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Longtime scout Crocker honored as 'true gentleman'

by Mike G. Morreale

The United States Hockey Hall of Fame will induct four new members on Thursday during a ceremony that includes two Lester Patrick Award winners. This week, profiles the six people to be honored.

Bob Crocker has one of the most decorated resumes of any NHL scout.

But to those who know him, Crocker did much more than help bring Boston University two national championships, the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League a Calder Cup, the New York Rangers a Stanley Cup, and the Los Angeles Kings two Stanley Cup titles.

"When God made Bob Crocker, he threw away the mold because Bob Crocker is a true gentleman in every aspect of the word," Ottawa Senators scout and NCAA recruiting coordinator Lou Mongelluzzo said. "His peers, 10 years younger than him, still call him 'Mr. Crocker.' That's the respect he gets."

Crocker, 87, is in his 11th season as an amateur scout with the Kings but recently has been dedicating much of his time to his wife, Anna, who he has been married to for 63 years. Anna was diagnosed with brain cancer in October 2013. Treatment is ongoing, and Crocker said she is doing much better.

Crocker, affectionately called "The Dean of New England scouting," will be recognized with the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

"It still hasn't sunken in," Crocker said. "To be chosen for the Lester Patrick is beyond my comprehension."

Crocker will join Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs as a recipient of the trophy during the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony and dinner in Boston.

"When I heard Bob won the award, it was almost as if I won it," Mongelluzzo said. "For every scout that's ever stepped into a rink, we now matter. We're important. We've been the lifeblood of this industry for 100 years, and now people know it, thanks to Bob Crocker."

Crocker's decision to join the Navy as a 17-year-old in 1945 provided the impetus he needed for a renewed lease on life.

"It was the best thing in the world I ever did, because I wasn't a great (high school) student," Crocker said. "I didn't even graduate high school. After my first day in the Navy, I said to myself, 'Get off your butt, get an education and make a life of yourself.' I learned the importance of discipline."

Crocker spent four years and three months in the Navy Reserve before getting a job as the director of intramural athletics at Boston University, where he graduated in 1955. He was the varsity baseball and freshman men's hockey coach, taking a prominent role in scouting for legendary hockey coach Jack Kelley.

"Jack was a demander," Crocker said. "I don't know if those guys could coach today because they were so demanding."

Behind Crocker's recruiting efforts, the Terriers began to build a dynasty, winning back to back NCAA championships in 1970-71 and 1971-72. Crocker was able to lure Canadian talent and some of the finest U.S. players, going 54-6-2 over those two seasons.

"The Canadians gave us experience, and the Americans gave us spirit, and the combination made us a pretty darn good hockey team," Crocker said.

Mongelluzzo said, "As scouts, you're looking for some type of dimension in a player. Bob is all about intuitiveness and detail, more so than anyone in the business."

Paul Merritt, 78, an amateur scout with the Buffalo Sabres the past 30 years who often traveled with Crocker, took note of his meticulous reporting of each player.

"He's very detailed in everything he does; he's a very systematic and organized guy," Merritt said. "We always get a kick out of him because he carries a ton of paper. He must have 50 pages and he drops them at least once every game."

Crocker also proved to be a fine coach. He led the 1968-69 Boston University freshman team, which consisted of those players on the back-to-back championship teams, to a 17-0-0 record. It was the first undefeated and untied athletic team in BU history.

"I tried to get away from being tough and hard-nosed as a coach," Crocker said. "My approach was a little softer, and it worked for me."

He wasn't just a coach, but a father figure.

"I won my players over with a good rapport," he said. "They could tell me anything that was wrong. One time, I had a player whose girlfriend was pregnant. He asked me what he should do. I asked him if he loved her and then asked if she loved him. When he answered yes, I suggested they get married.

"That player approached me years later after a game and told me how happily married and employed he was, and that he's forever grateful to me for helping him at that time in his life. I was so happy."

In 1972, Crocker became the men's ice hockey coach at the University of Pennsylvania and led the Quakers to a 16-9-2 record and a fourth-place finish in his first season in the 17-team ECAC. Penn defeated Boston University 7-3 in the ECAC Tournament that season.

Crocker recruited former NHL player and NHL referee Paul Stewart, who would not play a game for the Quakers as a junior or senior but to this day remains grateful Crocker was his coach.

"He gave me the keys for my life," Stewart said. "When I left Penn, I wrote Coach a letter and thanked him for the opportunity he gave me to succeed and go after my dream of attending an Ivy League college, get a degree, and play and officiate pro hockey.

"When I returned to Penn after spending a year in Binghamton (in the American Hockey League), Crocker walked me over to a heavy bag he had hanging at one end of the rink, unhooked it and handed it to me, saying, 'This is your ticket to the NHL.'"

Crocker explained to Stewart in person why he wouldn't be playing, something Stewart greatly appreciated.

"Sometimes round pegs don't fit into square holes, but those decisions led to other opportunities for me," Stewart said.

After four seasons at Pennsylvania, Crocker was hired by Kelley, then Hartford Whalers general manager, as his assistant in 1980. Crocker learned the business side of the NHL, including contracts, negotiating, training camps and immigration.

He spent one season evaluating talent in New England as a part-time scout for NHL Central Scouting in 1992-93 and considered it a great educational experience.

"Central was extremely helpful because they required you go to a game and write an evaluation on every player; not just three or four," Crocker said. "So you learn quickly that you have to look at a guy for one shift and derive from that his strength, weakness and potential."

Crocker became good friends with since-retired scout Gary Eggleston, who spent 50 years in the scouting profession, including 31 years working for NHL Central Scouting before retiring in March 2012.

"There is no one more deserving of [the Lester Patrick Award] than Bob," Eggleston said. "In addition to being a fine gentleman, there is no more dedicated a worker. I never knew anyone who worked harder and gave more to an organization. I think that time devoted to the job and visibility played a big role in his scouting. He always showed players, coaches and parents alike that he cared."

In 1993, Crocker was hired as a scout by Rangers general manager Neil Smith, who Crocker admitted was an instrumental person in his career. Following his time with the Rangers, Crocker was hired as a scout by the Kings in 2005.

He said scouting has changed from his days at Boston University.

"I think we're becoming more technical, because everyone now looks at more videotape and has to go see pro games," Crocker said. "Technically, it's far more astute than it's ever been, but I've embraced it. You either embrace it or you're out."


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