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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Joe Crozier (1949), Brandon Wheat Kings

For a player who participated in eight games of a best-of-seven series, it seems appropriate that he was inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame twice.

Former Sabres Head Coach Joe Crozier would not have it any other way.

Photo: Joe Crozier

Originally inducted in 1985 for his individual contributions to hockey, Crozier enjoyed a team effort this year in the 2007 class, inducted as part of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s 1948-49 Brandon Wheat Kings.

In an unprecedented finals run for the Memorial Cup, the Wheat Kings and the Montreal Royals played an historic eight-game series because of a 3-3 tie in the third game at Brandon. The rules in place at that time did not specify any tiebreakers.

It was the only eight-game finals ever played in the league.  The Royals won the Cup with a 6-4 victory in the final game. 

More than half a century later, Crozier remembers the talent and camaraderie that existed on the Wheat Kings roster most vividly.

“It was a very close gang, very close people,” the Winnipeg native said. “I loved Brandon. It was a great place to play hockey because that’s all there was [to do] really. We had some good guys.”

That included the likes of Reg Abbott, who also received recognition and was inducted for his individual efforts in hockey, as well as former coach of the Minnesota North Stars, Glen Sonmor.

“We called him ‘Scrawny’ because he was thin when he played,” Crozier said of Sonmor. “He was a great kid. I knew him very very well, from Minnesota and everywhere else.”

One of those places was in the World Hockey Association in the mid-1970s, when Crozier was the head coach of the Calgary Cowboys and Sonmor managed the Minnesota Fighting Saints.

Always a competitor looking for the victory, Crozier held lighter mindset on his relationships with his peers behind the benches.  Once the final horn sounded, the battle was over. 

“I coached against so many people in every league,” the 78-year-old Crozier said. “Naturally, you coach against them and it’s no big deal. You don’t have a fight against them. You go line for line and that’s the way it goes. After that you may go out and have a couple beers with them afterwards.”

Although coaching against one of his former teammates was not out of the ordinary for Crozier, some incidents in the WHA were.

Joe Crozier
Following a road game against the San Diego Mariners, Crozier and his team boarded a plane bound for Calgary. There was an immediate problem, however, as the pilot never refueled and there was not enough gas to get the team home.

Crozier asked the players to pool their money together to pay for the expense, but could not come up with enough to cover the cost. According to “The Rebel League,” by Ed Willes, it was not until the Cowboys’ play-by-play broadcaster used his wife’s Texaco card to front the bill- a $1,500 total- that the plane eventually took off.

“Only in the WHA…” Crozier said.

Playing in the MJHL for Brandon was not nearly as complicated, but Crozier said getting there had its share of obstacles.

“Everything was against me,” Crozier said. “My family didn’t have any money. My skates were two or three sizes larger than my feet. I had to bum hockey sticks.  I would wait for the kid to come out and ask them for sticks to play. It was just one thing after another. Finally, I did get the break to go to Brandon.

“We had a good coach in Bill McKenzie.  We had a good ice facility. We could go skating anytime we wanted. That’s the good thing about a small town is that nobody else uses the ice. There weren’t any big events coming or anything… We pulled together. We liked each other. There was no jealousy or anything like that. We just had a good time and that was the whole thing.”

In two seasons playing for the Wheat Kings, Crozier tallied 38 points (5+33) in 53 games as a defenseman.

He also notched six points (1+5) in the Memorial Cup playoffs, including the first goal in the deciding eighth game.

“A blazing drive from just inside the Montreal blueline by defenceman Joe Crozier got [Brandon] their first goal,” wrote the late sportswriter Pat Curran for the Montreal Gazette on May 16, 1949. “Royals were short-handed on a tripping penalty to Rattray and Sonmor put Crozier into position.

“It was a terrific hockey game all the way – a battle that was never over until the final siren as both teams assumed and lost two-goal leads. But the Royals had it when the chips were down as they came from behind in the last period to score four times and grab the title.”

Crozier may not have won that title, but he did pick up many others in his 60-year career in hockey. He was a coach for the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL, as well as several teams in the AHL. He also earned the role of general manager in the WHA with the Cowboys in Calgary, and even had the chance to call himself an NHL defenseman when he played three games for the Maple Leafs in the 1959-60 season.

"Whatever job I took I wanted to be the best,” Crozier said. “I made the whole tour of this hockey situation… This is my whole life.”

His induction to the Manitoba Hall of Fame just serves as a reminder.
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