A year ago this week, Jason Fram was in Victoria, B.C., starring in the 2018 U SPORTS Men’s Hockey All-Star Series.
The former Alberta Golden Bear was playing against Hockey Canada’s World Junior Prospects, suiting up alongside a roster full of Canada’s best university hockey players for the second straight year.
Now, the 24-year-old Delta, B.C., native is living out his hockey dream, more than 8,500 kilometres from home, in China, as a member of the Kunlun Red Star of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
Fram has suited up in 15 games in the KHL this season, a league which is widely considered the second-best in the world, behind only the NHL. The 24-team league is primarily based in Russia, as the Red Star is the lone member who calls China home.
After finishing his third year of eligibility with the Golden Bears, Fram decided to make the jump to the pros, signing in the KHL for the Beijing-based Red Star.
The KHL restricts the number of import players on their clubs, with non-Russian based teams needing to have at least 10 non-imports on their rosters, which are classified as either Russians or, in the case of Kunlun, Chinese. For Fram, the jump to the pros only made sense, and with the defenceman receiving Chinese national status thanks to his heritage, the time was now.
“My mother was born in Singapore and grew up there until she came to Canada for university,” says Fram. "So I’m half Chinese on my mother’s side – my great-grandparents were born in mainland China.”
Although nearly one million people live in Edmonton where Fram attended school for two and a half years, the transition of moving to one of the biggest cities in the world isn’t something that one can prepare for.
“I had never been to China until this year in May when I went for a two-week camp in Beijing. There’s definitely a culture shock coming over here just with the way people are and living in a city with over 25 million people in it. Playing overseas was a change for sure, just with so much travel to Russia and back it can be very difficult with all of the time changes and how your body feels during and after road trips.”
Fram has split time this season between the Red Star and their affiliate club KRS-BSU of the VHL, which is also based in Beijing.
The highlight of the rookie’s season to date took place on Oct. 25, with Fram registering a pair of goals – including his first in the KHL – in the Red Star’s 3-0 win over Avangard Omsk, kickstarting a stretch of five points in five games for the blueliner.
“That’s definitely a goal and a game that I will remember for a long time. I remember being in a little shock at first and by the time I got to the bench it started to kick in that I had scored, and that’s when the smile came out.”
After initially electing to pursue pro hockey following a five-year career in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Spokane Chiefs, Fram suited up in eight games between the American Hockey League (AHL) and the ECHL before having a change of heart. Golden Bears general manager and assistant coach Stan Marple lured Fram to the U SPORTS ranks midway through the 2016-17 season to join the program.
He quickly came to realize that U SPORTS is a fantastic choice for players who are looking to play high-quality hockey while keeping their options open professionally amidst pursuing an education.
“I think it’s crazy to think that only a few years ago, I thought that going to school would be a step back,” Fram says. “I know for myself I tried to make sure that I never gave up on myself and the idea that I could go and play professionally after school.”
From there, his legacy at the U of A began. In parts of three seasons with the Golden Bears, he was a force on the offensive end of the ice, finishing with 76 points in 89 cobmined Canada West regular season, postseason and U SPORTS championship games and receiving no shortage of accolades in his tenure with the program. In both 2017-18 and 2018-19, he was named the U SPORTS Defenseman of the Year, as well as a U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian and Canada West First Team All-Star.
Fram helped the Golden Bears once again reach the pinnacle of Canadian university hockey in 2018, with the program winning win their 16th national championship. The blueliner tallied three assists in the three games at the event, helping Alberta hoist the David Johnston University Cup. He also led the Golden Bears to three Canada West Championships in each of his three seasons with the program.
Fram was a part of a star-studded list of Golden Bears to transition to the pros following the 2018-19 season, with teammates Luke Philp, Zach Sawchenko, Stephane Legault, Brandon Magee and Graeme Craig all joining the professional ranks.
“Everyone knows that it’s a great program and it kind of sells itself. But every year as there are guys making the jump to pro and I think that U SPORTS hockey in general, not just U of A, is starting to get more recognition for guys getting into the professional game.”
As for Marple, he acknowledges the character of Fram, and what he brought to the program over his U SPORTS career.
“Jason played two and a half years with the Bears and he was a very good player for us and an excellent person,” Marple says. “In saying that, we were more than happy to have him play for us at all, and we are very glad that we could help him on his development path and help him achieve his goal of playing pro hockey.”
As for what’s next, Fram’s goals within the game go far beyond his professional aspirations. The defenceman has set his sights on representing the Chinese men’s national hockey team at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. China, who will share a preliminary round group with Canada, USA and Germany at the event, is set to make its Olympic debut in men’s ice hockey.
While there are still some hurdles that Fram will need to overcome to participate, he recognizes the magnitude of potentially suiting up at the Olympic Games.
“The possibility of being there is an incredible honour,” he says. “It would be an amazing, crazy experience that I would never forget, and all my fingers are crossed, hoping it works out.”
Fram believes that hockey is a budding sport in the nation, seeing first-hand the growth of the game.
“Hockey is starting to grow in China, with so many people here it’s easy to see why and with the Chinese mentality, adds Fram. “Once they set their sights on something it’s all in.”
Fram, who plans to finish his commerce degree at the U of A through correspondence and classes in the spring and summer, shared his advice to U SPORTS student-athletes looking to replicate Fram’s transition to the professional ranks.
“I think they should never give up on their dream and every day make sure that you work towards it on and off the ice, but at the same time, enjoy the moment while you’re there.”
As for his own legacy as a student-athlete, Marple acknowledges that Fram will forever be enshrined at the U of A.
“He will always be a Bear in our eyes.”
Matt Johnson is a third-year english student at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, where he serves as the Sports Information Assistant with Huskie Athletics. Previously, Matt was a sportswriter for the campus newspaper, The Sheaf. His portfolio also includes bylines in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post and SCOREGolf Magazine.
Follow Matt on Twitter @byMattJohnson