When Chris Pronger
arrived in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers to start the 1993-94 season, GM Brian Burke
and coach Paul Holmgren
wanted to find a smart veteran to pair with the 18-year-old defenseman they had selected with the second pick of the 1993 draft.
They opted for Brad McCrimmon
, and in Pronger's view, they couldn't have picked a better person or player.
"I leaned on him heavily," Pronger said Friday, two days after McCrimmon was one of at least 43 people killed in a plane crash in Russia that wiped out almost the entire Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey team. The team was on its way from Yaroslavl to Minsk, Belarus to open its season, and McCrimmon was heading to his first game as coach.
"He was my partner, my roommate," Pronger said. "I spent a lot of time with him, got to know him very well."
KHL LOKOMOTIV CRASH COVERAGE
Pronger said the best part of being around McCrimmon was the emotion he showed, on and off the ice.
"He wore his heart on his sleeve," Pronger said. "He played hard and tough. He was an opinionated, boisterous guy. People loved him because of that. He was a farm boy from Saskatchewan who wore his heart on his sleeve. You always knew where you stood with him. That's something a lot of people loved."
Pronger said McCrimmon was extremely influential on his career.
"He taught me an awful lot about the game, about being a professional, preparation, coming to play each and every night," he said. "There's a lot of great memories."
The biggest thing Pronger said he learned from McCrimmon is probably the first word people use to describe Pronger's game -- snarl.
"I don't know if he influenced it so much as wanted me to keep it," Pronger said. "You see it a lot of times, guys come in with that and then it gradually goes away. That was one of his biggest things, to always make sure you're unpredictable. If the other teams doesn't know what you're going to be doing out there, they're always going to be a little hesitant, a little leery whether you're going to stick a guy, slash a guy, hit a guy, poke check a guy. If you never know, they never know. If you're unpredictable, you give yourself that extra second, whether it's to recover, go the other way, buy yourself an extra second of time. That's something I've tried to do throughout my career."
McCrimmon wasn't the only person on that tragic flight Pronger was connected with. Pavol Demitra
was a teammate for eight seasons with the St. Louis Blues
. During that time together, Demitra played in three NHL All-Star Games, won the 2000 Lady Byng Trophy and finished in the top 10 in scoring three times.
The Blues made the playoffs all eight season they were together, including a run to the 2001 Western Conference Finals.
dubbed him the 'Cookie Monster,'" Pronger said. "There's a guy that loved -- loved -- scoring and getting points and being productive offensively. A lot of times when players don't play in large hockey markets they kind of slip through the cracks, but if you look at his numbers and his production over the time we were in St. Louis, he was top 10 in the League, I think. Not a lot of people know that. He just quietly went about his business and his play. The couple years that him and Scott Mellanby
and Keith Tkachuk
played together, they put up some pretty impressive numbers."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK