Wharnsby: Crawford on coaching 1,000 games

Marc Crawford has plenty of fond memories on the eve of his 1,000th game as an NHL head coach, a milestone he will reach Friday when his Dallas Stars host the Florida Panthers.

Marc Crawford's memory has been working overtime this week.

A bevy of unforgettable moments have flooded back to the 48-year-old head coach as he approaches his milestone 1,000th NHL game behind the bench, when his Dallas Stars entertain the Florida Panthers on Friday.

Of course, Crawford's ultimate moment arrived when defenceman Uwe Krupp drifted home a shot in the third overtime period to clinch a Stanley Cup championship for the Colorado Avalanche in the spring of 1996. Crawford's reaction was classic. He put his hands together and swung his arms like a baseball bat — indicating that he just belted a home run.

"When you go through it, there were some great battles," Crawford said. "When we were in Colorado, there were some pretty special games against Detroit. The Stanley Cup was huge and stands out for obvious reasons.

"When you go through all the games, I think you also remember your last one, [a 4-3 overtime win at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday]."

Crawford, who also has coached the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings in his 15 NHL seasons, also was just as thrilled to be behind the bench for his player's individual achievements.

He mused about former Canucks captain Trevor Linden becoming the all-time Vancouver points leader on Mar. 8, 2004, a feat that was overshadowed because that was the same game Todd Bertuzzi went berserk on Colorado’s Steve Moore.

After a playing career that saw him win back-to-back Memorial Cups in 1980 and 1981 and a trip to the 1982 Stanley Cup final with the Canucks, Crawford decided to follow his father Floyd into the junior coaching ranks.

Benchmark for Marc

Marc Crawford becomes the 15th head coach to reach 1,000 NHL games ( * denotes still active ).

 Name  Games  Seasons
 Scotty Bowman   2,141  30
 Al Arbour  1,607  23
 Dick Irvin Sr.  1,449  27
 Mike Keenan  1,386  20
 Pat Quinn*  1,330  21
 Bryan Murray  1,239  18
 Ron Wilson*  1,182  17
 Jacques Lemaire*  1,140  17
 Jacques Martin*  1,109  16
 Billy Reay  1,102  16
 Brian Sutter  1,028  15
 Pat Burns  1,019  15
 Jacques Demers  1,007  14
 Roger Neilson  1,000  16
 Marc Crawford*  999  15

The younger Crawford spent two seasons behind Cornwall's bench, where he tutored Owen Nolan, and then moved on to steer the St. John's Maple Leafs, leading them to the 1992 Calder Cup final.

At the NHL draft a couple years later, Crawford was told by Toronto general manager Cliff Fletcher that as part of the six-player trade that sent Wendel Clark to the Quebec Nordiques and Mats Sundin to the Leafs, Fletcher allowed the Nordiques to hire Crawford as Quebec’s new coach.

In his first and only season in Quebec City — the team moved to Colorado the next year — the Nordiques skated out to an impressive 12-1-0 start. Crawford wound up becoming the youngest winner of the Jack Adams Award at age 34.

He has vivid recollections of that first NHL game at the helm of the Nordiques.

"The first one was in the old [Philadelphia] Spectrum against a really good team," he said. "We didn't have much time to prepare because it was right after the lockout.

"It was a hard-fought 3-1 victory. Stéphane Fiset played great in net and Peter Forsberg announced to the world what type of player he was when he scored a goal by cutting around a Philly defenceman and shelved one past the Philly goalie."

Nearing 500 wins

Fifteen seasons later, Crawford is only 24 wins shy of 500, a mark he is sure to reach this season with the Stars after a strong 6-2-4 start.

Crawford's success with the Nordiques/Avalanche propelled him to the pressure-packed position of coaching the Canadian men's team at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. When Canada was eliminated in the semifinals by the stellar netminding of Czech Republic goalie Dominik Hasek, Crawford was criticized for not choosing Wayne Gretzky to shoot in the ill-fated shootout.

Although Crawford had strong coach-player relationships with players such as Linden, Mark Messier, Mike Modano and other veterans, one of his strengths has been working with young players

"With youth, there comes improvement," Crawford said. "Over the years, I have learned that they need to feel comfortable and need to be taught two things — how to work and how to form maintainable habits.

"But I also think I've worked well with older players, too. When I started in St. John's, I worked well with Joel Quenneville, an old player, and he became an [AHL] all-star. When we were in Quebec for that first year, some of my favourites were older guys like Troy Murray and Dave Hannan and Alexei Gusarov, who I think played for Russia in the 1972 series," Crawford added, jokingly.

"It's the guys in between that I've had issues with," he joked again.