Friday, June 15, 2012


Fred Barrett played for the North Stars from 1970-1983.
by Daniel Cote

Fred Barrett was a second round draft choice by the Minnesota North Stars in 1970.  He was one of the first players drafted by the organization to have a significant impact on the NHL club.  A rock-solid stay-at-home defensemen, he became known to the Met Center faithful as "Steady Freddie" - one of the most fitting and iconic nicknames in North Stars history. 

Barrett spent 13 years with the North Stars.  Only Neal Broten, Curt Giles, and Brian Bellows donned the green and gold sweater for more games.  More than any other player, Steady Freddie bridged the gap between North Stars generations.  He played with early legends like Goldsworthy, Parise, Gump, Maniago, and Grant.  He survived the roster purge and brutal losing of the mid '70s.  And he got to play with the likes of Smith, Hartsburg, Broten, and Ciccarelli when the team rose again in the early 1980s.

I met Mr. Barrett when he was in town for the first North Stars Alumni Reunion in March 2012, and during a great conversation with him at that event's closing ceremony, I learned that he's funny, smart, nice, and opinionated.  This was an extremely fun interview to conduct, and a pretty easy one.  I just had to ask a couple of questions and let Steady Freddie run with it.

North Stars Preservation Society (NSPS):  Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to talk to us.

Fred Barrett (FB):  No problem!  I had a great time down there at the reunion.  It was really fun to see everybody.  I have very fond memories of our years down in the Twin Cities.

NSPS:  Do you get back to Minnesota very often or was that your first time here in a while?

FB:  It was the first time in a while.  We were back in 1992 for the 25th anniversary (of the North Stars).  We moved back (to Ottawa) in '85 and I hadn't been back since '92.  So, yeah, that's quite a while.

NSPS:  Has Minnesota changed much from your memory?

FB:  Not really.  We stayed mostly in St. Paul (during the reunion) where the arena is, and that area's changed quite a bit.  Of course we didn't really spend much time in St. Paul, we were mostly in the Bloomington area.  Compared to a lot of places, it's still a very affluent, booming community. 

NSPS:  You were with the North Stars for longer than just about anybody.  And since most of the early players came via the expansion draft and trades, you were also one of the first homegrown players to make an impact with the North Stars.  What sticks out about your first few seasons in the NHL?

FB:  I was part of the first universal draft, which meant teams were allowed to draft what they needed.  Before that, if you played junior hockey in Canada you would be owned by whatever team had the affiliation.  If you played junior hockey with the Toronto Marlies, like I did, you'd be owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs.  They changed that after expansion and I think that was good for the players as well as the teams.  As an example, at that time in Toronto they had won a couple of Cups.  In fact, '67 was the last time they won the Stanley Cup.  And they had Tim Horton and Bobby Baun and all these great defensemen.  For a young guy coming in from the junior team you probably wouldn't get a chance to play for two or three years.  Maybe more.  The new draft system and expansion allowed players to get a chance to play earlier and allowed the teams to draft what they felt they needed. 

But it was a neat time to play, having Gump Worsley as our goaltender.  And Cesare Maniago.  My defense partner was Ted Harris.  He was 37 years old and I was 20, so it was like having my own private coach.  We roomed together and it was a great opportunity for me to have a mentor like him.  It was a big jump to go from junior hockey to the NHL and it was certainly great to have all those veteran guys to help me along. 

NSPS:  Harris became the coach of the team shortly after that.  Did that change your relationship with him at all?

1971-72 O-Pee-Chee rookie card
FB:  No.  When Ted was our coach the team had suffered.  Sammy Pollock of the Montreal Canadiens had used expansion very well to develop players for Montreal.  And he would lend, for example, Danny Grant and Claude LaRose and Bobby Rousseau.  Rousseau and some of these guys were near the end of their careers, but they were good players.  They put people in our building and got our franchise up and running, but when they retired Sammy Pollock owned all of our draft choices.  So we went through some really lean years in the mid '70s.  And it really wasn't until we merged with Cleveland that we really turned around into a competitive team.  We had six or seven real good players, but then we got guys like Gilles Meloche, Al MacAdam, Greg Smith... numerous guys that came over, and all of the sudden we had 12 or 15 good players.  Then for three or four years in a row we had good runs.  We went to the quarterfinals, semifinals, and Finals.  That was largely due to the amalgamation of the Cleveland Barons and the North Stars.

NSPS:  That leads into my next question.  How difficult was it to go through those, as you say, "lean years," where the team had seemingly hit rock bottom in the mid '70s?

