Referee Kerry Fraser spent this past weekend taking part in the festivities at the Hockey Hall of Fame. He emceed the Saturday night event. He officiated the Legends Game on Sunday.
He shouldn’t have been doing any of that. He should have been inducted.
Fraser got his officiating start at age 12, following in the footsteps of his father Hilt, who was a referee. At age 20, he attended an Officiating School in Haliburton, Ontario, where he was spotted by former NHL referee Frank Udvari, the NHL’s Supervisor of Officials. Udvari extended an invitation to Fraser to attend the NHL officials’ training camp.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Fraser said. “It was 1972 and the NHL was looking to replace officials who had jumped ship and gone to the World Hockey Association. They got serious about recruiting and Frank Udvari saw something in me, I don’t know what it was but they thought they could teach me and thank God they did.”
He made his NHL debut on October 17, 1980, working a game between the Colorado Rockies and the Minnesota North Stars. It was the first of a record-setting number of National Hockey League appearances for the Sarnia native. Fraser went on to work 2,165 NHL games, including 1,904 regular season matches. No official has worked more. Hall of Fame referee Bill McCreary’s 1,737 regular season games are next on the list — over two full seasons behind Fraser.
Fraser officiated 12 Stanley Cup Finals. His first came between the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers in 1985, where, at age 33, Fraser became the youngest official to ever work a Stanley Cup Final. He also refereed the 1996 World Cup, 1998 Winter Olympics, 2010 Winter Classic, and NHL All-Star Games in 1990 and 2000.
That’s a solid resume.
Retired NHL referee Paul Stewart, who worked alongside Fraser in the National Hockey League for 18 years, supports Fraser’s case for the Hall of Fame.
Kerry Fraser should be a slam-dunk candidate for the Hall of Fame. He was an excellent referee. Fraser was perhaps the best skating referee of his era, for one thing, and had a good feel for the game.
The criteria for a Hall of Fame nomination as a referee or linesman are “Officiating ability, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”
Check off all the boxes there. Fraser’s gone above and beyond for each.
NHL referee Mike Leggo speaks very highly of his former colleague:
The statistics speak for themselves, but more important is the man, the face of NHL officials for many years, the man who cares deeply about his fellow man, the man who has seen it all, done it all and has the scars to prove it. He is the man many fans love to hate and in our business that means two things, longevity and you have worked a lot of important games; incredibly and almost masochistically, it’s something that all NHL officials strive to achieve.
Watching Kerry and spending time with him is a lesson in life itself, always personable, approachable and always sincere; he is a role model for how to be a public person in a private life. Traveling with Kerry is like watching a smooth politician work a room [except much, much more sincere] everyone wants to say hello and as brief the encounter may be, the person leaves feeling good, feeling that Kerry genuinely cared and was happy to meet them.
It takes courage and stamina to last 31 years in the NHL, it also takes a lot of heartbreak, a lot of time away from home, a lot of soul searching, and soul seeking. How one conducts themselves in times of distress is a better barometer of character than how they conduct themselves when they are on top of the world. It is always easier to look down from on top of the hill and see how you can get down than it is to look up to the top and wonder how you are ever going to get there. Kerry has seen the view from both and had the same attitude; it’s nothing that a little hard work won’t solve.
So as he makes his way from the ice to the Hall Of Fame, we are all better for knowing him, for letting a little piece of him shape us all and that is the sum of everything when I think about Kerry, hard working, earnest, a complex man with a heart of gold, compassionate, passionate and genuine, just like the hair – like I said, it always comes back to the hair.
Leggo said it: “From the ice to the Hall of Fame.” It was a foregone conclusion. Kerry Fraser would one day be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
But it hasn’t happened.
The Hall of Fame reserves a slot each year for one official. Fraser became eligible in 2013. Since then, only one official – Bill McCreary – has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. That spot has inexplicably remained empty for three years of Fraser’s eligibility.*
There are currently sixteen NHL officials enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Neil Armstrong (1991), John Ashley (1981), Bill Chadwick (1964), John D’Amico (1993), Chaucer Elliott (1961), George Hayes (1988), Bobby Hewitson (1963), Mickey Ion (1961), Bill McCreary (2014), Matt Pavelich (1987), Mike Rodden (1962), Ray Scapinello (2008), Cooper Smeaton (1961), Red Storey (1967), Frank Udvari (1973), and Andy Van Hellemond (1999).
Kerry Fraser should be number 17 on that list.
You can argue whether, over the course of a 2,165-game NHL career, referee Kerry Fraser made a few bad calls.
There’s no arguing that the Hockey Hall of Fame has made a bad call on this one.
* Technically, the HHOF can leverage one Referee/Linesman spot for a Builder, if necessary. In 2015, two Builders were elected – John Hay and Peter Karmanos, Jr. – effectively using up the Referee/Linesman opening. In 2013 and 2016, though, only one Builder was inducted, so the Referee/Linesman spot remained unused.