Brathwaite, Fred 1972–
Fred Brathwaite 1972–
Canada’s Fred Brathwaite is a rarity in the world of professional hockey in more ways than one. Though the representation of players of African descent in the National Hockey League (NHL) has increased in recent years, Brathwaite is one of only a few blacks to have played the position of goalie. In addition, at five-foot seven inches, Brathwaite is shorter than most other players at that position. Since his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers in 1993, Brathwaite has been known as a scrappy player who has often emerged as a fan favorite. After playing for several teams both inside and outside the NHL, Brathwaite moved to the St. Louis Blues at the beginning of the 2001-02 season.
Brathwaite was born in the Canadian capital of Ottawa on November 24, 1972, and grew up in the nearby suburb of Briargreen, Ontario. The son of St. Clair and Verstine Brathwaite, he was of Barbadian descent. But the Brathwaite family were the only black Canadians in town, and his father told the Toronto Sun that Fred “can’t even fake a Barbadian accent. He’s as all-Canadian as you can get.” Brathwaite grew up watching Canada’s national hockey broadcast, Hockey Night in Canada, and like many other Canadian youngsters, he imagined himself in a prohockey career.
The difference between Brathwaite and those many other youngsters, however, was that Brathwaite got on the competitive hockey ladder and kept climbing. His first exposure to hockey came when he was five years old; his older brother Roderick talked his way onto a neighborhood hockey team as a goalie, and Brathwaite became the team mascot. “I was a real rink rat and followed in my brother’s footsteps by going in the net,” Brathwaite told the Toronto Sun. Brathwaite attended Sir Robert Borden High School in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean, benefiting from a program that turned out two other NHL goalies in addition to Brathwaite: Tyler Moss of the Calgary Flames (with whom Brathwaite would later play briefly) and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Darren Pang.
When he was a teenager, the wall of Brathwaite’s room displayed posters of Pang and of goalie Grant Fuhr, who inspired Brathwaite not only as a black Canadian
At a Glance…
Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on November 24, 1972; son of St. Clair and Verstine Brathwaite.
Career: Hockey goaltender. Played for Smiths Falls Bears, Ontario Junior Hockey League, 1988-89; Orillia Terriers, OJHL, and Oshawa Generals, OHL, 1989-90; Oshawa Generals, 1990-92; Detroit Junior Red Wings, 1992-93; Edmonton Oilers, NHL, and associated minor-league teams, 1993-96; Manitoba Moose, IHL, 1996-98; Canadian National Team, 1998-99; Calgary Flames, NHL, and associated minor-league teams, 1999-01; St. Louis Blues, 2001-.
Addresses: Team office —1401 Clark Ave., St. Louis, MO 63103.
hockey player but also, later on, as a mentor in the fine art of goalie play. Brathwaite moved up through Canada’s extensive system of junior hockey leagues, playing in Nepean and then for the Smiths Falls Bears of the Central Hockey League. In 1989 he played briefly in Orillia, Ontario, and then for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), allowing an average of 2.91 goals per game, and helping the team to a Memorial Cup championship after replacing an injured goalie in a clutch situation and winning a double-overtime game. He stayed in Oshawa until 1992, when he moved to London, Ontario, and then to the OHL’s Detroit Junior Red Wings.
Ready for the pros, Brathwaite signed a contract worth $27, 000 a year with the Las Vegas squad in the minor league International Hockey League (IHL). “Thought I was rich,” he recalled in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview. But his salary would soon be nearly eight times that figure. Brathwaite went north for an Edmonton Oilers’ training-camp visit arranged by his agent, and impressed the team’s management with his quickness and drive. During the exhibition season he allowed only three goals in 120 minutes of play. Brathwaite joined the Oilers for the 1993-1994 season, playing 19 games as a backup goalie and amassing a record of three wins, ten losses, and three ties. Over two more seasons with Edmonton and its farm team on Canada’s Cape Breton island, Brathwaite was a consistent performer whose performance on the ice, some observers thought, was better than his win-loss record would indicate.
With meager figures in the win column, however—his cumulative record with Edmonton was 5-17-4—Brathwaite was dropped from the Oilers and once again made plans to head for Las Vegas and a $30, 000 contract. He was traded to the Manitoba Moose and played minor-league hockey there in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons, winning a starting slot and appearing in the IHL league playoffs in his second year there. Brathwaite had a tryout with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres in 1999 but did not make the team. Instead, he latched onto a traveling Canadian national team that won the international Spengler Cup tournament, where he was named the tournament’s top goalie. Despite this success, Brathwaite took another pay cut—his salary dropped to $22, 000.
Soon his pay rate took yet another sharp turnaround. The NHL’s Calgary Flames, with their goalie corps decimated by injuries, signed Brathwaite in January of 1999, with the intention of putting him in a minor-league slot. But just as he did in Edmonton at the beginning of his career, Brathwaite looked good when it counted. Taking to the ice for the Flames to replace his injured high school classmate Tyler Moss, Brathwaite notched a 7-1-2 record in his first ten games. His pace dropped off toward the end of the year, and his record dropped to 11-9-7. But Brathwaite was now firmly ensconsed in the NHL; for the 1999-2000 season his salary rose to $550, 000 in Canadian dollars, and the following year an arbitrator added another $2 million (U.S.) to that figure.
Brathwaite’s game also benefited when Grant Fuhr, one of Brathwaite’s idols when he was a teenager, joined the Calgary squad in the twilight of his career. “He hasn’t really gotten the respect he deserves,” Fuhr said of Brathwaite in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview. “He’s starting to feel the game better. He’s starting to come into his own. I think he’s got the perfect temperament for a goalie.” Fuhr and Brathwaite became the first black players in NHL history to fill a team’s top two goalie spots, but they played down that fact. Brathwaite felt the issue of race mattered less in Canada. “Growing up here, [color] was never that big a deal,” he told the Montreal Gazette. “Maybe in the Southern U.S., some fans might say, ‘Look, a black goalie,’ but not here.”
Brathwaite moved to the St. Louis Blues for the 2001-02 season, hoping to land a starting slot and play for a team with an ultimate shot at the NHL championships. He shared starting goalie duties with Brent Johnson as the Blues struggled, playing in 25 games and compiling a 9-11-4 record. His goals-allowed-per-game average, however, stood at a career-best 2.24. In July of 2002, Brathwaite signed a contract for another year with the Blues. Still well below the age when an NHL goalie’s skills begin to decline, Brathwaite approached a decade of NHL play as an example and an inspiration for young hockey players of all sizes and backgrounds.
Gazette (Montreal, Canada), October 31, 1999, p. B3. Ottawa Citizen, January 23, 1992, p. B3; January 19, 1994, p. C3; February 6, 1999, p. F3; April 15, 2000, p. D2; June 26, 2001, p. B2.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 5, 2000, p. D8.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 3, 2001, p. CI; October 27, 2001, p. Sports-10; January 15, 2002, p. C1; January 20, 2002, p. C8; April 8, 2002, p. C1.
Toronto Sun, April 20, 2000, p. N11; May 6, 2001, p. C4.
USA Today, December 31, 1999, p. C2.
CNN Sports Illustrated, http://www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com
St. Louis Blues Online, http://www.stlouisblues.com
Fred Brathwaite Biography, http://www.ucsu.colorado.edu/norrisdt/bio/brathwaite.html
—James M. Manheim
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