September 7, 2011
Dream dies with McCrimmon in plane crash
By ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
CALGARY - Brad McCrimmon was simply chasing a dream.
It was a dream that died minutes after takeoff Wednesday when his Russian club’s charter flight crashed into a riverbank, killing all but one member of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team he had only recently taken over as coach.
“He went to Russia to earn his stripes and show he was serious about becoming a head coach in the NHL,” said his former Calgary Flames teammate Joe Nieuwendyk, voice cracking.
“And then this happens … It’s just devastating news.”
Some called him ‘Beast.’ Others called him ‘Sarge.’
Most who played with McCrimmon or were coached by him, called him friend — as reliable and loyal as the farm dogs he grew up around.
But what the old-school purveyor of fine hockey stories from Plenty, Sask., wanted to be called most was coach.
“I talked to him early on in the summer when we were going through our coaching search, and he was very interested in a head coaching job dating back years earlier when he left Atlanta,” said Nieuwendyk, the Dallas Stars GM who hoisted the Stanley Cup alongside McCrimmon with the Flames in 1989.
“We had discussed it, and he knew from talking to me and others that there’s a strong belief you have to be a bench boss first before you get a shot at a head coaching job in the NHL. He told me he was going to Russia. I talked to him just before he left, and he was excited about the coaching staff he had and the players he was bringing in.”
Pausing to collect himself, Nieuwendyk added quietly.
“I can’t believe we’re dealing with another tragedy.”
Indeed, it’s been a tough summer for the NHL, having lost Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak before their time. While it puts Sidney Crosby’s concussion in perspective, it adds a sombre tone to training camps opening next week.
McCrimmon was 52, leaving behind a wife and two kids.
Having played over 1,200 games for six teams before coaching four other teams as an assistant, there aren’t many NHL regulars who haven’t been touched by the bruising defenceman the last three decades — good and bad.
“He played hard and was not fun to play against, but when he was with us in Calgary, he and Gary Suter were such a force (on the blueline together) — they were a big reason we won,” Nieuwendyk said.
“Sarge was such an appropriate nickname because he spoke to us like an army sargeant, but it was always in fun. If we were in the hot tub, he’d say ‘don’t stay in there too long you kids.’ With Sarge, everything was black and white, right or wrong. But he was always upbeat and always made you feel good.”
McCrimmon’s lack of social graces made Beast the perfect handle, said Mark Howe, who paired up with McCrimmon in the 1985-86 NHL season, when McCrimmon was a remarkable plus-83. All told, he was plus-444, making him the perfect assistant in Calgary from 2000-03, when he mentored Robyn Regehr and Denis Gauthier among others.
“As a player he was the best partner I ever had,” said Howe, a recent Hall of Fame inductee.
“We lived, ate and drank together for three years and just had a certain chemistry on the ice, and that carried over off the ice. If you wanted someone to tell you lies and talk behind your back, you had the wrong guy. If you needed someone in a dire situation, he was always there. I consider him one of my best friends, and that had nothing to do with hockey.”
Jamie Macoun said not only could you count on Beast as a defenceman but also as a banker.
“You could go on the road way back when, and any time you’d need a few bucks, he’d always have a thousand bucks on him — he was a farm boy, and he’d say, ‘Never trust the bank and carry your money with ya.’ It’s the boy scout in him — always be prepared.”
“He was a salt-of-the-Earth, solid farm boy,” added a quiet Lanny McDonald.
“He’d swear like a trooper, but he’d be smiling while he did it. If he didn’t agree with something, he wasn’t going to let it pass — he was going to speak his mind whether you liked it or not. What you saw with Brad is what you got. Nothing held back.”
He died while chasing a dream, which unfortunately doesn’t make any of this easy to swallow.