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Stars' Crawford happy to be back in the cauldron

Monday, 08.10.2009 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

By Eric Stephens - Correspondent

Marc Crawford spent last season high up in arenas across the NHL providing color commentary for the CBC as an analyst for Hockey Night in Canada. No doubt, it was a privileged vantage point and it provided a comfortable living for a longtime coach who owns a Stanley Cup ring.

Deep down in his heart, however, Crawford knew the television booth wasn't where he belonged.

"I've been in the NHL a long time," the newest coach of the Dallas Stars told by phone. "I really missed not being involved with a team. I can remember one night specifically. It was Vancouver against Edmonton and Edmonton had lost 3-0. I watched Craig MacTavish behind the bench and I just thought, I even missed the miserable feeling of losing and knowing the dejection of not getting the job done.

"I looked at him and thought, 'God, he's dying a thousand deaths here.' I wanted that feeling."

Crawford made no secret of his desire to be back behind the bench and Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk gave him that opportunity in naming him to succeed Dave Tippett on June 11. The 48-year-old Belleville, Ontario native has a 470 wins, 361 losses, 103 ties and 53 overtime losses over 13 seasons with Quebec, Colorado, Vancouver and Los Angeles.

Like the majority of longtime coaches, there are high marks and low points on a resume and Crawford certainly has had his share of each.

There is the Cup victory in 1996 with the Avalanche, a Jack Adams Award as coach of the year with Quebec in 1995 and the appointment as coach of the 1998 Canadian Olympic team. There are six-plus seasons of building Vancouver into a division champion and a franchise-record 246 victories with the Canucks.

There's also just one series victory with the Canucks in four playoff appearances and the rough two-year stint as coach of the Kings. And, of course, there's the infamous Steve Moore on-ice attack in 2004 with Crawford being named in still-unresolved lawsuits.

Nieuwendyk, who played for Canada under Crawford in Nagano, said the fiery bench boss is a good fit for the Stars, who have a blend of young talent and veteran leadership.

"I think Marc has a history of getting the most out of his best players," Nieuwendyk told

Crawford interviewed for the New York Islanders' vacancy last summer but lost out to Scott Gordon when GM Garth Snow opted for the reigning AHL coach of the year to lead the Islanders' youth movement. He threw his hat in the ring again was thrilled when Nieuwendyk called him with the news.

"To be quite truthful, I was both surprised and elated," he said. "Surprised because I didn't think they were going to make a change. You look at Dave Tippett and obviously he did a great job with the Dallas Stars. On the other side, I was thrilled to get the job.

"Being in TV gave me a much different perspective on the game. I feel so refreshed and prepared and anxious to work now. My frame of mind is great."

Besieged by injuries and inconsistent play, Dallas struggled to a 36-35-11 record a year after reaching the Western Conference finals. The poor season ended a string of five straight playoff appearances and cost Tippett his job.

Crawford believes he's the person to get the Stars back on track.

"The Stars have been a terrific team for a lot of years, almost since day one when they got to Dallas," he said. "They have a great structure and a great core group. They slipped last year.

"I think the most important thing is the players want to prove they're still a very good team in the NHL. I want to show that I'm a good coach. We're all part of brining the Stars back to the elite status."

It is certainly an opportunity to rebuild his image as a proven coach following two sub-.500 seasons with the Kings that ended with a pink slip. Crawford said he feels he was beginning to plant the seeds for a good future in L.A.

"I thought we were starting to build the culture that needed to happen along with Dean [Lombardi]," he said. "Obviously he felt he needed someone more in tune with his thoughts and that's fine. I think he was more comfortable with Terry [Murray] and I think that's fair.

"I was really pleased with how we developed those players. Anze Kopitar. Dustin Brown. Patrick O'Sullivan. Michael Cammalleri. They all improved quite a bit under our coaching staff. I think they're going to be a good team. Was I perfect there? No, I wasn't. Obviously I made some mistakes and I'm determined to learn from those."

Of the criticism that Crawford rode the Kings' young players hard, he said, "I don't think that's true. Did they develop under me? Yes, they did. You'd be hard-pressed in any way, shape or performance to say we didn't do a good job."

Now sitting in Dallas, Crawford said the year away allowed him to look the game from above, adding that he got a better feeling on how teams implement their system and a "better book on players," particularly third- and fourth-liners.

The fire still burns within and the edge is still there but "Crow" said he's a better coach now than before.

"I want to bring a voice of common sense," he said. "This team is a good team with good habits and they've gotten away from it a bit. Let's face it, they've gotten their wake-up call. With Joe coming in here and myself coming in, now we just have to concentrate with the structure we play with.

"The big factor is the players wanting to make those improvements. I've sensed they're set on wanting to be a top team."

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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