As the hockey world reels and deals with the tragedy of Wednesday's fatal plane crash in Russia, my thoughts are with the family of Brad McCrimmon, the coach of the KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl who lost his life with 42 other players, staff and flight crew.
Our boys played hockey together in Atlanta, where I was a broadcaster and Brad was an assistant coach with the Thrashers. My son Mitch began playing defense so he could be Liam McCrimmon's partner on the blue line. They also played organized lacrosse on the same team, along with several other first-timers from their hockey team. Our families hung out socially, brought together by work and kids -- no different than a lot of family connections in any walk of life.
Brad McCrimmon's life was hockey and the game's tightly woven community. So while I knew the man they called Beast, that fact hardly makes me unique. There was no one I have ever met in the game who knew more people around the NHL. McCrimmon talked with everyone and kept in touch. He was a one-man rolodex -- a single node network. And it wasn't superficial. Beast took time to know what people did, from assistant equipment managers to high-ranking officials in the players union and league office. He truly cared.
No, there was nothing phony about Brad McCrimmon. In a way, he was hockey to its core -- honest, raw and real. He cursed like no human I've ever met, yet somehow it didn't make him vulgar. He was kind and caring, while at the same time being a ruthless competitor. He stayed up on the changes in the coaching field, while never changing who he was or what he was about. He remained principled while understanding and dealing with the cynicism that is just below the surface in the business end of the game he loved.
And, man, did he have a passion for the game of hockey. He knew so much, but continued to seek more knowledge and new experiences in the game. That desire knew no bounds, whether it was at a youth team practice at 6 AM or in a corner bar telling stories after hours, Brad breathed life into the proceedings. He was engaging and endearing. He was oh-so-willing to share, with earnestness in wanting those around him to do the same.
Bigger than life? Nah, not Beast. Just one of the guys. A hockey guy through and through. It was all about the team, the group, the guys in the locker room.
One of my favorite memories underscores that sensibility. We were having one of our late-night storytelling sessions and Beast was talking about the Calgary Flames team that won the Stanley Cup in 1989. We talked about guys and teams from that season, as contemporaries. He and I had played against each other often. Beast looked me in the eye with his mischievous, darting gaze and asked me, "Do you know what made that celebration special?"
I took a few stabs at answering: first Cup... Flames fever in Calgary... ending Edmonton's hold on the province of Alberta...
Beast shook his head and offered up a grinning "Nope. We were the only visiting team in history to celebrate a Cup-clincher on the ice of the Montreal Forum. Look it up."
I didn't have to. Beast was hockey.
With Brad McCrimmon gone, the hockey world has a hole in it. The stories, though, will live on, as much a part of the fabric of the game as a sweet saucer pass to your D partner, or a post-practice game of 2-on-2. To honor Brad McCrimmon's memory, offer up your favorite Beast stories and send them to me via the email address above.