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New coach McCrimmon carved lengthy NHL career

by Adam Kimelman

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.

"I know he wanted to try being a head coach, wanted to see what it was like being a head coach in Russia," said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. "We all wished him well."

McCrimmon was born March 29, 1959, in Dodsland, Sask., and put together an outstanding junior career with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League. He had 24 goals and 98 points in 1978-79 to help Brandon advance to the 1979 Memorial Cup tournament. Brandon came up short, but McCrimmon earned a spot on the tournament's all-star team.

That summer, he 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, who earned the nickname "Beast" for his tenacious play, had 81 goals, 403 points, 1,416 penalty minutes and was a plus-444, the eighth-best total in history and third among defensemen.

He played in one NHL All-Star Game and won a pair of Stanley Cups -- as a player with the Calgary Flames in 1989, and again in 2009 as an assistant coach with the Red Wings.

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 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, and had 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."

Reached Wednesday by's Bill Meltzer, Howe said in a text message: "Brad was one of my three closest friends. A man of his word. Best partner I ever had on the ice, but a better friend, husband and father off the ice. A sad day for the hockey world. My prayers go out to his family."

"I'm personally saddened to hear of the tragic death of one of our former players, Brad McCrimmon," said Flyers chairman Ed Snider. "Brad was one of the toughest defensemen to ever wear the black and orange. He gained the nickname 'The Beast' for his tenacity on the blue line and his ability to shut down our opponents. Off the ice, Brad was a true gentleman. A kind, caring and wonderful human being. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, as well as the families of those who lost their lives in this tragedy."

Rick Tocchet, who was a rookie on the 1984-85 Flyers team, told that he credits McCrimmon for starting him on the road to his own 18-season career.

"Brad is one of the reasons why I played as long as I did in the NHL," he said. "Him and Mark Howe and Dave Poulin. I lived with Brad a couple of months my first or second year until I found a place. He helped me make it to the NHL. He taught me how to be a pro.
"You talk about small things in life. If you were on the road and had no money with you, you could go to Brad and he would give you $100. If there was a restaurant in the city, he would organize a team meal. Brad was an influential part of a lot of people's careers."

After five seasons with the Flyers, McCrimmon was traded to the Calgary Flames for a pair of draft picks in August 1987, which is where McCrimmon had his greatest team success. After falling 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.

"'Beast' was a quiet individual who, in my opinion, had a very deep and thorough understanding of the game," Jim Peplinski, a teammate on the Flames' championship team, told the team's website. "I took great pride and pleasure and a lot of appreciation in talking to Brad about parts of the game that he saw in a way I certainly didn't and many others didn't."

"Us young guys were blessed with a team of many leaders and Brad was certainly one of them," Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, a 23-year-old forward on the Flames' title team, told "His nickname was 'Sarge' and it was very appropriate, because the way he talked was black and white. There was no in-between. It's so devastating. … Him and Gary Suter gave us an unbelievable tandem. They were very good playing with one another. Took a lot of the pressure off Al MacInnis. He just fit in with us. Everyone loved 'Beast.'

"Nobody loved the game more than Brad McCrimmon," Gary Roberts, another teammate in Calgary, told "One of the guys who influenced my career the most was Brad McCrimmon. I can't say enough about how much he taught me about the game."
"You talk about small things in life. If you were on the road and had no money with you, you could go to Brad and he would give you $100. If there was a restaurant in the city, he would organize a team meal. Brad was an influential part of a lot of people's careers.." -- Rick Tocchet on Brad McCrimmon
Roberts said he knew what kind of person McCrimmon was the moment he arrived in Calgary. Roberts, who was going into just his second NHL season, had just been given No. 10 for the 1987-88 season when McCrimmon arrived after wearing No. 10 in Philadelphia.

"I was worried I was going to lose No. 10 to McCrimmon," Roberts said. "He said you keep it and I'll wear No. 4. Right away I knew the person he was."

In June 1990 McCrimmon was traded to the Red Wings, and in his second season he was paired with a talented Swedish rookie named Nicklas Lidstrom.

"'Beast' I've known for a long time," Lidstrom said. "He was my partner my first year, and my roommate, too, so I got to know him real well. He helped me a lot in my first year in the League. When he came here as a coach for us, he brought a lot of experience. He was good for the defensemen, helping out the younger players. The players learned a lot from him."

"Hockey lost a great individual today in my former teammate and colleague, Brad McCrimmon," said Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. "My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends during this difficult time."

"It's shocking," Red Wings GM Ken Holland told "I think everybody in the hockey community is probably in shock and numb, myself included. I've known Brad going back to the late '80s when we acquired him here. He was a real popular player. Then we had him as an assistant coach here. He loved hockey. He was a tremendous guy and wonderful family man. Our thoughts and prayers go to his wife Maureen and two children."

McCrimmon was traded to Hartford in June 1993, and in three seasons with the Whalers, he continued to be a mentor to younger players.

Michael Nylander, who was in his second NHL season with Hartford when McCrimmon joined the team, told the Philadelphia Inquirer he remembered his former teammate as "a great guy, a funny guy. He always had jokes."

Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford, who was the GM in Hartford for part of McCrimmon's tenure, said: "(McCrimmon) was well-liked by all who came in contact with him. His presence in the hockey community will be greatly missed."

After three seasons with the Whalers, McCrimmon signed with the Coyotes for their inaugural season in Phoenix, 1996-97.

"The Coyotes lost two members of our family in Brad McCrimmon and (Lokomotiv assistant coach) Igor Korolev, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families as well," said Coyotes GM Don Maloney. "Brad and Igor were part of the Coyotes' inaugural season in the Valley and we will forever remember the great contributions they made to our community on and off the ice. They will be greatly missed."

He retired following the season, and started his coaching career the following season, 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.

However, McCrimmon wanted to get back to running his own team, which motivated his move to Russia.

"I talked to him in the summer and was curious why he went over to coach in Russia," NHL player agent and long-time friend Rich Winter told The Team 1260 AM radio in Edmonton. "He was really looking forward to the opportunity. Brad is a really smart guy. A lot of people see him as a rough, rugged defenseman, but he played an awful lot in the League. I'm not sure why he never got the head coaching job he relished but he was looking forward to leading a team and being a part of something different and using this as a learning experience."

McCrimmon is survived by his wife, Maureen, daughter Carlin and son Liam.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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