Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published December 19 2010
On the point: After getting kicked off the UND men's hockey team, Frattin cleans up his life and works his way back
So, when he called Evan Trupp last August to say that he had gotten in trouble and was getting kicked off the University of North Dakota 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 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.”
His teammates took the news hard.
Frattin told Brad Malone first.
“A pretty big kick in the gut,” Malone said.
Paying his own way
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.”
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.
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.”
When he arrived back on campus before UND’s New Year tournament in Chicago, his teammates were thrilled.
“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.”
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 the Saturday 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 knockout 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).
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.”
Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald