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Last-place Thrashers fire Fraser

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DULUTH, Ga. (AP) _ Of all the losses the Atlanta Thrashers endured with coach Curt Fraser _ and there were plenty _ two in the past month stuck out to general manager Don Waddell.

The Thrashers blew late two-goal leads and lost in overtime at Washington on Dec. 5, and again at home against Carolina last Friday night.

``They're unacceptable,'' Waddell said, referring to those losses. ``You can't lose a game when you have a two-goal lead in the third period.''

Fraser was fired Thursday after 3 1/2 seasons, and Waddell will be the interim coach when Atlanta plays at Carolina on Friday night. Waddell's only previous coaching experience was in the minor leagues a decade ago, when he was coach and GM in San Diego.

The news came hours before the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, also owned by AOL Time Warner Inc., fired coach Lon Kruger.

Fraser is the fourth NHL coach to be dismissed since the start of the season, following Darryl Sutter (San Jose), Greg Gilbert (Calgary) and Bob Hartley (Colorado).

Waddell said he made his decision Tuesday, a day after Atlanta lost 5-1 to Toronto.

``Talking with Curt ... he was devastated after that loss,'' Waddell said. ``This is probably the toughest business decision I've ever made. He's a good friend of mine, a good person.''

Assistant coach Tim Bothwell also was fired. Goaltending coach Steve Weeks will help Waddell as an assistant, and defenseman Uwe Krupp will act as an assistant while on injured reserve.

Waddell said there was no timetable for hiring a permanent replacement, and the new coach will have the opportunity to hire his own assistants.

``The bottom line is we have to win more games,'' said forward Dany Heatley, last season's Rookie of the Year. ``It's going to come down to us anyway. You can bring in whoever you want, but bottom line, it's going to come down to these 20 guys in this room. We've got to do it.''

Atlanta is 8-20-1-4 this season, and Fraser leaves with a record of 64-173-31-15.

``I think we all have to be held accountable,'' Waddell said at a news conference. ``I'll tell the players today when we meet that they got a good guy, a good person, fired.''

After an encouraging November, in which the team went 6-6, the Thrashers faded to 2-6-0-3 in December. Waddell said the players might have begun ignoring Fraser during the recent skid.

``He tried everything with the guys, the message just wasn't getting through,'' Waddell said. ``The players start tuning the coach out.''

The Thrashers had higher expectations this year after acquiring Shawn McEachern and Vyacheslav Kozlov to complement young stars Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk.

But the new combination never worked, and the Thrashers started the season 0-8-0-1. The team signed free-agent goalie Byron Dafoe in November, but the defense continued to be shoddy, allowing a league-high 124 goals.

That's where Waddell plans to make most of the changes.

``We're going to be a little more aggressive defensively,'' he said. ``We lose some of those 1-on-1 battles in our end, so let's try to out-man the other team.''

Atlanta also added free-agent defensemen Richard Smehlik and Krupp, but both have spent a good part of this season on injured reserve.

``Was it all his fault? No,'' center Tony Hrkac said. ``And if we keep on doing this, it's going to start with the players. It's a tough situation for everybody.''

The 44-year-old Fraser played 12 years in the NHL with Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota. He was hired by the Thrashers after a successful coaching career in the minors at Milwaukee and Orlando.

``We got as much as we could out of Curt,'' Waddell said.
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