On the outdoor rinks, schoolyards and driveways of Red Deer, Alta., he always slipped on the persona of the same player.
And the shot always went in for the overtime winner.
“I was always Joe Sakic, he was always my guy,” said the Boston Bruins’ Matt Fraser, a few moments after scoring his first NHL playoff goal amid made-for-TV circumstances.
Consider that on Wednesday, Fraser was in Providence, R.I., grabbing a bite.
Then the call came from the Bruins’ front office: get on a plane, you’re going to Montreal.
“I was at Chipotle eating lunch and wondering what I was going to do for the day,” he laughed.
As it happens, he wolfed down his burrito and frozen yogurt – “maybe that’s what I need to keep doing the day before a game,” he said – and went to fetch his gear.
Here’s what the 23-year-old – the least-discussed person involved in the Tyler Seguin trade with Dallas last summer – did on Thursday night.
In his first career NHL playoff game, Fraser played 14:44 – mostly on the Bruins’ third line – and scored the game’s only goal, hauling Boston back from the brink of a 1-3 series deficit.
The play started innocently enough, with a Johnny Boychuk shot that Montreal’s Carey Price deflected off the glass to his left.
Then, with this being the playoffs, and those being the Bruins, it got weird.
The puck caromed to the right, eventually landing just beside Price’s right post.
“It came around on the other side and it bounced over my stick and I lost it. Somebody yelled ‘Over’ so I looked over my left shoulder,” Price said. “Obviously it wasn’t there. Then they poked it on the other side.”
Boston’s Carl Soderberg made a deft little play to sweep the puck away as Price was about to cover it, he flipped a blind backhand then battled with defenceman Mike Weaver long enough for Fraser to flick it through a tangle of legs into the net.
“Words can’t even describe that feeling. I just watched the replay of it and I don’t even want to begin to try to explain that because it’s something I wish that every kid could feel,” Fraser said. “As you can tell in my voice, it’s pretty excited. I hardly slept today and I’m sure I’ll hardly sleep tonight. But at the same time you’ve got to keep it in perspective: This is one game, we evened the series and now we’ve got to go back to Boston and come with the same effort.”
You’d think the big goals in this series would be scored by the people who are paid vast sums to do such things, but Fraser now adds his name to that of Dale Weise, another lightly-regarded Western boy who got to live out his childhood fantasy in game one of the first round, and added his second winner of the playoffs in game three against Boston.
The result reinforced the idea that you have to be at least slightly lucky to beat Price in these playoffs – Boston was repelled on a couple of other occasions by the crossbar, but they got the bounce they needed.
“I knew where it was when it came off the glass. I just lost it when it hit a shin pad in front of the net. I don’t know what else to tell you,” Price said.
The last time the Habs and Bruins were scoreless after 60 minutes in overtime was in 1953; Montreal won that game, you can say Boston was due.
This was a suffocating affair between two teams who were determined not to give the other an edge, and not to inflame any passions, lest they spill over.
There were a few thunderous hits, a little bit of sneakiness – at one point, Brad Marchand appeared to take a dig at P.K. Subban’s nether-regions with the blade of his stick – and a whole lot of defensive concentration.
“I thought the teams played very well tonight,” Price said. “I thought that game could have went either way. That’s playoff hockey. I thought both teams deserved to win that game.”
The 26-year-old once again played better than his opposite number, Tuukka Rask, who fought the puck for much of the night, but managed to shut the door at the appropriate moments, notably on Habs’ captain Brian Gionta.
“I think guys were relieved and really happy to get that win, because it wasn’t easy. It hasn’t been easy, so hopefully that turns things around for us,” Rask said. “It’s a funny thing how you always talk about ‘stay positive’ and ‘don’t squeeze your sticks’. But the more you talk about not squeezing your sticks, sometimes it goes the other way.”
It’s not that the Canadiens and Bruins played cautious hockey, it’s just that it wasn’t inspired.
With both teams trying to limit mistakes, it wasn’t exactly free-flowing either.
“The two teams are getting to know each other’s tendencies better and better, we’re both taking away the obvious scoring opportunities . . . there are adjustments being made on both sides,” Boston coach Claude Julien said.
If Montreal’s Michel Therrien won the battle of tweaks in game three, Julien emerged victorious in game four.
The line of Soderberg, Fraser and Loui Eriksson played nearly 70 per cent of their shifts against the Montreal defensive pair of Douglas Murray and Mike Weaver, who were on the ice for the winner.
Murray, who contributed several big hits, was a disaster in the possession department; he was on the ice for 10 shots against, and only one shot for.
After the game, Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges lamented the fact that “we weren’t sharp.
“For whatever reason we were spread out, we were chaotic, we were scattered. We weren’t playing that tight game that we needed to play. I think as the game progressed we got a little better and started to play more our style of game. We’ve got to try to make life a little more difficult on Rask in front of the net. If we want to score on him it’s got to be hard on him. We’ll move on.”
For all that, the Habs had ample opportunities to seize control of the game, and to dig the Bruins into a 3-1 hole.
Price was asked how tough it was to lose a nip-and-tuck game, given the stark difference between pushing the Bruins to an elimination game and being even.
“It’s not tough. You’ve got to regroup and realize the situation we’re in. The series is tied 2-2. The series is best of three now,” he said.
The teams renew acquaintances in Boston for game five.
Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess.
Therrien said: “we are prepared for a long series. That was our goal, to stretch it out as long as we can.”
Well, mission accomplished then.