SUN Hockey Pool

McCrimmon's son has heart of champion

Brad McCrimmon's son Liam at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Jan. 31, 2012. (LYLE...

Brad McCrimmon's son Liam at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Jan. 31, 2012. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:52 PM ET

CALGARY - In the midst of a morning skate spearheaded by the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom darted a youngster whose black hoodie and jeans set him apart from the star-studded crowd.

Wearing braces, an oversized helmet dusted off by the equipment staff and a smile the size of his father’s heart, 14-year-old Liam McCrimmon seemed to blend right in.

That’s because it is there, on the ice, where he grew up.

It’s also on the ice where his healing process continues.

It’s been almost five months since the plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all the players and team staff on board.

While the hockey world mourned the loss of an entire team, Liam dealt with the loss of his hero, his mentor. The coach, Brad McCrimmon — his dad.

“I miss him most just after my games,” said the poised teen, flown in from Detroit by the Flames with his sister, mom, grandparents and uncle for a touching pre-game tribute to the former Flames captain and assistant coach last night.

“He never screamed or banged on the glass. He would be in the corner watching the game alone. He was happy to watch me play. Afterwards, he’d never point out the bad things I did — he’d only point out the really good things. I miss his confidence boosts and him just being there.”

One day after carrying his father’s casket at his mid-September funeral, Liam shocked family members when he decided to suit up and play for his high-school team the next day.

The converted defenceman scored on his first shift.

Moments like those, and the one that saw him reunited with the Wings players he grew up with, are the experiences that have helped him through his horrific loss.

However, even on the ice, he’s found he’s not immune to the overwhelming sadness that comes and goes after losing a father far too early.

“Two weekends ago, I was on the ice and it just hit me that all that stuff went down,” said Liam. “I played really bad the rest of the game. When I’m alone, I struggle sort of. But I’m rarely alone because I’m usually at school with my team or after practice with my mom or sister.”

A self-proclaimed rink rat who hopes to one day have a career in the NHL as a player, front-office type or broadcaster, Liam has fond memories of spending endless hours at NHL rinks with his dad.

“When my dad used to work with (the Wings from 2008-11 as an assistant coach) and I didn’t have hockey or school, I’d go down to the rink with him at 6 a.m. and stay there until 3 p.m., skate and hang around and joke with the guys. It was a lot of fun. I’ve been skating with (the Wings) since sixth grade, so it’s just nice to get out there again.”

Taking faceoffs against Justin Abdelkader, passes from Lidstrom and a good ol’-fashioned ribbing from all those who made note of his Justin-Bieber-like ’do, he was in his glory.

“The players have been wonderful,” said Liam, whose father was universally loved as a coach and teammate. “(Todd) Bertuzzi and my sister (19-year-old Carlin) are really close. I’m really good pals with (video coach) Keith (McKittrick). The whole organization, the coaches, owners, GM, president. Everyone is great.”

On opening night, the Wings paid tribute to his father. Last night, the Flames wanted to do the same.

“When I went into Joe Louis, I wasn’t very emotional. I was proud to be out there,” said Liam, quick to point out his father’s mug on the Flames’ Stanley Cup photo featured a bloody nose.

“This time, I’m proud and happy for my dad and the Flames and the Wings. It’s nice of them to do because of the history my dad had here.”

Grandpa Byron thinks the biggest thing Liam learned from his father was how to treat people. Liam concurs, but adds two simple lessons from his Dad resonate daily:

“Try your hardest and have fun.”

As the last to leave the ice, it was clear Liam learned both well.

Dad would be proud.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: ericfrancis

- Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.


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