In the Spotlight: Matt Frattin
He was a John Ferguson Junior find, drafted ninety-ninth overall, in 2007. Another diamond in the rough, plucked and polished painstakingly, in preparation for a pro hockey career.
Like all diamonds, it was the extreme pressure he came to know that led to his ultimate brilliance. Matt Frattin has always had the gift. Make that “gifts”, actually. He’s a natural-born goal-scorer who shoots the puck well; that much he has proven, but he’s also a strong skater with a nose for the net, and a quality kid with a good head on his shoulders. Just a few short years ago, the latter may have been in question, with a number of incidents, including a DUI charge that ultimately cost him his scholarship at North Dakota, threatening his future as a pro athlete.
In his draft year, the Alberta-born Frattin amassed forty-nine goals and thirty-four assists while playing for Fort Saskatchewan in fifty-eight contests. His work ethic and his ability to play a robust, offense-oriented game caught the former Leaf GM’s eye, and Frattin was summarily made Maple Leafs property. The following season, Frattin reported to North Dakota of the WCHA/NCAA and, for the next three seasons, he saw his offensive output diminish at a rate commensurate with his extra curricular activities, which, by his own public admission, centred around college life antics, a lot of partying, and a lot of alcohol. Frattin found himself out of control, and out of a spot on the Sioux’s roster.
Testament to the young man’s character, Frattin took full responsibility for the suspension from the team and the forfeiture of his scholarship, and manned-up, big time. He could have easily become just another talented kid with million-dollar hands and a fifty-cent head, who ends up on the amateur hockey scrap-heap, if not for his personal integrity, as well as the support of a good family.
Frattin toiled within the family business, working in his father’s two bakeries, and he held another job working for a family friend’s concrete company, in order to earn the tuition
fees required to resume his schooling. “Every dirty job I could find, I gave to him”, said Gilberto Frattin, Matt’s proud papa. Regarding the suspension, which UND Coach Dave Hakstol implemented immediately after Frattin’s second altercation with authorities, the parent’s message was very direct, being that the family will support him, but what he does with that support is up to him. Despite the lures of playing pro hockey sooner than later, Matt put his nose to the proverbial grindstone, and worked hard to turn his life around, and resume his education.
It was this accountability that impressed the folks at UND; his willingness to show sufficient contrition, and sweat it out in the kitchen and in a factory as opposed to taking the easy road and turning pro. Instead of earning a comparatively sizeable paycheque, he opted for a modest bank loan to pay for his school fees, and went back on his own dime. How’s that for character. Frattin finished his NCAA career a Hobey Baker finalist, and was tops in goal scoring with thirty-six goals and twenty-four assists in just forty-four games.
Fast-forward to 2011, where Matt Frattin played more than fifty NHL games last season, showing flashes of big league brilliance and an absolutely electric release, which he can unload from anywhere. He’s been handcuffing goaltenders at every level of the game with that particular skill. While a right-handed shot, he is quite comfortable on the left side, showing impressive versatility, as well as a commitment to the game’s finer details, like forechecking, and using his physical strength to win board battles. While not particularly large, Frattin is solidly built with a thick frame and very good lower body strength. He employs a wide skating stance when in pursuit of the puck, and can be very difficult to contain when making a dash for the net.
Frattin was on pace for an AHL MVP playoff campaign (10 goals in 13 games) when he blew out his knee in the semi finals last spring. Losing his offense proved to be insurmountable for the Marlies, who ultimately conceded to Norfolk in the finals. Since that time, the recovery has been complete, as evidenced by his body of work in this truncated season. While he didn’t exactly turn heads at camp, he did what he always does, and that is just work hard, without complaining.
Once again, that personal commitment is paying off for both the player and the team, which has since recalled him after Joffrey Lupul had his arm broken. Prior to Dallas Eakins’ phone call advising of the promotion, Frattin was lighting the lamp in the “A” with his usual aplomb, and had recently scored the shootout winner versus the Hamilton Bulldogs on January 21st. Excited by the chance to make an impact, he boarded an early flight out of Cleveland in time to make an optional skate with the Leafs, in preparation for a home game versus the Islanders. In four games, the budding sniper has scored four goals, two of which were game-winners, and he’s notched a pair of helpers, all while playing less than thirteen minutes a night; the only exception being the Buffalo game which included almost a full five minutes of overtime, in which he played just over sixteen minutes. He scored twice that night, including a buzzer-beater that ended Ryan Miller’s reign of terror at the ACC.
Coach Carlyle has high praise for the twenty-five year old, who has learned a few hard lessons along the road to a well-deserved pro hockey life. “When you do things like this (scoring the winning goal) it forces you to play him’’, adding, ‘’it was a great individual effort …’’
Like his former Marlie teammate Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin has been anything but rocketed into sports celebrity status in Toronto. It has been a slow grind with a couple false starts, injury issues, and an absolutely monolithic commitment to blocking out all the noise and just focusing on honing the skills. As his former Fighting Sioux coach put it : “Talent doesn’t take you to an elite level. Focus, an absolute driven mentality, along with talent, take you to an elite level’’.
Together, the two top prospects have risen above the din and the chemistry they shared in the minors should serve the big club’s greater good sooner than later. That’s the beauty of organically-grown talent which has had the good fortune of learning to play within a specific system. Knowing eachother’s tendencies, the table is set for what should ultimately become two thirds of a dynamic second line.
Matt Frattin’s talent was never the issue. Overcoming adversity and staying mentally tough have become the hallmarks of his game just as much as the tenacity, puck-pursuit, and jaw-dropping shot have, and it certainly appears the toil and the tutelage of coaches Hakstol and Eakins have paid off.
Last word to the player himself : “I guess I didn’t play to my potential to earn a spot at training camp but now I have another opportunity’’. He continues: “I know I’m going to have to give 100 per cent in every practice and game because there’s always somebody coming up who can take your spot.”