MANNHEIM, Germany – Fred Brathwaite is one of few black players who have played hockey at the highest level. Born in Ottawa as son of parents who emigrated from Barbados, Brathwaite appeared in 255 NHL games for the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets before playing in Russia for Ak Bars Kazan and Avangard Omsk.
Brathwaite represented Canada in several tournaments, most notably in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 World Championships, the last one held Germany.
Since 2008 he’s under contract in Mannheim, Germany, where he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in his first season. This year, Adler Mannheim was less successful as the “Eagles” were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
In this interview, he does not only talk about his career, but also about what fans and his fellow countrymen from the Canadian national team can expect in Mannheim when Germany will play host to the 2010 IIHF World Championship.
Last year you were the league’s MVP, this year your team finished in ninth place. How comfortable did you feel this season?
Of course right now I’m disappointed we lost, but overall for myself I felt alright. I felt pretty comfortable. I played a lot of hockey. We were lucky enough to go to the Spengler Cup, which is a great tournament also. Unfortunately it’s over, but for myself it was an okay season.
You played in three different hockey cultures; North America, Russia, Germany. What did you take from each of these experiences?
I think it made my game stronger. Myself going to Russia made me a stronger person. I appreciate the things I have and I appreciate the different people. Going to Russia was tough for me, but I made a lot of good friends and got to play a little bit different style of hockey. It made me a little bit better. Over here in Germany it has been great, the guys are great, the cities are great. Everything has been pretty good. Obviously, playing in the NHL is a dream of mine and I would always like to go back to the NHL if I could, but being in Germany is a good place to be.
You seem to have plans to stay longer in Germany.
I have another year on my contract, but we’ll see what happens. This was kind of a disappointing end of the season, so we see what they have planned for me and the team.
How would you describe Mannheim to a Canadian, as many players and fans will be coming for the World Championship soon?
Mannheim is a nice city. We have Heidelberg just around the corner too, which is a nice spot. Hopefully the weather is going to be nice for them. People in Mannheim are really nice and friendly. People coming here will have a good time. There are many restaurants, there are a lot of things to do. Hopefully they enjoy themselves while they’re here.
Will you stay here or go back to Canada as the season came to an end?
When I get the chance I will go back home and spend some time in Ottawa and a little bit in Florida and try to regroup and get ready for the following season.
You played in the World Championship in Germany nine years ago. How was this experience for you?
It was in Hanover in 2001. It was a disappointing loss for us, for myself, for Canada (4-3 OT in the quarterfinals against the U.S.), but that time in Germany helped bring me back to Germany again. Hanover was nice, the people were really friendly and lots of them speak English. It was a great experience.
So, how is it for you in Mannheim as a Canadian?
There are many Canadians and English-speaking people here. There are a lot of things to do. I also met some guys of the army base, really nice guys. There’s not a lot of stuff, but if I need something to make me feel like back home, someone takes me on the base and gets me whatever it needs to make me feel like home. But it’s a good city with a lot of shops, cafés to go to and a lot of little things to do. I enjoy playing golf too, when the weather is good.
Some years ago you were in a rap video. Do you do some music too?
(laughs) Yeah, that was a long time ago, I was maybe for ten seconds in the video, not even, but I guess my face is there. But I just kind of listen to it. I was just lucky enough to play in St. Louis and to be there and see it for a couple of seconds.
You travelled around much with your teams. What was your strangest experience?
I think to go to Russia for the first time with Team Canada was a little bit different. The language and everything was totally different. The first time you go there, you don’t really know what to expect and there were some weird things. But living there wasn’t that as bad as I thought, but the first time was special and I don’t really know what was the weirdest thing I saw. I just remember I wasn’t very comfortable. Maybe it was the food.
When you went back to play club hockey there, how was it then?
When I went to Kazan, I was lucky enough to have some good guys there like Alexei Morozov. He took me under his wing, he really took care of me. There was also another guy, Gennadi Razin, he’s still in Russia, too. Those two guys really brought me under their wing and helped me a lot, and helped me with the Russian, which made my stay over there much easier. Being in Kazan was great because we ended winning the championship and it worked really well for be there.
Did it go well with your second Russian team, Avangard Omsk, as well?
Omsk was good but it wasn’t as much English-speaking people there. Being in Siberia, it was cold, and at that time I left my girlfriend in Chicago, which was tough. At that time it was tough to go to Siberia and do that.
What are your plans for the next few years?
My goal is try to stay healthy, try to play as well, as long and at the highest level as I can.
What should our readers do and not do in Mannheim?
There are three restaurants you have to go, Giovanni, Akropolis, a Greek restaurant, and Supan, a very good Thai restaurant. And also visit Heidelberg, it’s a very nice city and there are also a lot of things to do between Mannheim and Heidelberg. Don’ts? There’s not much I could think about. Don’t forget your umbrella as it can be rainy. It’s a safe area, although there are maybe some places you should not go as in any city. There’s a lot of good things around here, the people are really friendly and make you feel like home.