattin’s story is about much more than scoring goals. It paints a picture of a unique bond between friends and of a man who wanted to make things right.
In the fall of 2007, a group of six freshmen arrived on campus and instantly clicked. They lived in the dorms together. When they moved out, they found apartments or houses together. Other teammates joked about how inseparable they were.
The class is so tight that it will be the first Fighting Sioux hockey class in at least 30 years to stick together all four years. Nobody got cut. Nobody transferred. Nobody left the team. Nobody turned pro early.
But they thought it was going to be broken up last fall after Frattin got in trouble for the second time. Frattin had a meeting the next day with coach Dave Hakstol, who decided that Frattin wouldn’t play for the Sioux in 2009-10.
“Matt is a young guy who got off track,” Hakstol said. “My feeling is that if anybody really looks at themselves in the mirror, at some point, they got a little off track. Matt was a young man off track. I think he knew that. Taking the steps to remove him from the roster and have him go back home with his family was the right thing to do for both the program, which always comes first, and Matt.
“Matt comes from a tremendous family. For him to have the opportunity for a second chance, he needed to go home and reset his outlook. The best place for him to do that was in and around his family.”
His teammates took the news hard.
Frattin told Brad Malone first.
“A pretty big kick in the gut,” Malone said.
Then, he called Trupp, who was in the process of driving from his hometown of Anchorage back to Grand Forks for the start of school.
“It’s one of those things where you remember exactly where you were,” Trupp said. “It was hard to hear it.”
The other option
Frattin immediately had another option in front of him.
The Maple Leafs, who drafted Frattin in the fourth round in 2007, reached out to him and let it be known that they would sign him to a professional contract and have a place for him to play in their system right away.
“They left the decision up to me,” Frattin said.
He thought about it and decided he was going to take the long route and try to earn his way back on the Sioux team, even though nothing was guaranteed.
That road started with Frattin changing his lifestyle.
“Too much partying,” he said. “I was living my life like an average college kid, not like a UND Fighting Sioux hockey player.
“I had to get my priorities straight, get back on track. It was more my life outside of hockey than on the ice. I had to take a second look at it and see if I was doing the right stuff. It was a good wake-up call to get my priorities back on track.”
Instead of playing pro hockey, Frattin spent the first semester working concrete for 12 hours a day, usually from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. When he was finished, he would work out. After that, if he had ice time, he would skate with a junior team in town.
“I had the mindset that I’d rather be playing hockey at North Dakota than working concrete 12 hours a day,” Frattin said.
Frattin started attending counseling — he still does once a month — to help keep him on the right track.
As the semester progressed, his new focus was noticed from afar by UND.
Although the original plan was Frattin wouldn’t have a chance to play all season, Hakstol opened the door in December for Frattin to return to the team for the second semester.
“The first commitment Matt showed was to not take the easy route and sign a pro contract the next day,” Hakstol said. “He took the hard road. He had to go home and I’m sure he had to answer a lot of questions from family and friends as to what was going on. That’s not an easy thing to do.
“He showed commitment to face this thing honestly and head-on. He showed a commitment to come back to UND and the Fighting Sioux hockey program. He lived that commitment for those first four months at home in Alberta with no guarantee of ever re-joining the program. Those were the things that led to the potential of him returning.
“The people who think this was about scoring goals and playing hockey have no concept of what this is about.”
Paying his own way
There were conditions for his return: UND had cut Frattin’s scholarship and he would have to pay his own way to school. For an Alberta resident, tuition is nearly three times the cost for a North Dakota resident.
Frattin took out a student loan and took on the costs himself.
“I had unfinished business,” Frattin said. “I committed to North Dakota for four years. That’s what I was planning on doing.”
His mid-season return also allowed for him to rejoin his inseparable class.
“It’s such a good group of guys, I don’t know how you could go take off and have a house or an apartment by yourself when you could be here,” Frattin said. “A year from now, you’re going to be gone anyways. Why speed it up?”
When he arrived back on campus before UND’s New Year tournament in Chicago, his teammates were thrilled.
Malone said he noticed a difference right away.
“He said he was working out and skating and stuff back in Edmonton, but nobody really knew,” Malone said. “I didn’t realize all the work he put in until he came back here in December. He came back a rock. I’ve never seen him in that good of shape before. As soon as I found out he was in that kind of shape, I realized he really turned the page and had a new focus and outlook on things.
“I was pretty excited for him and I was pretty scared for everyone else, because I knew the potential he had.”
Frattin slowly eased back into things. The goal-scoring touch didn’t come back right away. He went 11 games without a goal.
Before a trip to St. Cloud State for a two-game series, Hakstol decided to put Frattin on a line with Trupp and Malone — the two guys who he kept in contact with the most during the first semester.
It turns out that was the spark Frattin needed.
At the end of Saturday night’s game, Malone set up Frattin on a four-on-two rush for his first goal of the season. Minutes later, Frattin ripped a snap shot from nearly the blue line over the unscreened goalie’s blocker.
“Once he started scoring goals,” Trupp said, “he hasn’t stopped.”
Frattin finished with 11 goals in the last 13 games, including the knock-out blow against rival Minnesota in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
His breakaway goal in the NCAA tournament against Yale made ESPN’s SportsCenter as the No. 1 play of the day.
“It all starts off the ice with his habits and mentality,” Malone said. “He’s a laid-back kid and doesn’t have to deal with extra stuff away from the rink. He’s doing everything the right way. When you do things the right way, things fall into place for you.”
Most of the UND team stayed in Grand Forks to work out during the summer, but Frattin decided to go back home and get in a similar routine.
He worked out with a personal trainer and came back so fit that trainer Mark Poolman nicknamed him “The X-Factor.” He also won the team’s Iron Man competition that measures attributes such as strength, endurance and agility.
“Off the ice, you could say he’s a more responsible version,” Trupp said. “But he’s still that same funny guy, prankster on the team and person who everybody likes to be around.”
Goalies might not enjoy Frattin’s presence as much.
He’s only three goals shy of 20 — which was tops on the team a year ago (Jason Gregoire). He’s had one hat trick and two five-game goal streaks, including the current one heading into Christmas break.
He’s scored nine times at even strength, six times on the power play and twice shorthanded.
“What he’s doing is ridiculous,” Malone said. “Playing with him, I get a front-row seat to all of those goals, so it works out in my favor. It can be pretty scary sometimes.
“Last week in Mankato, I went and asked him ‘How do you do it?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. I see a hole and shoot it.’ It’s just a God-given knack for scoring. Very few people have it.”
Frattin’s play attracted enough attention that Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, perhaps hockey’s most famous front-office member, made a trip to Maine in October to watch Frattin play twice. He scored in both games.
Frattin likely will have the chance to sign with the Maple Leafs next summer and continue his career with the NHL within reach.
For now, he’s in the process of rewriting his story in Grand Forks.
“It could have went the other way a year ago,” Malone said. “He could be on a different path and we could be writing a different story. Thankfully, it’s the good one and the right one.”
Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.