Brad McCrimmon's Impact on the NHL Still Felt in Every Chris Pronger Hit

Brad McCrimmon's Impact on the NHL Still Felt in Every Chris Pronger Hit

My own memories of Brad McCrimmon's career with the Flyers are not crystal clear. I was pretty young and just seeing hockey for the first time during his final seasons in Philadelphia. I remember him out there with Mark Howe though, and retrospectively built respect for his role through the words of others over the years. Upon the news of his passing, I've learned that much more about him and his impact outside of Philadelphia, where he was highly regarded as half of the best defensive pairing in Flyers history.  

I've read quite a few tributes to McCrimmon since the news of his passing in the plane crash that took the lives of 43 people in Russia, some talking about the "Beast" on the ice, others the mentor on and off it. His story is more impressive with every different person you hear tell it, from Ed Snider to Howe, to Chris Pronger and others who played or coached with him in any of his six NHL cities.  

Among the most interesting things to read about McCrimmon was the vital role he played in the early stages of the careers of several certain Hall of Fame players. In addition to Bill Meltzer and others catching up with Howe, Craig Custance of AOL shared the words of Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the greatest blueliners of all time, and Sam Carchidi spoke with Chris Pronger, both of whom were paired with McCrimmon to begin what would be long and productive NHL careers.  

From Custance:

In all, McCrimmon played in 1,222 NHL games as a physical stay-at-home defenseman, finishing an astonishing plus-444.   

“He was my partner every game my first year,” Lidstrom said on Wednesday. “He was that steady defenseman who stayed home all the time. He protected me in certain situations too when things got a little too heated. He was a great partner to have.”  It wasn’t just Lidstrom. McCrimmon partnered with a young Chris Pronger during Pronger’s first season with the Hartford Whalers and also helped break in a young Gary Suter with the Calgary Flames. NHL coaches tended to pair McCrimmon with their young defensemen because they knew he’d take care of them.   

And Carchidi:

"My first two years, he was my roommate and my [defensive] partner," Pronger said. "I was green, coming into a league with grown men. I'm from a small town in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden playing in the National Hockey League with all these superstars."

Pronger paused.

"You can either be big-eyed and naive, or you can play the game the right way - and learn and work hard and be open to do things the right way."

McCrimmon, Pronger said, helped him make a smooth transition.

"He was the right leader in helping me to do that," he said. "He was vocal, and he knew why they brought him in. We'd have long talks about the game. He was a very huge influence on me."

And finally, Meltzer relays the words of Howe, prior to McCrimmon's passing:

"My pairing with Brad was the best chemistry I ever experienced, in the way we read off one another,” Howe recalled. “He was a horse and an excellent all-around hockey player. I would play 33 and a half minutes a game and Brad played 27. He never got the credit he deserved but if you look at the defensemen playing then – or now for that matter – Brad was the kind of player who is rare to find.”

And, upon hearing about it:

“I found out about it from the Detroit office,” Howe wrote via text. “Brad was one of my three closest friends. A man of his word. [He was] the best partner I ever had on the ice, but a better husband, friend and father off the ice. It’s a very sad day for the hockey world. My prayers go out to his family.”  

I encourage any Flyers fan to read each of the stories linked above, and if you have some extra time this weekend, just google 'Brad McCrimmon' and see how many stories just like these are being told in remembrance of him. Doing so gave me a much better appreciation for a hockey player I knew only some surface level things about, and a man of whom I knew nothing.  

The first time Chris Pronger puts a skate blade to the ice this season, and follows it soon after with a hip check that stops a forward cold, or a poke check that eats up a breakaway, let's remember to think of Brad McCrimmon and raise a glass to him. His impact was clear for all to see when he was paired with Howe, but it's also still a huge part of this Flyers team.

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

BOX SCORE

For as much as the Sixers’ bigs are talked about, Richaun Holmes often is left out of the conversation. 

He’s not the centerpiece of the team like Joel Embiid nor was he heavily involved in trade talks like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. He is the backup center who bides his time on the bench and quietly stays ready when he gets the nod.

