OXFORD, Ohio – Heading into last off-season, it appeared Grant Frederic’s Miami career was over.
After skating in fewer than half of the RedHawks’ games as a sophomore and dressing for just one contest in 2018-19, the 6-feet, 3-inch, 200-pound defenseman was looking to transfer.
But after Chris Bergeron was hired, the two talked extensively and Frederic ultimately returned for his senior year.
Those conversations appeared to have reaped dividends for both the RedHawks and Frederic, who has thrived this season, playing his best hockey since coming to Oxford.
“I feel like somebody who’s going to transfer going into his senior year probably hasn’t played as much as he wanted to, but I think he’s been a pretty good contributor for us this year,” Bergeron said. “The one thing about Grant Frederic is he wants to be a hockey player. He comes every day, he’s got a plan, he truly lives his life like a true pro.”
Frederic was born and grew up in St. Louis, a city that has seen a significant uptick in hockey talent the past couple decades.
His older brother, Trent, was a first-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins and suited up for his first NHL game last season.
Among the recent notables to come out of St. Louis are NHL star goalie Ben Bishop, Paul and Yan Stastny and Chris Butler.
Then there’s Chris and Alex Wideman, brothers who starred at Miami. Chris has played parts of five seasons in the NHL and was an All-Star with AHL San Diego this season, and Alex recorded over 200 ECHL points before moving to Europe last fall.
The Widemans and the Frederics grew up within walking distance of each other, and the families are still friends.
Talent should continue to flourish in St. Louis following the Blues’ first-ever Stanley Cup in 2019 that was the culmination of a dramatic and improbable run by a team mired in last place in its division three months into that season.
“It’s great for the city, the city was absolutely buzzing from the Stanley Cup,” Frederic said. “I was actually fortunate enough to be down there for a few games and see all the hype, it was something that I’ve never seen in St. Louis. I think it’s really interested a lot of kids and parents to put their kids in hockey at a young age.”
Big-name alumni coaching at the Triple-A level, including Keith Tkachuk, Jeff Brown and Al MacInnis, is helping youth hockey thrive in St. Louis.
“You’re starting to see more players retire in St. Louis, and even the All-Star Game coming to St. Louis – really the town’s coming around to the sport of hockey,” Frederic said. “St. Louis has always been known as kind of a baseball town, with the Cardinals, and now – I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a hockey town – but it’s definitely on the map, and you see with the NHL players and the college players that this city’s producing. The Stanley Cup is nothing but great for the town and really revamped the city with hockey.”
Frederic and both Widemans attended Chaminade College Prep High School, as did Bishop and the Stastnys. The Widemans used to drive Frederic to class and the threesome hung out extensively in the summer.
“Work out in the mornings, then skate and have lunch after – that was pretty much my summers,” Frederic said. “They were always really good friends that took care of me.”
Through his relationship with the Widemans, Frederic became a fan of Miami hockey.
“I always wanted to play college hockey, and then being kind of close to the Widemans…and Miami hockey – I always rooted for them and it was the only team I really knew – I always kind of had the dream of playing here because of them,” Frederic said. “They would have old hockey sticks, and when they went to the Frozen Four, they were always getting me T-shirts and garbs, and I thought, oh, this is where I want to go, never really thinking that it was necessarily going to happen. More like a hope and dream and really far away, then when I went to juniors it became more of a reality and I was like, this is a no-brainer, this is where I want to go.”
Outside of Minnesota and New England, which has a strong prep school tradition, playing four years of high school hockey is unusual for those looking to advance to a high level, and after graduating, Frederic found opportunities scarce.
He told his high school, which was all about seeing its alums immediately transition to college, that he was attending the University of Arizona, where he applied.
In reality, Frederic had to try out just to make the NAHL, and he hooked on with the Janesville Jets. He racked up two goals and six assists in 54 games there.
In 2014-15, Frederic – who was not drafted in the USHL – earned a spot on Green Bay and played 118 games for the Gamblers the next two seasons alongside two of St. Cloud State’s Poehling brothers and current teammate Karch Bachman, who joined the team briefly before being traded.
Frederic was named assistant captain his final season in Green Bay, during which he tallied 14 points and finished plus-20.
