There’s an old picture which former Fort Frances Canadian Pete Makarchuk owns.
It’s of the late Ray Frederick, his friend and former neighbour, in his goaltending prime as a Chicago Blackhawk trying to stop Montreal Canadiens’ great Maurice “Rocket” Richard during a 1955 game.
“I don’t think Richard got it by him on this shot,” said Makarchuk. “It’s too bad you can’t see Ray’s face. He must have been very intense.”
It would be a snapshot of only one of five games Frederick, who passed away Aug. 23 at the age of 72 after a short battle with lung cancer, would play in the National Hockey League.
While Sudbury had been Frederick’s home for more than 40 years, his ties to his hometown of Fort Frances never wavered, returning here on a regular basis to meet with family, friends, and former Canadians’ teammates.
When recalling their teenage years, older sister Christine Lavigne’s memory seemed as razor sharp as a youthful Ray’s net-minding abilities—a gift which elevated the 15-year-old to skate with players two or three years older on the Fort Frances Maple Leafs’ senior team in 1944.
He would play one season with the famed Canadians in 1946-47.
“We’d watch him play with the Canadians in the old Memorial Arena. Games and even practices were quite the social event then,” Lavigne said from her Inter-national Falls, Mn. home.
“And even though I was older, I would always be mindful of how his older teammates were treating him.”
“The thing is, we realized we had a young kid who had the real makings. We had a lot of fun helping him adjust,” said former Canadians’ player E.A. “Doc” Johnson.
Lavigne said Johnson and the other teammates would bring her brother comic books as a teasing way of emphasizing how much younger he was, or at least seemed.
“He would say, ‘Oh, the boys got them for me.’ It was nice he called them the ‘boys’ and that they accepted him,” she remarked.
But Lavigne added life for a goalie on the ice back then—where age didn’t mean anything—was quite rough.
“They didn’t have anything for padding and his hands would be just swollen. They called him ‘Splits,’” she said. “I know on two occasions when I saw the puck hit him square in the face.”
That was nothing new for Frederick, being on the receiving end of older brother George and his friends’ aggressive play while learning the game on backyard rinks.
“There was no taking it easy. If you wanted to be there, take the beating, whatever else,” George Frederick recalled from his North Vancouver home.
“For a kid brother, Ray was an excellent sport.”
After leaving the Fort Frances and Thunder Bay junior circuits in 1947, Frederick played for a number of teams, including the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Hamilton Lloyds, and the Edmonton Flyers (later the Oilers).
The 1948-49 season would be his most memorable as a junior. Frederick led the Western Hockey League in most major goalie categories and backstopped the Kings to within one game of the Memorial Cup.
Six years of professional hockey with the Quebec Senior Hockey League, the Maritime Major Hockey League, the American Hockey League, and that short stint with the Blackhawks brought Frederick full circle in 1957, when he was reinstated as an amateur athlete.
He rounded out his playing career with the Cornwall Chevies and Sudbury Wolves in senior hockey leagues.
At the age of 53, Frederick still could be found minding the net on a weekly basis for the Walden Oldtimers hockey team there until he retired in the spring of 1982.
He and his wife, Ruth, opened “Ray Frederick’s Heating and Appliances” in 1968—a business that still runs in Sudbury today. In the meantime, his ties to Fort Frances remained close through the years and even closer after his dad’s passing in 1977.
“My three brothers [including the youngest, Bob] made a point to visit my mother at least once every year,” said LaVigne. “They were good brothers.”
“We have nothing but fond memories of Fort Frances,” recalled Frederick’s son, Dave. “To us, it meant visiting our grandparents but it was also a kick to see where your dad was raised, too.”
George Frederick, 75, said throughout all their years in town and at the reunions, the topic of hockey rarely escaped his brother’s mind—from sitting around the old Peek Inn on Scott Street as teenagers, bragging about what they did on the ice, to discussing the status of the game at the White Pine Inn as oldtimers.
“It never left him. Whenever he came to town, he’d talk hockey,” he said. “I remember one of the last times we visited Ray in Sudbury and his garage door was open and his big old dusty goalie pads from the 1950s were hanging for all to see.
“I just shook my head with a laugh as he said, ‘George, I don’t give up hope. The big leagues may be calling me up yet!”