Crawford took scenic route to starring role
Tuesday, 04.12.2011 / 9:33 AM CT / Features
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com senior writer
CHICAGO -- Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell still raises both of his eyebrows when he tells the story of how he truly learned what goalie Corey Crawford was all about.
"When you're one of the last few guys on the ice and he goes around to each individual guy on the ice and asks them if they need anything else from him, more shots, anything -- he did it to me this year and I was just like, 'Wow, that's awesome and that's a goaltender that wants to get better,' " Campbell told NHL.com over the weekend. "He did that not just once but a few times to me, asking if I need anything else or if there was anything else he can do. What a great team guy."
Campbell stressed that never before in his 11 years in the NHL has a goalie done such a thing at the end of practice.
Crawford, though, might just be different than a lot of young goalies -- both with his mental capacity to handle the increased workload in a series of huge games down the stretch and his physical ability to actually improve over the course of a two-month starting streak, despite having an NHL resume that included only eight starts prior to the season.
Successful young goalies in the NHL are not rare; ones who finally make it after five long seasons in the American Hockey League are.
Crawford played 255 AHL games with the Norfolk Admirals and then Rockford IceHogs from 2005-10. On Wednesday in Vancouver, he'll be making his 28th straight start for the Chicago Blackhawks, but only his first career playoff start.
The Blackhawks may have backed into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, but without Crawford they wouldn't have even had that opportunity. They start their playoff journey in Vancouver against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks, who have bowed out of the last two postseasons at the hands of these Blackhawks.
Crawford didn't get to the big stage by accident.
"Mentally, he's sharper than a lot of goalies that I've ever played with," Campbell said. "He doesn't let too many things bother him, or if there are ups and downs he just rides an even keel. Those are two of the strongest traits he has. I think Corey is more advanced … probably from having to endure more seasons in the American League."
Crawford was arguably the Blackhawks' MVP this season because he came along at a time when they needed him so badly.
Think about it -- where would the Hawks be today had Crawford not turned in a season that includes 33 wins, a 2.30 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and four shutouts in 55 starts?
Stanley Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi is playing in San Jose and his initial replacement, veteran Marty Turco, was not the answer.
"I like his composure as the game progresses -- as the game gets deeper in, he just challenges," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of Crawford. "He doesn't change one iota about how he approaches the shooters and how he handles the tougher situations. I just think he's grown in his confidence and that's how he carries himself."
It matters that Turco has not sulked and instead has been a friend to Crawford, but more importantly is Crawford's mental capacity to handle the job was already strong when he started the season.
Five seasons in the minors hardens you. Getting waived and subsequently passed over by 29 other teams as Crawford did at the end of training camp last season stings.
"That hurt him quite a bit," Campbell said of Crawford getting waived. "That's a time when you really question yourself."
But through all the promotions and demotions and even through the unsettling waiver process, Crawford figured out how to stop wondering and just start playing.
That same mentality works in the NHL. He doesn't look over his shoulder and see a veteran clamoring to get in; he instead stays straight ahead and keeps the next save in mind.
"For sure there were times (that I wondered if I was going to make it)," Crawford told NHL.com. "I was [upset] every time I got sent down. I was frustrated and obviously wondering if ever I am going to get a chance. After a while that kind of goes away and you start playing hockey. Once you play hockey you don't think about that stuff. You just focus on what you're doing."
Crawford's preparation drew praise from both Quenneville and Campbell.
"Here I am a little bit better prepared and a little more focused just because you're at this level and there's no room for error," the goalie said. "Sometimes in the minors it's easy to slip a little bit and get away from preparation, but here every game is so hard that you have to prepare and be ready for every one."
Even the biggest of his life, which is essentially what Wednesday's game against the Canucks is for Crawford.
"We like the way he approaches it, the way he competes day in and day out," Quenneville said. "He's got a great disposition about him and he handles all situations. How he's handled preparing himself going into games knowing the workload is big and the time of year is even bigger is a complement to how he approaches the whole game."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer