ST. PAUL, Minn. – The police report on Matt Frattin's untimely and unruly decision to clean out the garage two summers ago read right out of a college sitcom script.
Cups, dishes, a kitchen table and a lawnmower were heaved into the street in an early-morning alcohol-fueled tirade, forcing a redirection of traffic until the city could remove the debris. He and a former North Dakota teammate were charged with disorderly conduct. Frattin's mess, however, was far from cleaned up.
The next month, he was arrested for drunken driving. Though Frattin was acquitted of that charge, coach Dave Hakstol suspended him from the team and stripped him of his scholarship. Frattin headed home to face his parents in Edmonton, Alberta, where he worked jobs in the family bakery and on a concrete crew.
"For the first week, I was kind of down," Frattin said. "After that, the biggest thing was just trying to move forward and gain confidence in myself."
He began counseling, cut back on partying and vowed to stop squandering his talent. Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2007, Frattin could have turned pro. But he wanted to rejoin his friends and help the Fighting Sioux win a national championship. Frattin took out a student loan and returned to Grand Forks when Hakstol reinstated him for the second semester.
He readjusted to the ice, the team and the campus. His financial aid was restored.
Last fall, he really took off. North Dakota has reached the Frozen Four and plays Michigan in the semifinals Thursday night in Minnesota. Frattin is one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker award, given to college hockey's best player.
"This young man has gone through some real life issues. I'm not even going to call them struggles. They're just real life things over the last couple of years," Hakstol said. "But he's really grown through dealing with them straight up, through dealing with them honestly. He's really grown from it, and that's from a person as well as a hockey player."
Frattin, 6-foot and 205 pounds, was the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Player of the Year. With 36 goals and 24 assists in 43 games, he leads the country in scoring. He is a dominant presence on the ice for the streaking Sioux (32-8-3), who haven't lost since late January.
"We've got a rule on our team: If you enter the offensive zone and Frattin's on the ice, you have to give it to him," Hakstol deadpanned last month after Frattin's second game-winning goal in as many nights gave North Dakota the WCHA playoff title in a double overtime win against Denver.
Frattin has been thriving on a line with fellow seniors Brad Malone and Evan Trupp, which the school's sports information department has taken to calling the "Pony Express."
"I don't know if I thought he'd have 36 goals or whatever. I might've been a little bit surprised by that, but we knew what Matt was capable of when he came in," teammate Chay Genoway said. "He's a big strong kid. When he had his back up against the wall with what he went through a couple years ago, you could just see a change in him. I think the sky was the limit for him. He elevated his game, and I think it's a pretty neat story."
Frattin is 23 and spoke by phone last week about his change of attitude.
"I think I definitely had something to prove," he said.
North Dakota has seven national championships, but none since 2000. The Sioux are supported as strongly as any team in college hockey, and thousands of their fans are expected to make the five-hour drive to St. Paul this week to turn the Xcel Energy Center into a sea of green and white. At the WCHA tournament, they serenaded Frattin with a "Ho-bey Ba-ker!" chant and cheered loudly all weekend.
This is what Frattin had in mind when he narrowed his college choices to Michigan State, New Hampshire and North Dakota.
"It's pretty tough to find the culture that you have in Grand Forks in any other part of the world," Frattin said. "Everybody kind of lives and dies with hockey."
Frattin and his six fellow seniors — Genoway is in his fifth year after taking a medical hardship redshirt last season — have a tight bond that formed as freshmen. It has grown as they progressed through the ups and downs of their college careers.
When they won the WCHA regular season and playoff championships, they refused to touch the trophies. They're waiting for the ultimate prize.
"These guys have set the bar," Hakstol said. "They know what they want to accomplish."