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Former Flame made his mark

McCrimmon was key on ’89 Cup winner

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CALGARY — It remains one of the keepsake images of that touchstone night at the old Montreal Forum, May 25, 1989: The look of utter joy on Brad Mc-Crimmon’s face as he celebrates with defence partner Rob Ramage inside the champagne-soaked chaos of the Calgary Flames’ dressing room.

A thick, jagged trail of tissue, dried blood and bone runs down the bridge of McCrimmon’s nose.

"He looked," recalled trainer Bearcat Murray on a sad day for all who were there, all who knew him, "like he’d been through a meat grinder. How he took some of the crap he did in that series, I’ll never know. He wasn’t big on taking crap.

"But that was Brad. A warrior."

He was known affectionately during his years around Calgary’s Saddledome as The Beast or Sergeant Vince Carter, taken, given his military-style haircut of choice, from the ’60s TV sitcom Gomer Pyle.

Old school, in the very best sense of the term. Witheringly honest. Refreshingly candid, if he trusted you.

Someone with a hard shell hiding a fine core.

His yes meant yes. His no meant no.

There was absolutely no bunkum about The Beast.

"He was tough, he was abrasive, but on the inside he was a big teddy bear, a big softy," murmured Lanny McDonald. "Inside, he had a heart of gold..."

That familiar voice trailed away.

"I don’t know what to say..."

Later Wednesday, unthinkable confirmation: McCrimmon, a player who’d meant so much to the Flames organization and its one crowning moment of glory, among 43 dead in a plane crash.

It didn’t, doesn’t, seem possible.

"I’d say... solid," replied McDonald softly, when asked for a single word that best described his old teammate.

"Not only in stature but as a person. Dependable. If you were driving on the prairies in a blizzard, you’d want him behind the wheel.

"So one word? Solid."

It’s as apt as any. McCrimmon’s impact, imprint, on the team that would finally end the Stanley Cup quest here was quiet but profound. In three seasons as a Flame, he was cornerstone, captain and mentor.

"He meant a great deal to my career," said defence sidekick Gary Suter from his home in Wisconsin. "He steadied my play. We just clicked. I was more offensive and he was rocksolid defensively. A great complement to my game.

"I’m still trying to let what happened sink in... I played with Chelios and MacInnis, too, but I ended up having my best career year with him as my partner. We just hit it off."

Longtime Flames’ executive Al Mac-Neil first saw McCrimmon during his junior year in Brandon.

"He played in a rocking chair, even then. By that, I mean he played at his own pace; he tailored the game to him. Honest to God, he must’ve played 55 minutes that night.

"I can’t believe what’s happened. He epitomized everything good about hockey. Had a spirit about him — a lot of life, a lot of bounce. A bit of a character. He understood the room. The guys loved him.

"If you remember, the only reason we ended up with him at all was (Jamie) Macoun got in that car accident and the reports from the doctors were that he might not play again. So geez, we were in a pickle. Cliff (GM Fletcher) had to go out and find a good player to replace Macoun, in case.

"The two free-agents we were looking at who were available at the time and fit what we needed were McCrimmon and (Randy) Carlyle. Both top guys. I can’t remember what the reasoning came down to, exactly, but after some back and forth we went after McCrimmon. No disrespect to Randy Carlyle, but it was the best decision we ever made."

Cut through cliché and McCrimmon was, truthfully, one of the last of a breed. A player, then a coach, with absolutely no sense of entitlement, no patience with presumptuous airs, no time for posing or petulance or flattering fakes.

 

— Postmedia News

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