FB:  It was tough.  You had to kind of develop a survivor mentality.  I basically broke down what I did as a hockey player and said, "For me to play well, I have to go out and move the puck quickly.  I have to play the body.  Get six to ten takeouts in a game."  Then if, say, we lost a game 5-2, you'd have to ask, "Okay, did I do this, this, and this?"  It sounds selfish, but it's the only way you could keep your sanity because we were losing a lot of hockey games.  There were a lot of players coming in and out and losing their confidence.  And I got that nickname "Steady Freddie" and it was because I had figured out how to play the same game night in and night out.  That's what I did well and that was the best way for to help the hockey team, by not getting caught up in things I couldn't control.  I couldn't go out and score three or four goals because that's not my style of play.  But I could go out and do the things I knew I had to do to play well.  That's the kind of attitude that I developed.  Then when we merged with Cleveland I had to prove it all over again.  You have to earn your job and show that you belong on the hockey team.  And I had some really good years after that, too

NSPS:  Do you remember who gave you the nickname "Steady Freddie?"

FB:  It was kind of created by the fans, I think.  Or maybe some of the sportswriters that followed the team every game.  I think the fans always appreciate effort.  When you see someone putting out the effort to do what they can do... I think that's where it came from.  That's the way I was brought up.  You work hard, try to do your best at all times, and it serves you well over your life.  And it certainly did with the North Stars.  The fans always appreciated the effort that I put forth and I appreciated that they were behind me.  They knew I wasn't going to be able to do it all, but that's what a team is all about.  Everybody does their thing and you put all those pieces together and that's how you become successful.

NSPS:  How sweet was it for you to make the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981?  Would you consider that the highlight of your career?

FB:  Yeah.  But it was hugely disappointing in the fact that I was hurt.  I think one of the biggest highlights was when we won the quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens (1979-80).  We knocked them off and it was just a total upset.  They were the dynasty coming off seasons where the only lost seven or eight games during the year, but Gilles Meloche got really hot in the playoffs and we started getting confidence and we were able to win that series.  Then we went on to Philly and we were done.  Emotionally and physically we were just kind of spent.  But then the next year we got a little further and we got to the Finals. 

That's what's interesting about this year's playoffs and a team like L.A.  They've just waltzed right down the pipe and they've only played about four games each series.  It's huge, you know.  We were so banged up and beat up because you play hockey every second day at a higher and higher level, hitting eight to ten guys a night.  I wasn't able to play in the final game, the fifth game where we lost against the Islanders.  It was disappointing because I had a leadership role on the team and I really wanted to play.  But I had a very serious charlie horse and I couldn't play.  It's always tough when you can't play.  I was hoping we'd get another chance at it the next year.  But you don't get too many chances, you know?  That's what you have to realize.  It's interesting reading some of these articles, one player on the L.A. team said, "I've been around here 10-12 years and this is the closest I've gotten."  And he's looking at Drew Doughty and says, "Here you are, about 20 years old and you're in the Stanley Cup Finals with a good chance of winning it."  It's odd, you know, you get players who just happen to get traded around and they've won three or four Cups, and they're not even major pieces of the puzzle but they just got to the right place at the right time.  That's how careers go.  Some careers, guys play their whole career and never get close.  It's one of the toughest trophies if not the toughest trophy to win.

NSPS:  In your last year, you actually played for the Kings.  I'm not sure if a lot of North Stars fans remember that.

FB:  Yeah, I got traded at the end of training camp.  It was one of those things.  They brought in a new coach and he didn't have any experience from the NHL point of view.  I don't know the man at all, actually.  I wasn't given the opportunity to play too many games in training camp.  I was 33 years old, I think, so I went into the office and I said, "What's the deal here?  I don't mind, I've had to come to camp and make the team over half of my career, but it doesn't appear that you're even giving me a chance to make the team here."  And he wanted to go in a different direction.  That was hard to accept for me, you know, because I had that North Star tattooed on my ass for my whole career, and it was disappointing that I didn't get much of a chance to even make the team that year.

So, they traded me to L.A.  Of course I had a wife, the kids were both in school, and I had never been traded.  It was a big decision to make.  George Maguire was the general manager of L.A. at the time.  And I'd seen this happen to other older players, where you get traded at the end of your career and you know you're not really in the long range plans.  You're just hoping you can fill a hole for a year or two.  I didn't want to move out to L.A. and then get traded a month or two later and have to move my family again.  You know, I'm still married to the same woman and we've had a wonderful life together, and I wanted to respect all the support that I've gotten from my family.  So I said, "I'll come out there, but I want a guarantee that you won't trade me mid-year."  He (Maguire) wasn't willing to do that, so I decide maybe it was time to hang 'em up.  I told them I was retiring. 

