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Back Behind The Bench

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

After spending the past year in the broadcast booth, Marc Crawford utilized the opportunity to reflect on his past coaching stints, learn from his mistakes and renew his drive to get back behind an NHL bench.

Marc Crawford
Crawford Press Conference Photos
Crawford Press Conference Video
The new Dallas Stars head coach, who compiled a 59-84-21 record in two playoff-less seasons in Los Angeles from 2006-08, was introduced at a press conference Thursday by General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. Crawford believes he has a lot to prove after the LA experience and feels that taking over a Stars squad that missed the post-season in 2008-09 is the perfect scenario for both him and the club to rebound.

“Not making the playoffs is obviously very disappointing,” Crawford, who won the 1996 Stanley Cup with Colorado, said of his time with the Kings. “I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for anything that happened in our failure to make the playoffs, because this is a results-driven business. Just like a player, a coach has to be accountable and I have to take ownership of the fact that I didn’t get the job done in Los Angeles and that’s a big part of the reflection that took place in the last year. Coaches are always telling players to park what happened in the past in the past and move forward.  That’s what I have to do. You have to learn the lessons from the defeats that you had, and I’ve hopefully done that. 

“I think the past year watching from up above has been a very good tonic for me. It’s been humbling to say the least, but it’s also been refreshing. You get to watch the game and understand what’s happening in the league maybe a little bit better. I’ve never felt more ready for a challenge than I do today, and I think that’s largely because I do have a lot to prove and I recognize that. And in a lot of ways, the Stars are similar. There’s a great group of players here that, from all the things that I’ve heard, are disappointed by their finish last year. That’s what makes me so excited, hearing how motivated the players are to get back to the playoffs.” 

Crawford, who also scored 19 goals and 50 points in 176 NHL games as a player over parts of seven seasons with Vancouver from 1981-87 and even skated in 34 games with the old Dallas Blackhawks of the CHL, feels that his coaching philosophies have evolved and adapted over the years as he has steadily gained more experience.

“Like anything, you grow and you mature,” he said. “For me, the more experience you have, the more you have to draw upon as you move forward. I think as a young coach, you use instincts and, as Joe’s finding out, your information is very current not being very far removed from playing.  I think as I’ve grown, I’ve learned to trust my instincts a little better. Whether it be watching games in the broadcast booth, or preparing for games as a broadcaster as opposed to preparing as a coach, everything is a learning experience. I’ve always believed that if you’re about improvement and doing the right thing, that you’re going to be okay. All the teams that I’ve been a part of, I’ve tried to instill those values and I’ve followed them myself.”

Crawford also believes that his time away from coaching, while difficult at times, allowed him to view the game from a different perspective, one that can benefit him now that he’s back behind the Stars’ bench.

“Because you’ve been through the emotions, because I’ve played and I’ve coached, it is a unique experience watching games from the press box,” said Crawford, who currently ranks 16th on the NHL’s all-time regular season wins list with 470. “I utilized the time really well. It was refreshing for me, taking the emotions out of the game for a year, giving me some time to reflect on the past, but I also missed being in the action and being around a team. 

Crawford with Vancouver in 2004
“I have a better book on the league than I did before. As a coach, you know who the top guys are, you know the match-ups, but you’re not really watching for improvement of a third- or fourth-line player, you’re not really dissecting the game the way you do when you have time to visualize it from up high. I think your hunger grows, too. When you remove yourself from something you love, you grow hungry and I’m hungry.” 

As for his reputation as a disciplinarian who sometimes loses his cool, earned over 14 seasons of guiding teams in Quebec/Colorado (1994-98), Vancouver (1999-2006) and Los Angeles, he feels he is more in control of his emotions now but also notes that he can’t change his personality.

While Crawford became famous for blowing a gasket during the heyday of the intense Colorado-Detroit rivalry of the late ‘90s, when he violently berated then-Red Wing coach Scotty Bowman and physically challenged him, Crawford vows that type of incident won’t happen here.

“I try to believe that I’m fair, that I let my passion out - I think you have to be true to yourself,” Crawford said. “If I was passive and I never said anything when things went wrong, I wouldn’t be true to myself, but I also recognize that there may have been times when my demeanor, my personality, got the best of me. I saw on a blog today somebody mentioned the thing with Scotty - that’s not one of my finer moments, I know that. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t see that here with the Stars. I think that common sense is always the best way to deal with those moments and hopefully I’ll have enough common sense to deal with what comes my way.”

Nieuwendyk likes the intensity that Crawford brings into the dressing room and behind the bench and believes it will impact the Stars’ performance on the ice.

“I’m excited about Marc’s command,” Nieuwendyk said. “I think he runs a real solid bench, he has a good awareness of the opponent that we’re playing. I think the guys will recognize right away that he’s the guy in charge. He’s won the Stanley Cup before, he’s been to Conference Finals, he’s been an Olympic coach - he has a wealth of experience.”

Stylistically on the ice, Crawford aims to further emphasize skating and speed, perhaps giving the Stars a more dynamic offensive dimension, but while also remaining defensively sound.

“You want a hard-working team that pursues the puck really well,” Crawford said, citing the examples of Pittsburgh and Detroit. “You watch the Stanley Cup Final and you watch those two teams, they play an exciting brand of hockey. It’s a lot about skating, it’s a lot about speed, it’s a lot about pace and it’s a lot about tempo and those are largely big facets of all the teams that I’ve coached. 

“I also concentrate a lot on defensive play. The Stars have been a very strong defensive club, have a very strong puck pursuit club, a great-skating club and a great hard-working club and I think they’re the core values. I will probably bring a little bit more of a flair to the team, but I think that’s just the way the game is going. The game is being played at such a high pace right now, and with so much speed and so much tempo, I think quite frankly, that’s the way the players want to play. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel here, we’re going to be a responsible team that tries to play an up-tempo game.” 

“Really, this team is about the work ethic of Brenden Morrow, I don’t think that will ever be lost,” Nieuwendyk said when asked how Crawford will alter the club’s playing style. “I just think Marc will enhance some of the offensive capabilities of some of the other people - Brad Richards, players like that. I think they’ll really enjoy playing for him.”

There’s no question that Crawford will be well-served by his renowned passion and competitiveness, which has a tendency to rub off on the players. In fact, Crawford felt such a void in that area during his year in the broadcast booth, he even yearned to feel the pain of losing again.

“I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to be behind the bench again,” said Crawford, who sports a 43-40 playoff record. “At the end of the game, there’s no feeling like the win or the loss. I told Joe that. There were a couple of times this year, I was looking down and watching the sheer dejection of some coaches and I said, ‘Boy, I miss that.’ I even missed that part of it. 

“So I’m thrilled with the opportunity. I think the Stars are a great organization, everyone wants to win, and I think I’ve landed in an ideal opportunity with the strengths that I have and the strengths that are here.” 
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