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THE VERDICT: Crawford in Chicago to serve

The Blackhawks newest assistant coach spoke with Bob Verdi about three decades in the game and what lies ahead in Chicago

by Bob Verdi / Blackhawks.com

Here's a given. As a recently-appointed Blackhawks assistant, Marc Crawford brings acumen, experience and even championship jewelry to Head Coach Jeremy Colliton's staff. 

What we really want to know is this: how was it to have Troy Murray on your bench? En route to a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996, did Crawford have any premonition that Murray would become the popular analyst on WGN Radio's award-winning broadcast team beside John Wiedeman?

During stoppages in play, did Troy just start talking? Reading commercials? Dissecting a scoring play?

  
 

"I don't recall any of that," Crawford said. "I do know that Troy was an important part of our success. I saw him with Pittsburgh the year before and felt he could provide the kind of veteran leadership we wanted in Denver. He had a good disposition and a sense of humor. He had a personality and he built relationships - just like we have to do now as coaches."

When Colliton took over last November, he was 33, as was Crawford when he debuted in 1994 with the Quebec Nordiques and became the youngest coach to win the Jack Adams award. The franchise moved to Colorado, and the Avalanche ran the table during a postseason that included a gritty Western Conference Semifinals conquest over the Blackhawks. Crawford had a fabulous goalie, Patrick Roy, and an able assistant, Joel Quenneville.

Crawford moved on to the big job with the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars. Over the last three seasons, he was an assistant with the Ottawa Senators, until being installed as interim head coach at the end of last year. Crawford has done a lot and won a lot - 556 times. But now, at age 58, he finally joins an Original Six franchise. And he didn't have to ask his son, Dylan, a video expert working under the Blackhawks' great video coach Matt Meacham, for a scouting report.

"Does it matter, coming to a place like Chicago? After all these years? Absolutely," said Marc. "History. It's a tremendous organization, but I love the history of our game. I grew up in Belleville, Ontario, near where Bobby Hull is from. Many a time I would skate onto a rink up there thinking, 'Bobby Hull played on this same ice.' I'm very excited, working in a terrific hockey city with so much talent and a man like Jeremy, who is really smart and confident."

Colliton and Crawford met for the first time a couple weeks ago, and a bond was instant. They finished each other's sentences. Crawford hasn't abandoned thoughts of again being a head coach, but with the Blackhawks he says his task is to be a "major sounding board." It is possible he will work with Sheldon Brookbank on the penalty kill, but nothing is for sure. Colliton has also added Tomas Mitell to the think tank. 

"I don't want to sound spiritual, but I am going there to serve," said Crawford. "To help Jeremy's learning curve, to ease his adjustment. I mentioned relationships before, talking about Troy. That's what it's about now. Players now have interaction with more specialists. Strength, mental, nutrition, conditioning. They are more able to take charge of their own development, but they still want input, direction. As an assistant, which I really look forward to, maybe I can be a little closer to players than as a head coach. It used to be if the coach didn't talk to you, that was a good thing. No more."

While watching the ongoing Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, Colliton and Crawford concurred that those two teams are playing hard in June because they are hard to play against. The Blackhawks have many miles to skate before achieving such an appellation. They yielded 292 goals last season, and goalkeeping was not the problem.

"There is no question we have to become better in that area," said Crawford. "Better habits. Better defensively, without stifling ourselves offensively, where the Blackhawks have plenty of weapons."

Crawford arrived in the NHL playing for the Canucks, who made it to the Final in 1982. In 2011, Quenneville's Blackhawks, depleted by salary cap departures from their 2010 Cup squad, waited until the last night of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs. Crawford's Stars needed a victory in Minnesota to secure the eighth berth.

"I have memories of that vividly etched in my mind," groused Crawford. "We lost the game, I lost my job. Tough business."        

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