It seems at times 28-year-old Corey Crawford has come out of nowhere.
Maybe as an anglophone goalie out of Montreal, that’s close.
He’s from the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay and played his triple-A hockey with the Gatineau Intrepide and his junior hockey with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL.
He’s never represented Canada on the international stage; he’s never even been invited to an evaluation camp, he said Friday.
But with his performance in the playoffs this spring, bringing the ’Hawks to within three victories of the Stanley Cup, Crawford has forced his way into the conversation when it comes to who will be between the pipes for Canada eight months from now.
Canada is at a crossroads when it comes to elite goaltenders, stuck in the shoulder period between the greatness of a future Hall of Famer like Martin Brodeur and this generation of goaltenders like Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Cam Ward, Marc-Andre Fleury, Braden Holtby and now, yes, Corey Crawford.
Crawford has to get consideration as an elite goaltender now, right?
“If you guys keep talking about him,” said Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith, “maybe he will.”
Given Crawford’s performance this post-season and the uncertainty of Canada’s elite goaltending situation, people are now talking about it.
“I’m happy people are asking the question all week, because I certainly think he deserves it,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “I feel like to get to that level, you need to have some sort of name in the media and have people know who you are. If they didn’t really before, I think everyone knows who Corey Crawford is now.
“The influence and the effect he’s had on our team all season and through this Cup run that we’ve had, I don’t see why there’s even a doubt if he should be considered when it comes to that. He’s proven he’s a pressure player. He’s got the talent and the ability and the mental game to go with it.”
Crawford, a classic late bloomer, hasn’t been in the conversation as the best at his position until now.
“Nothing, man,” he replied when asked what elite teams he’s played on in the past. “Other than regular-season junior hockey, AHL, NHL, other than that, there’s not much.”
You won’t find Crawford, who’s first in playoff goals-against average and second in save percentage, touting himself. He needed some prompting to even consider addressing the possibility of playing for Canada for the first time.
“I don’t know. I’m worried about winning a Stanley Cup right now, so ... obviously that would be a huge honour. Right now there’s other things to take care of,” he said and rightly so. “To play for your country, it’s a huge honour. It definitely would be a proud moment to be out there wearing that jersey.”
Crawford has evolved from being a guy characterized as a shot blocker and very technical to a more athletic goaltender under ’Hawks goalie coach Stephane Waite, with whom he has worked since he was 15 and first attended Waite’s goalie school in Sherbrooke, Que.
“People have to re-evaluate Corey Crawford,” said former NHL goaltender Darren Pang, who’s covering the final for NHL Network. “A couple of years ago you could say he was robotic and relied on playing the percentages, but I don’t see that anymore. I see a guy who does whatever he has to to keep the puck out of the net. I see a guy who has a method and is confident in his positioning in the net.”
“I’ve been plugged into that boxy, shot blocker,” Crawford said. “That’s what I’ve based my game off of. I’ve learned you have to battle and make those other saves, too. You can’t just give up on plays. Players are too good and can make plays on you. You have to be able to read and react and be desperate at times.”
’Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Crawford has also had to cope with the changing expectations that come with being a No. 1 goaltender.
“I think a number of top goalies, after a strong rookie season, seem to have an ordinary year the next year,” Quenneville said. “Different challenges. Corey, with the expectations this year, came in with the right attitude, frame of mind. (I) loved the consistency of his approach. In net, game in, game out, the predictability has been in place.
“It’s a different animal having the number one job, expectations changed. He had to answer a lot of questions this year going into the season. What about our goaltending? We said we’re very comfortable with Corey.”
A few months from now, maybe Canada will be saying the same thing.