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McCrimmon carved lengthy NHL career

by Adam Kimelman / Philadelphia Flyers
Brad McCrimmon, who spent 18 seasons as a defenseman in the NHL and was in his first season as coach of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, was among those killed in Wednesday's plane crash.

McCrimmon, 52, had spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings before resigning May 19 to pursue head coaching opportunities. He took the job with Lokomotiv on May 29.

After an outstanding junior career as a high-scoring defenseman with the Brandon Wheat Kings, McCrimmon, a native of Dodsland, Sask., was selected by the Boston Bruins with the 15th pick of the 1979 draft. In 1,222 NHL games with the Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers and Phoenix Coyotes, McCrimmon had 81 goals, 403 points and was a plus-444, the eighth-best total in history and third among defensemen.

McCrimmon was selected seven slots after the Bruins took Ray Bourque, with the hope the youngsters could form a top defense pairing for years to come. However, McCrimmon had just 9 points in 78 games in 1981-82, his third season, and was dealt in June 1982 to the Flyers for goalie Pete Peeters. In Philadelphia, McCrimmon was paired with Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Howe, with the result being three of McCrimmon's best seasons -- from 1984-87 he was a combined plus-180 with 31 goals and 138 points. His plus-83 rating in 1985-86 is tied for the 10th-best single-season total in League history.

In that same time span, Howe was a plus-193, topped by a plus-85 rating in 1985-86, with 57 goals and 197 points. The Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1985 and 1987.

"We were (a combined) plus-200 in three years," Howe said in a 2007 interview. "I don't think Brad ever got the credit he deserved. Brad was a very quality hockey player, but just because players are great players doesn’t mean they play well together. We had a great chemistry. We roomed together -- we basically did everything together. It was great. You never had to think the game, everything was instinct. We knew where each other was going to be. And even though we’d both screw up, have bad nights, nobody every pointed the finger at each other. We'd always take the blame even if maybe the other guy deserved it. We were true teammates in every sense of the word."

After five seasons with the Flyers, he was traded to the Calgary Flames for a pair of draft picks in August 1987, which is where McCrimmon had his greatest team success. Having previously fallen to the Oilers twice in the Cup Final, he helped the Flames beat the Montreal Canadiens to win the franchise's only Stanley Cup in 1989.

He had just 3 assists in 22 playoff games, but his strong all-round play and leadership were instrumental in the Flames' championship run. The following season he was named team captain.

In June 1990 he was traded to the Red Wings, and in 1992 Howe joined him there. Their renewed partnership lasted just one season, however, as McCrimmon was shipped to Hartford in June 1993. After three seasons with the Whalers, he signed with the Coyotes, where he played his final season, in 1996-97.

Among those expressing their condolences Wednesday was Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford, who said in a statement: "Brad McCrimmon was a member of our team while we were still in Hartford, and was well-liked by all who came in contact with him. His presence in the hockey community will be greatly missed."

He started his coaching career the following season, starting as an assistant with the New York Islanders. After two seasons as coach of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, he returned to the NHL in 2000 as an assistant with the Calgary Flames. After three seasons with the Flames, he was an assistant in Atlanta for four seasons before joining Mike Babcock's staff in Detroit.
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