A couple of months later, Roger Nielson took over for Maguire and he called me and said, "Look, will you reconsider?  Will you come out and play the last couple of months?  We need a good, steady example for these kids..."  Because that was always a problem in L.A.  There are so many distractions other than hockey and a lot of the young players would forget the real reason they were there was to play hockey and not to take surfing lessons or whatever.  So I said okay.  I went out and played the last 15 or 20 games.  It was a good experience.  I got along well with Roger and Mike Murphy.  But the way the cards went, Roger was interim general manager at the time.  He had gone out there with the hope of becoming general manager, but the owner ended up giving the job to Rogie Vachon.  And they missed the playoffs and decided they had to rebuild.  I'm now 34, and you don't rebuild with a guy who's 34.  So there was a mutual understanding that they weren't going to offer me another contract.  And then I did retire.

NSPS:  Your brother John played in the NHL, too.  He actually played in one game for the North Stars later in the 1980s, but when you were playing he was with the Detroit Red Wings.  What was it like to play against him?

FB:  Yes, he played in the same division so we played eight times a year against one another.  He played a very similar style to me.  He was a defensive defenseman.  So it wasn't a case of one of us challenging the other.  It was great.  He took a different route.  He was a later draft pick and played a few years in the minors before he got a chance to play.  He then got traded from Detroit along with Greg Smith, who was one of my old partners, to Washington.  It was right when Washington had a very good chance to actually win the Stanley Cup.  It was fun to see him in the league.  I remember Ray Scapinello, one of the veteran linesmen, came up to me and said, "Holy shit, there's a guy in Detroit who looks just like you!  I thought you got traded."

NSPS:  So what are you doing these days?

FB:  Well, I came back to Ottawa in 1985.  My dad was very sick and he passed away that year.  I worked with Rollerblade when they were a young company out of Minneapolis-St. Paul at the time.  Then I got a chance to get on the fire department, so I took that.  It was the Gloucester Fire Department, which was a smaller city, then they amalgamated all the cities around Ottawa into one.  So I ended up with the Ottawa Fire Department and retired just two years ago. 

The fire department is similar in a lot of ways to hockey.  It's very much a team-oriented job.  There's a lot of big highs and a lot of big lows, similar to hockey, and you have to rely on your teammates.  When the shit hits the fan, you have to know that the guy beside you is going to be there for you.  It was a very good second career to follow up hockey.  I certainly enjoyed my time there.  I broke my femur in my first year as a pro in Minnesota, when I was 20.  I had a strong leg and never really had any problem with my leg other than the fact that it was ten degrees off.  The break was so close to the knee joint that they just put me in a cast.  They didn't plate it or put screws in because they didn't want to disturb the joint itself.  So I ended up with a leg that was a little bit crooked from that.  Even though it didn't affect my hockey career, it eventually wore all the cartilage off the side of my kneecap.  I had a knee replacement about a year ago.  As I got to my last couple of years in the fire service my knee was getting pretty sore.  It's a very physically demanding job at times, so it was a little bit trying.  But I got through it.

NSPS:  Do you remember what your reaction was when you heard the North Stars were moving to Dallas?

FB:  You know, it didn't surprise me too much because of... well, you know... the ownership.  As we saw with Mr. Green.  And I wasn't there when that was going on.  But even the Cleveland owners, they were good people but they were absentee owners.  They weren't like the original North Stars owners who were all local businessmen, who all really knew the community and really seemed to bond with the fans and businesses and stuff.  I think you need that, you know?  It seemed to change a little bit, even though we had success, under the Gunds.  The fans got used to having a pretty good hockey team, but then it really tailed off.  Then they had another run at it in the early '90s when they got to the Finals again.  But it's tough to keep a consistently strong team. 

The same thing happened here in Ottawa.  Actually, it was ironic because Craig Hartsburg, who was one of my defense partners, ended up being the coach of the Senators here.  About halfway through the season, things were not going well and he said, "Freddie, this team reminds me so much of the North Stars after we got the Finals."  About '83 or so, the work ethic had kind of slipped off.  Management had kind of talked themselves into thinking they had a little better team than they really did.  When you get that kind of thing going on you can quickly slip from being a top level team.  You've got to make some really good decisions as the management.  You look back at the Islanders when they picked up Butch Goring the first year they won the Cup, and he was unbelievable in the playoffs.  He took faceoffs, he killed penalties, he scored short-handed goals.  He was a great, great addition to that team to get them over the hump. 

We got to the Finals against the Islanders, and the next year we slipped.  Our work ethic had tailed off and I think management was guilty of thinking we were better than we were.  I don't want to be blaming anybody.  It's tough to see that stuff and make the right decisions.  Potentially, I think we could have handled it a little bit better.  But it's tough to kind of see the air going out of the tires.  As a defenseman it's a very simple game.  If you only have to handle one-on-ones and two-on-twos, your job is pretty easy.  But when you're always getting outnumbered with two-on-ones and three-on-twos, you can tell your team is not playing the way it should.  And if you let them constantly outnumber you, you're in trouble.  The reason they're outnumbering you is because somebody's not working hard enough.  That's up to management to see that and take action to solve it.

That's what Paul MacLean has done here in Ottawa.  He really turned this thing around.  They had a much more successful year, and it's the work ethic.  They're not getting outworked anymore.  They're coming back now in the third period instead of tailing off.  It's a credit to management here.  It took them a long time.  They went through four coaches before they finally got it figured out.  But it's a pretty simple game.  You've got to outwork the guy who you're lined up against and, if you can't do that, you're not going to win.

NSPS:  I think that wraps up the questions.  Did you have any final thoughts or anything you'd like to add?

"I had that North Star tattooed on my ass for my whole career."
FB:  I just really want to thank the people of Minnesota for being so welcoming when we got back there.  It was great to see so many old die-hard North Stars fans.  You've got a wonderful new building there. 

I had the chance to cumminicate with (Wild owner) Craig Leipold a couple of times.  I'm a member of the Ottawa Senators Alumni that we started in 1992 when they got the team back.  And I told Mr. Leipold that we had nobody that played for the Ottawa Senators.  The last time the Ottawa Senators were here was 1927.  So my brother John and I and a few guys got together.  We had 20 to 25 ex-NHLers living within an hour of Ottawa, so we said, "Let's put an alumni together."  That was right after the (Alan) Eagleson fiasco where he got sent to jail for stealing money from the pension funds, so we had a reason to get it going. 

Now there's the NHL Alumni, which is an umbrella group over all the alumnis.  I'd like to see the active players take a little more interest.  I tell you, I played for thirteen years, and that's a long career. And I've already been in the alumni for 28 years.  So when you look at it that way, it's to every active player's best interest to try to make the NHL Alumni the best organization it can be, to help as many people as possible.  It's an unbelievable group when you think about it.  You've got everybody from Sidney Crosby at the bottom end to, you know, Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe at the other end.  Quite a remarkable group of people. 

It's unfortunate that the active players are probably not educated as to how different it used to be.  I remember going to Minnesota in 1970, and a first round draft pick would make twenty-five grand.  Then ten years later a first round pick would make $250,000, after the WHA had come and gone.  I don't begrudge the guys for making the money they're making, but... "Hockey's greatest family."  That's what they call the NHL Alumni.  I'll never forget, I stood up in one of the meetings and said, "If I was making $500,000 a year, and my dad was making $50,000 a year, and my grandfather was trying to survive on $5,000 a year... we'd be helping one another out."  Do you know what I mean?

NSPS:  I do.

FB:  That's what a family does.  So now you've got guys making $5 million a year, and you've got alumni who are 70 years old and their pension is five grand.  Five grand total, for the whole year.  They've done some things, they've improved some of the pensions for the older guys, and that's all good.  But, (younger players) don't understand.  One thing you can always learn from is older people.  They tell you how hard it was for them when they started out and got married, and they didn't have this or didn't have that.  We need to learn from that.  It's wonderful that the guys today have what they have.  They're very talented.  But you need to remember your history, too.  There's a way to give back and help the big group out.  I know Sidney Crosby's probably not thinking about being an alumni.  Or maybe he was a little bit when he was dealing with those concussions.  But it's a great group of people.  No matter whether I played with a guy or against a guy, he's a hockey player, and he understands what I understand.  You can go and see guys and right away you have an instant connection and instant bond with them.  The older guys seem to have that more than the younger guys.  I guess maybe we weren't as financially secure when we got out of the game.  We had to stick together a little bit.  Hopefully that continues because it's a great organization.  Paul MacLean, who's coach of the Ottawa Senators, I played one or two years against him.  When he came to town and I was introduced to him I was asked, "Do you know Paul MacLean?"  I said, "Yeah, the last time I saw Paul MacLean we were trying to kill each other!"

There's a good book out by Carl Brewer and Susan Foster called The Power of Two.  If you're interested in hockey, it shows how we went from no players' association at all to where we are today.  It's not a hard read, it's a couple hundred pages.  But it's a very worthwhile read for someone who's interested in hockey and the history of the players' association.

NSPS:  Thanks a lot, Freddie.  Like I said at the beginning of the interview, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.  And thanks again for coming down to the reunion.

FB:  That was fun.  At first I said "Oh, I don't know..."  There was a lot of uncertainty about what was going to happen.  I'm really glad we went, though, because we had a really great time.  Brad and Lori Maxwell did a lot of work and did a great job of pulling it all together, and that's tough to do.  It's hard to get the cooperation sometimes.  But hopefully the new owner there will embrace the alumni.  Even though they're not Wild guys, they're NHL Alumni, and Minnesota's been a great area for developing hockey players.  There's a lot of guys there that could add to the success of that franchise.

Senators Alumni

1 comment:

  1. What a fun interview with Freddie and it was a great time getting to see him and his bride after all these years. Hopefully we can have another reunion in 5 years and get more of the players from the past to join in.
    best to Freddie and his family.