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Blackhawks Magazine: Inside Crow's net

04/27/2011 3:35 PM

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A simple chest save… a subtle flash of the pad… hockey fans hoping for heart-thumping, acrobatic saves would be wise to look elsewhere when Corey Crawford is in net. But nobody can deny that the cool, collected Crawford, who grew up with his parents, brother and sister 15 miles from Montreal in Canadiens-crazy Châteauguay, Quebec, was one of the Hawks’ most steady regular-season workhorses. A legitimate Calder Trophy candidate for Rookie of the Year, “Crow” is only the second Blackhawks goalie in the last 15 years to notch 30 wins.

Blackhawks Magazine managing editor Adam Kempenaar sat down with the 26-year-old netminder to discuss how he developed his precise goaltending style, which teammate he can’t stop in practice and more.

Were you always a goalie growing up?
I started playing organized, city hockey when I was four or five. I learned how to skate first and played like that for a couple years. When I was nine or ten I switched to goalie. I just decided I wanted to be a goalie, and my parents didn’t have much of a choice from what they tell me. Patrick Roy was the man back in the day in Montreal, and I wanted to be like him. He was my influence.

Were your parents very hands-on with you in terms of coaching or directing your development as a youth hockey player?
Actually, no. They were good in that they didn’t force me to do too much; I was able to just do my own thing. They didn’t get on my case if I didn’t feel like playing or if I wasn’t playing as well as I could. They just supported me the whole time and let me have fun. They sacrificed quite a bit for me, getting up really early and on the weekends to bring me and my brother to hockey.

At what point did you first realize that you had the potential to be a professional hockey player?
Probably a little bit into my midget hockey season, midget triple-A.

How old were you then?
15. That’s when I first started to grasp that this could be something. I knew I still had a long way to go, but agents were approaching me, and NHL teams were sending scouts to see games in midgets, which was definitely kind of weird. So it started to sink in then, but I didn’t really think seriously about how close the NHL was until junior hockey (Moncton, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). Actually making it to the NHL wasn’t even really in my head; I was just focused on getting drafted. It feels like it’s gone by so fast.

What do you remember about your draft day in Nashville?
It was long. I went 52nd overall, but it felt like I waited forever. There were a few teams who had hinted they were looking at me near the end of the first round. Once you hear that from your agent and then you don’t go at the end of the first round, you start worrying a bit. It’s definitely a shock once you hear your name called.

Blackhawks goaltending coach Stephane Waite said he used to call you ‘Robocop’ because you were always so square and precise with your movements in net. Is that style something you were taught, or were you just naturally more of a technician than an improviser?
I was taught. Going into my first year of junior I joined with my agent, and Francois Allaire (former mentor to Patrick Roy and now the goalie coach in Toronto) was the goalie coach working with him in the summertime. He was a very technical goalie coach. He always taught me to be square and set. I found it made my game a lot easier. I could play better when I had that approach, especially at a young age when there were all sorts of technical ways to think about the game coming at me. Before that you’d just go out and play; junior hockey really made you focus more on technique and ‘tricks’ in order to play certain situations a certain way. I learned that all from Allaire, and from that point on I just used that style and grew as a goalie.

Do you enjoy watching goalies who play almost the complete opposite style, like your teammate
Marty Turco?
Yeah, I do. That’s a pretty tough way to play. You need really good hand-eye [coordination] to play like that and have a really good career like he and [Martin] Brodeur have had. There aren’t too many guys who can play that way because it’s so hard, and you have to be so athletic. I’ve just gotten so accustomed to my style over the past ten years, and whenever I work on it I use that as my base — to be set, square and big, and try to keep my body in front of every shot, and then react.

Are you one of those guys who is always watching hockey, especially on off-nights?
I don’t watch too many full-length hockey games anymore. I watch highlights all the time. It’s good to see what other guys around the league are doing, the way they shoot, the kind of plays they’re making.
What about other goalies? Anybody who particularly impresses you?
I really like watching Marty. He makes some awesome saves and is great at playing the puck too. He transitions the puck so quick that if the other team isn’t careful we can get some quick offense out of it. [Henrik] Lundqvist in New York is another one. There are so many. Brodeur was definitely a hero growing up too.

Tell me about the design of your mask.
Stephane Bergeron in Three Rivers, Quebec, is my painter. He does Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh and other guys too. We just discussed it, and he threw some ideas at me, and I gave some back. We liked some tomahawks and feathers sort of faded in the background, having the logo nice and bold. He did a great job. Even if you have a great idea, you need a good artist to bring it out.

Goalies often have the reputation of being a little, well, weird. Would you say you’re a typical or atypical goalie in that respect?
I hope I’m not weird. I’ll use that word, “hope.” I’m pretty calm and don’t say too much. Especially my first year in here, I don’t want to tick too many guys off. I like to joke around too though a little bit.

Off the ice, I’ve heard you like to take it easy, especially the night before a game.
Most of the time I try not to be out too late. I just like to sit around and relax and watch TV.

On the ice, is your calm demeanor in net also something you’ve had to work on over the years, or is that just your personality?
I think it’s part of who you are and what kind of personality you have. Obviously if you get shaken pretty easily then you’ll have to adjust to it a little more than someone who is calm most of the time and can brush negative things off a little easier.

Back in December you became the first Blackhawks rookie goalie to win eight consecutive games since Denis DeJordy in 1964. Were you thinking about the streak at all during that run, or were you able to block it out completely?
In the middle of it, not really; towards the end, yeah, when you have a chance to beat it. Guys who say they don’t think about records and those things are probably lying because obviously you do think about it a little bit. But you try to not let it surround your whole thought process and distract you from what got you there, which is being prepared and focused on shots.

You played five seasons for Norfolk and Rockford in the American Hockey League. Did you ever have doubts about whether you would make it to the NHL?
I was confident, but there are always negative thoughts that creep in. You get angry sometimes when you think about why you haven’t made it. Am I not quick enough? Am I just not good enough? You have to look past that and keep working hard in the minors. I just said to myself, ‘Keep going, don’t give up, you’re not far from your goal. Your chance will come soon enough.’

Which teammate do you have the toughest time with in practice? Anybody who just has your number?
In a shootout or straight-up shot?

Either one.
It’s hard because in practice the guys have so much time that everybody’s a good shooter. Hossa lately, I can’t stop that guy. His shot is so quick. I think it goes in stages. One day there will be a guy I can’t stop, and the next day he can’t beat me. Obviously our top skill guys are always hard to stop.

What about somebody who has an underrated shot?
Kopecky. I don’t know if his shot is underrated, but I’d like to see him shoot more in games because he’s got a bomb. He’s definitely hard to stop in practice.

Has it fully sunk in that you’re a starting goalie in the National Hockey League?
Yeah, it has. I remember at the beginning of the year being in New York to play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden and saying to myself, ‘Wow, I’ve finally made it, I’m finally here — not just for a couple games but here to stay.’ That’s why I’ve worked hard ever since junior hockey, to get to this point, and it’s definitely satisfying, though there is still a long ways to go.