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Honored – Bob Crocker

by Mike Tenay / Los Angeles Kings

Long-time hockey executive and scout Bob Crocker is receiving the Lester Patrick Award on December 17 in New England as the league honors Crocker for “outstanding service to hockey in the United States.”

Currently a Kings amateur scout, a role he has served in for close to 10 years, the 88 year old Crocker, who has won three Stanley Cups scouting, is the dean of New England hockey scouts.

He answered a set of questions from as his “big day” approaches.

TENAY: Congratulations Bob on the Lester Patrick Award. What was your reaction when you heard you were being honored?

CROCKER: It's quite humbling to say the least that's for sure. It's very surprising because there are a lot of people in my category that are worthy of this great award. When I first heard about it, I just couldn't believe it. I don't say I deserve it, but I've certainly been involved in so many aspects of the game.

TENAY: Any thoughts related to Lester Patrick, his relatives known as Hockey's Royal Family and previous honorees?

CROCKER: I have associated with many of the award's recipients. In fact I'll say most of them down through the years. It's humbling because it's such a prestigious award. It's hard for me to conceive I'll be receiving this award along with the owner of the Boston Bruins, Jeremy Jacobs.

TENAY: How great is it that you will be honored in your home area of Boston?

CROCKER: I grew up in East Boston and was a Bruins fan from the time I was old enough to know about hockey. I had season tickets when I was 13 years old. I worked in a garage and made $5 a week. In those days, I could sit in the second row of the balcony for $1.50. I knew all the Bruins and had player scrapbooks. Bill Cowley was my all time favorite player. Later in life I attended a Bobby Clarke MVP Award dinner and sitting at my table was Bill Cowley. From the time I graduated from Boston University, I was put full time on the staff. I was freshman baseball and hockey coach. I was director of intramural athletics. When Jack Kelley was named Boston University hockey coach, I recruited a lot of All Americans for him. We won two Frozen Four championships (1970-71 and 1971-72). We were the first college team to repeat as national champs. To go from that point in my life to where it is now, it's been a phenomenal ride. It's been a long and exciting career. I've been very fortunate and blessed.

TENAY: With the LA/Hollywood connection, I have to ask you if you have any memories of Jack Kelley's son, David E. Kelley, who is a famous TV writer and producer?

CROCKER: I had a summer job with David. Jack Kelley's brother was president of a steel company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He put David and myself on as accountants. We screwed up so bad, the head of the department said "Who the hell are these guys?" But we all knew David was brilliant. He was a master of words. He wrote a thesis at Princeton that's in their library. He wrote a preamble to the Constitution. It's really a great work. He's had nothing but success ever since. I knew he was going to be someone special. He's achieved greatly.

TENAY: How did you develop the pipeline from Canada that brought such great talent to Boston University?

CROCKER: I started in Quebec. I lasted two days, because it was impossible to communicate with them. I landed in Toronto and the difference between it and New England was not that great. I was able to entice a lot of great players to BU. The kids from Toronto seemed to like Boston, which was a lot like Toronto.

TENAY: When you joined the Hartford Whalers they were in the WHA (World Hockey Association). What was the transition like to the NHL?

CROCKER: It was like night to day. The WHA was great but it was a secondary outfit. We weren't first class. We paid all the bills and had some great teams and great players. But getting into the National Hockey League was something special. Our owner Harold Baldwin had a great relationship with the NHL. He was the one who really convinced the NHL to absorb the WHA. The WHA opened up the contractual status of all the players.

TENAY: What was it like working with Hall of Famer Emile Francis in Hartford?

CROCKER: It was great. One time with the Whalers we needed a room cleaned and painted. They hired somebody to do it, but they never showed up. Emile was the kind of guy who said, "I guess a couple schleps like you and I will have to do it." Here's a man who was one of the founders of the NHL. Honored in the Hall of Fame as such. He rolled up his sleeves. We got the job done. He never complained or moaned. A great man to work for. I was his assistant for nine years. I know he's up for the Gretzky Award. I'm thrilled about that and thrilled I'll see him. I can't say enough positive superlatives about the man.

TENAY: When you were assistant general manager with the Hartford Whalers, Ron Francis was the star of the team.