And on Friday, he was the standout player in the Sixers’ 120-112 win over the Wizards (see Instant Replay)

“He’s been sort of the person that people forget about because of the logjam of five men,” Brett Brown said. “We all sort of think, ‘Well, he should just accept it because he’s behind Joel and Nerlens and Jahlil. Good ol’ Richaun. Go to the D-League and it’s OK.’ And that doesn’t work. He’s a pro, he’s competitive. He’s handled it. He’s really been a wonderful teammate.”

Holmes was bumped up in the rotation following the trade of Noel to the Mavs. He moved into the second-unit role while Okafor started in place of the injured Embiid. 

Holmes recorded his first double-double with 12 points (6 for 9 from the field) and 10 rebounds (three offensive). He also blocked a career-high five shots, tying Embiid for the most by a Sixer this season. The second-year big man put together this impressive performance in 26 minutes off the bench. 

“Just play hard,” Holmes said of his approach. “Just go out there, show what you’ve been working on, play hard every second you’re out there. That’s the motto I’ve got.”

Holmes is averaging 16.1 minutes and has appeared in just 32 of the Sixers’ 57 games. This season he also spent time with the Delaware 87ers of the Development League to get playing time. Holmes embraced an opportunity similar to Friday’s a month ago when he scored 18 points in as many minutes against the Clippers. 

“I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt,” Holmes said. “Prepare like I’m going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance.”

Brown did not rule out the possibility that Holmes could start at some point if he continues this production. The Sixers are limiting Okafor to 20 to 24 minutes per game, according to Brown. That, combined with Embiid’s injury, could lend itself to an increased role for Holmes. 

“I think in that environment, it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for Richaun to get a start from time to time,” Brown said. 

Even if he remains on the second unit, Holmes proved he can provide a spark off the bench. Dario Saric noted how Holmes’ impact on both ends of the floor bolsters the frontcourt in addition to a more offensively-minded Okafor (11 points, two rebounds). 

“I think he played unbelievably good in both ways,” Saric said. “Everybody knows he’s an elite guy finishing around the rim, and he stepped in Nerlens’ place, he replaced him unbelievably good. I hope he will get the same minutes for the next game because we have Jahlil, who is more like a post-up player, who likes more to score from the low-post block, and we for sure need some guy like Richaun who will play in both ways." 

Perhaps the person least surprised by Holmes' game was Holmes himself. It was the result he puts in long hours to produce.

“It’s all about the grind,” he said. “All about keep working, keep trying to move up, keep trying to get better every second and it’ll pay off.” 

Ilya Bryzgalov talks goalies playing in contract year, Las Vegas and more

Ilya Bryzgalov talks goalies playing in contract year, Las Vegas and more

Gotta love Bryz, right?

Former Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was his usual humorous, unpredictable self in a recent interview with Sportsnet.ca's Luke Fox.

From what he's doing now to talking pressure as a goalie, here are some of the highlights ...

On a goalie's mental state when job security is up in the air (referenced to Flyers goalie Steve Mason)
“So many goalies take the job for a long time, so it’s easy to be out of game. You worry. You want to find a long-term job, pay bills. It’s not a secret. That’s why when there’s no [contractual] certainty and you don’t see 100 percent confidence from your team, it might affect your game. If the season’s not going well, you start thinking about it.”

On his son playing goalie
"He chose it. He’s the guy who gives his team a chance to win. Make some saves. But he plays as a player once a week, too. Shoots the puck on goalies every Wednesday pretty much.”

On being a hockey dad
“I’m pretty calm. I only get upset when I see the referees make the bad calls. The kids work so hard and play so passionately, you can’t take sides. Only when the referee’s unfair.”

On being a pro hockey player in Las Vegas
"I’m family guy, settled down. I’ve never been too emotional or casino-addicted. For me, no problem. For the young guys to play there, it causes trouble, man. Difficult trouble. … The young ones with the cash? Las Vegas can provide lots of scenes, know what I mean?"

The rest is just as good. For the full Q&A, read Fox's article right here.

Also, Bryzgalov will be a part of Sportsnet's trade deadline coverage next Wednesday.

And side note: Bryz remains active on Twitter. And remains random as ever.

Just look at his last tweet ...