Shawn Frappier, head coach of the AAA Sudbury Wolves Minor Midgets, barks out instructions during a hockey game at McClelland arena in Copper Cliff, Ont. on Friday December 23, 2016. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network
By Ben Leeson, Sudbury Star
“As much as I’m all about development, I’m a sore loser, too.”
With a laugh, Shawn Frappier summed up his priorities as head coach of the French River Rapids, a position the Sudbury native accepted in the last several days.
Conversations with management for the NOJHL club, including owner Paul Frustaglio and hockey operations director Sherry Bassin, as well as the Rapids’ 23-point improvement this past season, only assured Frappier that the team has a similar vision for success.
“I didn’t follow it too closely last year, but I know they did some house-cleaning and got some things on the go,” Frappier said. “We’re going to be moving in the right direction.”
Known to many local fans as a three-year member of the Sudbury Wolves blueline corps in the 1990s, Frappier was part of the highly talented squad that made a conference final in 1995, before he suited up for the Belleville Bulls and Barrie Colts in his final OHL season.
He enjoyed a five-year pro career before returning to the game as a coach, notably with the Sudbury minor midgets from 2015 to 2017.
“I think this will be a good transition,” Frappier said. “I think that group is kind of more in my wheelhouse anyway, minor midget and older, junior and stuff like that. I think I’m going to have a lot of fun, for sure.”
He favours an aggressive, exciting brand of hockey he believes will fit well in the modern NOJHL.
“I played for the Sudbury Cubs before I played for the Sudbury Wolves, and it was a different league back then,” Frappier said. “It was a different league five, 10 years ago. It’s way more respected now, a way more respected league. I want to play high-tempo. I love high-tempo and I’m not sitting back. We want to run and gun, for sure.”
Frappier replaces Ken Strong, who played a key role in the Noelville-based outfit’s rise to respectability during his single season behind the bench.
Frustaglio pointed out that Strong had been invited to return for 2018-19, but the Oakville, Ont.-based coach ultimately decided the travel demands were too much, especially with his business obligations, though he will maintain a relationship with the Rapids and provide advice as needed.
The team took its time in choosing a new head coach, Frustaglio said, and considered some with impressive resumes. They ultimately decided Frappier was the best fit, in large part because of his development record.
“What we’re doing in French River is preparing kids for the next level,” Frustaglio said. “We’re still going to be fairly young and just like Ken Strong is a teacher, who came from the minor-midget ranks and got a lot of young kids drafted, I had that same mentality. If our game plan is going to be to get kids to the next level, then I need to keep with what we started to do with Kenny.”
In just two seasons with the local minor midgets, Frappier saw several players become OHL draft picks, including Billy Moskal, Damien Giroux, Chad Denault, Cameron Lamour, Jordan Spadafore, Brett Jacklin, Chris Clark, Joe Mazur and Jarod Hurley.
“I interviewed him and I liked the interview, Sherry Bassin interviewed him, he passed that interview, and we spoke to several of the young Sudbury kids who have played for Shawn,” Frustaglio said. “I asked a simple question – would you play for Shawn? They were just jumping up and down, saying yes, we love him. You need to listen to the voices of your kids, because they need to be happy to play. With a happy team, you get better results.”
Frappier doesn’t mind coaching a young group, even prefers it in some ways.
“The less they know, the less they have to worry about,” he said. “They can just play the game. Generally, the younger guys are still chasing the dream, and those are the guys I want. I want the guys who want to continue playing.”
French River has not hired any assistant coaches, but will look to move forward with that process following its first rookie camp, to be held at Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex on May 19.
Another session is planned in Toronto, June 16-17. Details are available at www.frenchriverrapids.com.
Frustaglio intends to take another step forward next season.
“Nothing less than the playoffs,” he said. “We were in contention for the playoffs up until mid-February, but it kind of fell apart. It was just one of those things where the hockey gods said you’re not ready. You took a big step this year, went from the laughingstock of junior hockey to a respectable team, you’ve got respectable people running the franchise and the community support has been great, with the fifth-highest attendance in the league.”
The Rapids averaged 296 fans per game this past season, but Frustaglio believes attendance would spike for a post-season run.
“All these great things are happening, so we need to make the playoffs, there is no other choice, and we’re going to make a concerted effort to find the best players and the best people. Without having good people, it doesn’t really matter how good your hockey team is. There’s a lot of teams out there that fumbled this year, because they didn’t have the best people. We’re not about to do that next year.”