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FEATURE: Crawford Back to Old Self After Injury-Derailed Seasons

For the first time in two years, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford is able to focus on hockey, not concussions, as Training Camp begins

by Chris Kuc @ChrisKuc / Blackhawks.com

From flashing his glove to rob Zack Smith during a five-on-five drill on the first day of Blackhawks training camp to flashing a smile in the dressing room a short time later, Corey Crawford appears to be his old self.

Gone is the Crawford of the last two years during which concussions derailed his career - not to mention his life - and back is the one who was healthy, happy and one of the NHL's most productive goaltenders while helping the Blackhawks capture two Stanley Cups.

The in-between is something Crawford wouldn't wish on his worst enemy.

"It was pretty bad. Some of the stuff, you don't really know…," Crawford said Friday before his voice trailed off.

"You don't realize how different you are," Crawford continued. "You can feel the symptoms but there are other things like anxiety. I just noticed a difference in that. It was more than the usual, every day human anxiety or some days when you're feeling down. It was pretty heavy."

A year ago Saturday, Crawford opened training camp still dealing with the effects of a concussion suffered during the middle of the 2017-18 season and didn't play his first game of '18-19 until Oct. 28, ending a 10-month nightmare that featured many more bad days than good. The return lasted until Dec. 16, 2018 when Crawford suffered a second concussion when his head hit the goalpost following a collision with teammate Dylan Strome. Crawford returned for the final month of the season before embarking on an offseason that focused on getting healthy and spending time with his wife and young son.

"I had some tough luck with those injuries," Crawford said. "It wears on you when you have those symptoms. My head was blowing up for nine or 10 months and you wonder if it's ever going away. It was just kind of, 'When is this going to end?' It's hard to describe. You almost have to go through it to really know what it's like. Then you think eventually it has to calm down at some point. When it did my thought was just to go back and play. Even when I got hit the second time, it's like, 'It will turn around again eventually. Just try and move on. Try and move on and work as hard as you can to come back.'

"Now that I'm feeling good I don't even think about it," Crawford added. "I don't worry about getting hurt. It's a game - whatever happens, happens. It's a nice relief to be back at it and not have to come into like last year coming into the season feeling crappy and wondering when I'm going to be better."

Video: Corey Crawford at IndyCar Grand Prix

It was then that Crawford brought up NFL quarterback Andrew Luck and his recent retirement at the age of 29 due to continued injuries and subsequent rehabs into the conversation.

"You kind of have an idea if you've been injured enough of what he's feeling and just the constant, over and over and over," Crawford said. "That's what it is. You have to have that will to battle back and go through it again during those tough days. So, right now, I still have that will to keep pushing and get back to where I need to be."

By all accounts, Crawford is there and he - and the Blackhawks - believe he will be at the top of his game during the 2019-20 season.

"He's back to himself as far as his personality and his excitement to be back playing and ready for the season to begin," Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman said. "I think he's in a good frame of mind. He trained well. I think he's ready for a big season. I know he's a big part of our team. He has been for years and we expect that to be the same this season."

That dark period has made Crawford appreciate where he is today: already on the ice preparing for a new season.

"Oh, yeah, big time," Crawford said. "To be able to be here and be healthy and to play, for sure. Especially as your career goes on you realize that bad luck happens, injuries happen and I'm very fortunate to come back and get back at it."

Crawford also feels fortunate to be able to enjoy time at home with wife, Kristy, and 2-year-old son, Cooper, when he leaves the rink.

"Having such a good family at home makes it's kind of nice to have a good switch from coming here where I have the rink and have the guys and then have that other part, too, where I can go home and wrestle Cooper and be with (Kristy)," Crawford said. "I'm really fortunate to be able to have them at home to do that."

On the ice, Crawford will have some competition for playing time after the Blackhawks signed veteran Robin Lehner to a one-year, free-agent contract. Some goalies would feel threatened by the acquisition of a Vezina Trophy nominee, but not Crawford.

"No, not at all," he said. "I mean, we're not in control of what management does. You have to look at it as management trying to improve our team. I would love to play 82 game but I don't think there are too many guys who have done that. However it plays out, we have to have two guys at the top of their games and I think it's just going to make our team better."

Another topic of discussion for Crawford in the coming months will be what his future holds when the season ends. The 34-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent following the '19-20 season.

"I would like to keep playing," Crawford said. "This is like the first time for me to be in this situation and I haven't really thought about it that much to be honest. It's just kind of, play the next game.

"I think my play and my health will probably determine my future here, for sure, like it always has," Crawford added. "If you're not at the right level and the team feels like you're not helping then the chances are you won't stay here. That's good. I've always been a competitive guy, confident in what I can do. It's another challenge."

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