MONTREAL – Matt Fraser had just finished lunch on Wednesday when he got a call from assistant general manager Don Sweeney to hop on a plane and join the Boston Bruins in Montreal.
The 23-year-old had not been called up from AHL Providence for just any game, but to jump feet-first into the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry in the heat of the NHL playoffs.
“Yeah, well, you hear so much about the rivalry, but when you’re actually in the mix of it, it’s exciting more than anything,” the Red Deer, Alta., native said Thursday. “I’ve played for the Stanley Cup a thousand times on the outdoor rinks, so it will be exciting for sure.
“But once you get out there, you just have to play your game.”
The Bruins sent Justin Florek back to Providence, which is preparing for a second-round meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins farm team in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Fraser drew a crowd of reporters in the tight visitors dressing room at the Bell Centre after the team’s morning skate, at which coach Claude Julien had all his lines juggled to keep the media guessing about his lineup for Game 4 on Thursday night.
At that point, no one was saying whether Fraser would even be in the lineup.
But Fraser was preparing to play, and to make the quick switch from focusing on the AHL post-season to the NHL pressure cooker.
“There’s probably more media here than we get fans in Providence, so it’s definitely got a different feel to it, but at the same time, its a 60-minute game,” he said. “I know that’s a cliche, but you’ve got to do what you can to calm your nerves and get yourself going.
“It’s obviously an exciting time for everyone. I have to play my game and get pucks in and make sure I’m not a liability on the ice.”
Fraser has been knocking at the NHL’s door the past three seasons since his junior days with the Kootenay Ice, without yet landing a permanent job.
He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Stars and has had three stints in the NHL, twice with Dallas and again this season, when he got a 14-game call-up in December in which he scored a pair of goals for the Bruins.
In 27 career NHL games, all in the regular season, he has three goals and two assists.
The six-foot-one 204-pound left winger had 20 goals in 44 AHL games this season.
“Certainly the guy can score,” Julien said of Fraser. “You have to look at what he’s done in Providence. He’s been good enough and done well enough to have him back here.”
Fraser looks at young Bruins like defencemen Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski for assurance that players who pay their AHL dues can make take that last step into a regular NHL shift.
“The areas Boston asked me to work on I’ve worked on and I’ve improved,” he said. “But that being said, you can’t stop that development or think that you’re there, that you’re satisfied, because that’s when you lose your job or don’t make it to where you want to go.”
The call-up was a big day for the Fraser family. He said his father tried to get a quick flight to Montreal but wasn’t expected to get there for the game.
“It’s exciting, but you’ve got to be a professional about it and just go about your business.”
A testy Julien refused to discuss his lineup. At the morning skate, the forwards were jumbled, including one unit that had fourth liner Gregory Campbell centring Brad Marchand and Jarome Iginla.
“I think it just gives you (reporters) something to write about, so that you don’t get bored,” he said. “I can decide whether I want to stick with those or put my lines back to what I want.
“Honestly, we have fun with things sometimes and that’s all we’re doing right now.”
The Canadiens held an optional skate at their practice rink in Brossard, Que. Thomas Vanek, who left Game 3 briefly with a apparent right leg problem, was on the ice after skipping an optional practice on Wednesday.