“I loved my time in Green Bay, they were some of the best years I’ve had playing hockey,” Frederic said. “I was fortunate enough to have great coaches and I learned a lot from them. They helped us prepare for college and everything in your life. It’s cool that Green Bay has a rich tradition that I was able to be a slight, little part of. I have nothing but good things to say about Green Bay.”
When it came time for Frederic to pick a college during his time in Green Bay, Miami was an easy choice.
“It was my No. 1, for sure,” Frederic said. “Like any kid, you see what’s available, and it became a good fit. I came here and fell in love with it. I knew deep down I wanted to go, and it was something I didn’t want to rush into, but once I got onto campus and saw the facilities and met with the guys, I knew this was the place I wanted to be. I was lucky enough that they wanted me and it just worked out that way.”
Frederic dressed for 29 of Miami’s 36 games as a freshman despite missing two weekends with mononucleosis toward the end of the year. He was often paired with standout Louie Belpedio, which he said helped substantially build his confidence.
He recorded three assists that season and was happy with his acclimation to the Division I game.
“I like to be a simple D-man, so get Lou the puck and you play D,” Frederic said. “I think it was a good year for me personally. Freshman year was a really fun time, and I think I was learning the college hockey feel.”
After being scratched for much of October his sophomore season, Frederic dished for four assists in a four-game span the following month, including a career-best two-point game in a 6-3 win at Bowling Green Thanksgiving weekend.
But that would be the high point of 2017-18 for Frederic, as he played just five games in the second half and did not dress for any of the final eight.
Frederic’s ice-time situation was even worse his junior year. With the addition of freshmen Derek Daschke, Bray Crowder and Andrew Sinard plus graduate senior transfer River Rymsha, Frederic found himself buried on Miami’s defensemen depth chart.
He dressed for one game vs. UMass-Lowell on Oct. 20, 2018, took only a handful of shifts in that contest and did not suit up the remainder of the season.
“It was kind of cool to see how he handled it,” senior forward and roommate Carter Johnson said. “He came to the rink every day with a new mindset and he didn’t really get too negative. You know he’s down, he’s not playing, but he didn’t bring that energy at all. He’s just a guy who kept working every day and believed in the opportunity, and I have big-time respect for him to go through that and come into this year and be a big part of the team.”
By the end of his junior season, Frederic had played part of one game in a season and a half after logging well over 50 games each of his three juniors campaigns.
“I’d never really been in that situation before,” Frederic said. “In Green Bay I played all the time and had a pretty good role. It was tough mentally, but I’ve got to give a lot of credit to (Miami human performance and wellness coach) Ben Eaves because he was there for me and he made coming to the rink enjoyable. Knowing I wasn’t going to play on the weekend, he always made a way for it to be fun and kind of work on my game, because I was like, at some point, I’m going to get a chance. He made it enjoyable, not just for me but for a lot of guys.
“I just tried coming to the rink with a positive attitude because that’s something that I’ve always been taught. If you’re having fun, if you’re having a positive attitude, good things will happen. If you just put your head down and grind away, everything will be alright.”
Last spring, Bergeron was hired as the head coach of the RedHawks. Frederic was ready to transfer away from the school he grew up idolizing, but that changed when the new coach picked the phone up and called him.
Bergeron said he spent a lot of time with Frederic as he got to know him as a person, and he enjoyed his time with him.
“He actually called me and we had a few good conversations on the phone,” Frederic said. “We met a decent amount and had honest conversations that anyone would have with a coach, and I trusted him and he trusted me, and I can’t thank him enough for giving me the opportunity. Honestly, it’s been nothing but great. I said I want to be here, this is the place I want to graduate (with) the senior class I came with and I want to help turn this around and change everything here and be a little piece to the puzzle that will get back to Frozen Fours and winning championships. That’s something I told him: I want to be a part of this, big or little, whatever spot you have, whatever opportunity there is, I’m going to fight for whatever I can get.”
After being scratched for 45 of 46 games, Frederic dressed for the 2019-20 opener vs. Bowling Green.
He has been in the lineup for all but four games this season, and his lack of ice time the previous two campaigns has helped him appreciate this opportunity.
“It was a good learning experience,” Frederic said. “It’s not something I planned and it’s not something I can say I enjoyed, but I learned a lot from it and it’s definitely made me a lot mentally stronger even this year. Not a lot of stuff fazes me, and I think that was one of my problems my sophomore year was getting down on myself.”
