Brian Propp and Ray Allison found themselves together on Wednesday morning when the news broke that their old friend and teammate Brad McCrimmon had died in a plane crash in Russia.
"We're on a hockey trip, playing some oldtimers games and some golf (near Alliston, Ont.)," said Propp, who along with Allison and McCrimmon were keys to the best Wheat Kings team Brandon has ever seen. "It's such a shock and such a tragedy. Having Ray here, we're just going over old times and remembering what a great guy Brad was."
There were flashier defencemen in his era but for a time there was no one in hockey who could shut down the opposition like McCrimmon.
"The Flyers took the Oilers to seven games and without Beast (McCrimmon) and Howie (Mark Howe) they didn't stand a chance," said Kerry Huffman, a retired NHLer and teammate of McCrimmon's in Philadelphia. "Those two guys never came off the ice. Edmonton was the best offensive team hockey has ever seen and those two guys basically shut them down."
McCrimmon, 52, was killed along with 43 other people -- many of them his own players -- when a jet went down in Russia on Wednesday. McCrimmon was in his first year as head coach of Lokomotiv in the Continental Hockey League (KHL). The team was travelling to Minsk for its first game of the season.
McCrimmon was a member of the 1978-79 Wheat Kings who advanced to the final of the Memorial Cup before losing 2-1 in overtime to the Peterborough Petes. The team had three 100-point producers in Propp, Allison and Laurie Boschman.
McCrimmon led the blue-line and recorded 24 goals and 74 assists for 98 points. The year before he had 97.
"We were the ultimate competitors in junior until we joined forces in Brandon and then we were the best of friends," said Propp, who had 1,003 points in 1,016 NHL games.
"We stayed close and in contact. You can't find anyone to say anything bad about him. He was a true leader on and off the ice. He gave everything to hockey. I don't think he gets enough credit for what he did as a player. In the mid-'80s, Brad McCrimmon and Mark Howe were the best defensive pair in the NHL. They were tremendous in their own end. When you were on the ice with them you knew you would get a scoring chance on that shift because they took such good care of things in their own end."
The Boston Bruins selected McCrimmon in the first round of the 1979 NHL entry draft and he went straight from junior to the NHL where he stayed for 18 seasons, playing in 1,222 games, scoring 81 goals and 322 assists and won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989.
McCrimmon held assistant coaching positions with the Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, Thrashers and Calgary Flames. He was also head coach of the WHL's Saskatoon Blades for two seasons.
"Most teams Brad played for did well and he was always the cornerstone of those teams," said Allison. "He played hard minutes and he always played 28 to 30 minutes a game. If you were one of the best forwards on the other team you knew you were gonna see a lot of Brad and it wasn't going to be an easy night. He and Mark Howe, one year Brad was plus 83 and Howe was plus 85 (1985-86)."
McCrimmon played a larger offensive role in junior than in the NHL but Allison says that was by design and not lack of talent.
"Brad was the ultimate team guy. When he got to Boston, Ray Bourque was the other young defenceman there and he took all the offensive work and Brad looked after the defensive end. When he got to Philly, Mark Howe was there and it was the same thing," said Allison. "Brad just went with it and did whatever his team needed from him to win."
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