CROCKER: Ronnie Francis is the epitome of what we would like to see every General Manager and hockey administrator to be like. He's a perfect person. A great family man. A hard working guy. He played 22 years in the NHL and established all kinds of records. He's distinguished himself considerably. He's now GM of Carolina Hurricanes.

TENAY: I read a terrific article written by Paul Stewart about your impact on his life and career. I always found it interesting that Stewart, who was a physical player that racked up several seasons of 200+ penalty minutes, became a referee. But, I guess who better to enforce the rules?

CROCKER: Paul Stewart was the first American to referee 1000 NHL games. Yes, he was physical. When he played for Quebec, I saw him take on (Terry) O'Reilly, (John) Wensink and another tough Bruin in one night. They threw Stewart out after three fights. If you want the job done, you hire Paul Stewart. A personal friend of mine and first class guy in every way.

TENAY: Tell me about Stewart and the heavy bag when you were at the University of Pennsylvania. You told him it could be his ticket to the pros.

CROCKER: I bought that bag and put it in the team laundry room. I hung it up and said "Paul, here's the key. You come in here anytime day or night and do your duty. He'd whack the hell out of that bag for hours. He wasn't a great hockey player, but he was tough as nails. There wasn't anybody that would stand in his way. If he had to fight them, he'd fight them. That was his strength. He played on a line with Robbie Ftorek, who was the key guy for Quebec and Cincinnati. Wherever Robbie played, Paul played. He was Robbie's enforcer and supporter. Paul is now head of officiating in the ECAC.

TENAY: Tell me about the "Weighted Wonder", something you invented.

CROCKER: It was a puck where the steel was integrated right into the rubber. It was very resilient. You could bounce it. (Former LA King) Cowboy Flett and Bobby Clarke used to buy 20-30 of them a year. I had three different weights. The heaviest was a one pound puck. They were great to help passing and shooting drills. I finally had to stop Cowboy Flett from using the pucks, because he'd put it right through the glass. It was a great concept. I sold out the first batch. Every team and every school and even the pros were starting to use them. When I went to order a second, Converse Rubber wanted $30,000. At that time, I couldn't come up with that much money ... or I'd still be in the business today. It's history now, although I probably still have 250 in my basement.

TENAY: In 1975, you travelled to the Soviet Union to learn Russian hockey techniques. What are your memories of that trip?

CROCKER: That trip was something that made me realize what a great country we live in. I said to my wife Ann, when we got back "Get down on your hands and knees and thank God that you live in the United States." It was a very informative trip. At the Institute of Sports in Moscow we saw everything they wanted to show us. It was very enlightening. A positive experience. We learned about the Russian Army. We went to their club and saw how every kid, after school, gets involved in something. From boxing to gymnastics to hockey. They were very disciplined.

TENAY: I've heard that you just might hold the record for seeing the most hockey games in one lifetime. Have you ever thought about putting a number on it?

CROCKER: I'm going to astound you with this. In my prime, I'd see over 400 games a year. In one year, scouting for the New York Rangers, I saw 540 games. Here in the Boston area, you can go to a tournament every weekend and see 30 games. I see a lot of hockey games every year. This year has been a down year for me, I've only seen 200 games. Normally I'd be at 300.

TENAY: Let's estimate that you've seen 15,000 hockey games in your life. Am I close?

CROCKER: It's got to be all of that for sure. But I'm just guessing.

TENAY: What's the key to your success and amazing longevity in hockey?

CROCKER: I give it an honest effort. I probably give more than I get, but I don't look at it that way. I do my best. And my best is 100%. If you give 100%, you can do a great job and have a great influence on kid's lives, like no one else can. Between coaching and scouting, I look at myself sometimes as the mother, the father, the sister, the brother, the psychiatrist, the psychologist for this player. You do it all. You're everything in the world to this player. Thank God I've got the wife I have, or else I'd be divorced. Ann and I just celebrated our 64th anniversary. We were married on November 30, 1951. This game costs a lot of marriages. If you can find a girl like my wife, you can last in this business. Thank God I did.

TENAY: How rewarding has it been scouting for 3 Stanley Cup winners with the Rangers and Kings?

CROCKER: It's another unbelievable story. There are guys in this business, from administrators to great players, who have given their life to hockey and don't have one. Here I am, a poor kid from East Boston and I have three. It's been luck. I admit that. Right place right time. Rangers was a great accomplishment and LA twice is also a great accomplishment. Very rewarding.

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