Frederic has the hardest shot on the RedHawks, according to teammate and captain Gordie Green, but offense isn’t a major part of his game. Through 67 collegiate games, Frederic has nine assists.
Frederic excels in the unsexy, grittier part of a defenseman’s role: Winning boards battles. Tying up defenders. Clearing pucks out of the defensive zone.
“He’s a hard player to play against,” Green said. “He’s been getting a lot more pucks through (to the net) this year as his confidence has gone up, as he’s gotten the opportunity to play this year, and I think he’s a really good first-pass defenseman, breaking out the puck.”
Johnson – himself 6-2 and over 200 pounds – also talked about the difficulty of playing against Frederic.
“He’s someone who, if I look up and see I’m matched up next to him in practice, I know it’s going to be a hard rep because he takes no prisoners,” Johnson said. “He’s a hard-working guy and he’s very serious about his game and I know he’s worked hard for everything he’s gotten. I have nothing but respect for Grant.”
Bergeron pointed to Frederic’s penalty killing as a strength. With teams now able to dress 19 skaters, Miami often uses seven defensemen, and Frederic is often listed in that extra skater spot on the lineup card.
“He is a guy that has wrapped his arms around the way we want to kill (penalties), so he gives us that option,” Bergeron said. “And that’s not saying that he’s No. 7 every night, he hasn’t been, he’s a guy that’s been in the top six more nights than not probably, but having an extra body back there just allows you more options back there when it comes to who’s playing in what situations.”
Not only is Frederic enjoying his best season at Miami, in recent weeks his play has reached its highest level since joining the RedHawks.
His confidence shows on the ice, as he appears more comfortable than ever in the blue-collar aspect of the game: Digging pucks out of difficult areas and making plays to advance it out of danger in his defensive zone.
“I think in the beginning of the year – it’s tough – I can imagine pretty much not playing a game for a year, not being in that game mode and then finally getting that chance,” Green said. “I think he was a little hesitant at first, but now he’s comfortable with where he is in the lineup, with where his game is, so I think he’s really settled in and can really just start play his game.”
Green said Frederic never brought any negativity to the rink when he wasn’t playing and that mental toughness has made that much better in 2019-20.
“Something that I really admire in him is his attitude,” Green said. “Throughout the whole season he was a really good teammate, and that’s tough when you’re pretty much healthy all year and you’re not playing. It’s really hard to go through and I admire his positive attitude. He was still fun to be around, and I think that’s helped him be the type of player that he is now and the type of player that he is for us because he’s been through that so he can help guys that are kind of struggling. And he’s solidified himself for us as an every-game defenseman.”
Said Frederic: “I knew deep down, I was like, hey, I can prove myself to another coach, and I had the confidence in my ability and I knew if I worked hard, had a good summer, I know how I can play and I know what I can do and I think I can help this team. It was a clean slate for everyone. Everyone had a chance to show their true colors, show what they have and show what they can be, and that was a benefit to me.”
A late bloomer who wasn’t even considered a top-tier player at the Triple-A level in St. Louis, Frederic may not have previously faced a situation where he was a perpetual scratch prior to Miami, but he had to scratch his way onto his NAHL team in Janesville and then battle again the next season to break camp with Green Bay, going through tryouts both places.
So when his ice time dwindled to a trickle at Miami, it was only natural that Frederic dig in and fight to return to a starting role.
“It’s pretty cool to look back and be like, wow, I was one of the lower-end players on my Triple-A team and I think I’m one of five, six guys (on that team) even playing college hockey,” Frederic said. “When stuff gets hard I think, hey, look where you came from, just keep grinding – what’s going to stop you now?”
With eight games remaining in his final season at Miami, Frederic has faced his share of challenges since joining the RedHawks.
But that adversity has made him exponentially stronger, and he cherishes his years in Oxford.
“Through the ups and downs, it’s more than I ever could ever really imagine,” Frederic said. “It’s a school that I will to the day I die tell every kid that can play college hockey, that’s the school you want to go to. I’ve had so much fun off the ice, on the ice, there’s teammates, friends that I’ll know for a lifetime. People that I’ll be in their wedding, they’ll be in mine. I don’t want my time here to end but I’m excited to come back for alumni stuff. It’s cool to see the older alumni that I never played with (are like) friends, and it’s like, I never even played with you, but we played at Miami. That’s something special that not every team in college can say.”