Curt Fraser named Griffins’ head coach

The Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday named former Atlanta Thrashers coach Curt Fraser as their new head coach.

Fraser, 50, brings 18 years’ experience as a head coach, assistant coach and player in the National Hockey League to his new role with the Griffins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the 2008 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

After compiling a tremendous head coaching resume in the International Hockey League during the ‘90s, Fraser was named Atlanta’s first head coach on July 14, 1999. He spent three and a half seasons behind the expansion team’s bench, tutoring such stars as Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk during their first two pro campaigns and helping the Thrashers’ 2000-01 squad improve by 21 points over its debut season.

Fraser’s NHL resume also includes stints as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders in 2003-04 and St. Louis in 2005-06. A native of Cincinnati with dual Canadian citizenship, he returns to North America after spending two years as the head coach of the Belarus national men’s team, which recently qualified for the 2010 Olympics with a ninth-place finish at the 2008 IIHF World Championship.

In six seasons as an IHL head coach with Milwaukee (1992-94) and Orlando (1995-99), Fraser guided his teams to two division titles and four second-place finishes, posting a cumulative 281-158-10-42 record (.625) and earning at least 40 wins in every campaign. He led the Orlando to the Turner Cup Finals in both 1996 and 1999.

This is Fraser’s first stint as a head coach in the American Hockey League. He was an associate coach with Syracuse in 1994-95.

“Curt has a tremendous amount of experience as a player and an accomplished record as a head coach at this level, as well as in the NHL and Europe,” said Griffins general manager Bob McNamara. “He’s a great fit in guiding us where we need to go in the future and for the Red Wings in terms of developing young players.”

Vancouver’s second pick (22nd overall) in the 1978 NHL Draft, Fraser spent his entire 12-year playing career (1978-90) as a left wing in the NHL. He accumulated 433 points (193 goals, 240 assists) and 1,306 penalty minutes in 704 contests with Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota, highlighted by a personal-best 29-goal, 68-point season with the Blackhawks in 1985-86 and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Canucks in 1982.

Fraser joins returning assistant coach Jim Paek and one of the AHL’s premier franchises in preparation for the Griffins’ 13th season overall and their eighth AHL campaign in 2008-09. The Griffins and Red Wings have comprised hockey’s most successful affiliation since their 2002 union, combining for more standings points (1,129) than any other AHL/NHL partnership over the last six seasons. Fifteen former Griffins were on the playoff roster of the 2008 Stanley Cup champions, eight of whom will have their names engraved on the Cup: Niklas Kronwall, Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, Brett Lebda, Darren Helm, Tomas Kopecky, Darren McCarty and Chris Osgood.