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.
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.
"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."
"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."
"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.