(Courtesy of Rob Henderson, Brandon Sun) -- For many of his teammates on the great Brandon Wheat Kings squads of the late 1970s, Brad McCrimmon must have seemed almost invincible.
How else to explain a workhorse defenceman who was capable of playing 50 minutes a night, equally adept on either offence or defence?
"He never got tired," marvelled Oak River native Wes Coulson, who played with McCrimmon in Brandon from 1977-79. "There were nights when you were bagged and he never seemed to get tired. I don’t know what it was, maybe he just programmed himself to play that many minutes."
Coulson had the best seat in the house for the most celebrated example — the 1979 Memorial Cup final when McCrimmon played nearly the entire game in the Wheat Kings’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Peterborough Petes in the absence of standout blue-liner Mike Perovich.
Perhaps that’s why it was so hard for his former teammates to process the unthinkable on Wednesday when McCrimmon, 52, died in a Russian plane crash along with nearly every member of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL team that he coached.
"It’s just terrible," said Laurie Boschman, who grew up in Brandon and played two seasons with McCrimmon on the Wheat Kings. "It’s a shock to the hockey community."
Boschman played with Brian Propp and Ray Allison on the dynamic top line of the powerhouse ’78-79 Western Hockey League team, while McCrimmon was the anchor of the defence.
In fact, Propp and Allison were together when they heard the news, bussing to Alliston, Ont., for a charity hockey game featuring a number of former Philadelphia Flyers. Propp, who lives near Allison in the Philadelphia area, said having his close friend there helped him to deal with the overwhelming news.
"(Starting) in ’76 we both played with the Brandon Wheat Kings for three years and developed a really strong bond and friendship," Propp said of McCrimmon, a former Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League rival before they joined forces in the WHL with the Wheat Kings.
"And then even after that … playing with the Flyers (where Propp and McCrimmon were teammates for five years). All along we’ve always stayed in really good contact with each other and we know each other’s families really well, so it was kind of shocking news when I heard it this morning."
McCrimmon, Boschman, Propp and Allison were all chosen in the first round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, putting an exclamation point on four outstanding junior careers that culminated with the legendary 1978-79 team that went 58-5-9 for a major-junior record of 125 points before coming within a hair of winning the Memorial Cup.
McCrimmon produced seasons of 84, 97 and 98 points in his three seasons with the Wheat Kings, winning the WHL defenceman of the year award in 1978.
In the NHL, he played 1,222 games for the Flyers, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers and Phoenix Coyotes, producing 403 career points and leading the league in plus/minus (+48) for the Flames in 1987-88, one season before helping them win the Stanley Cup.
"Brad was a tremendous hockey player," Boschman said. "He was the anchor back there for our defence back in the late ’70s and with that team that was so successful.
"He was outstanding defensively and extremely gifted offensively as well. I think that was proven out by the fact that he had a long National Hockey League career and virtually he’s been in hockey ever since. … I think he’s been successful wherever he’s been."
Coulson credits McCrimmon’s success to the work ethic he showed dating back to those junior days.
"He worked hard on the ice and he was a good hockey player, there’s no doubt about that," Coulson said. "He ran the back end for us and quarterbacked the power play and we had lots of guys up front, but he was the main guy at the back end. Off the ice, he was just kinda like any other 19-year-old. We had our fun, but he was one of those guys that (felt) we had a job to do and the job was to win a Memorial Cup."
Propp said McCrimmon was true captain’s material, and displayed it every day both on and off the ice.
"You couldn’t find anybody that would work harder in practice or be at the rink earlier or stay there later than Brad McCrimmon, or you wouldn’t find people that would give of themselves the way he did," Propp said. "… He would take all the rookies and take them home with him and feed them a meal and make them feel comfortable with the team and he would help them out any way that he could. It was always the things that he did off the ice, getting the whole team together when you go out the road and you get together before you go out for dinner, just at least (ensuring) that you share those moments together. And that leadership goes above and beyond what most players would do."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 8, 2011