Most of the time, those of us who write here at Second City Hockey — who make no secret about our status as Blackhawks fans — try to view everything around this team with as objective of a viewpoint as we can muster.
But this ... this is not one of those times.
That’s because goaltender Corey Crawford, after a 10-month absence that’s felt like 10 years, is going to return when the Blackhawks host the Coyotes on Thursday night at the United Center.
I don’t think I realized how much I’ve appreciated having Crawford on this team until the rotating cast of sieves that replaced him last season were forced upon us during his absence. During the last 10 months, it’s finally dawned on me why I’ve become such a massive Crawford fan.
Let’s start with the numbers:
- Two Stanley Cups, something no other Blackhawks goalie has done
- 409 career games in Chicago, only six behind Ed Belfour for third in franchise history
- 230 wins, surpassed only by two Hall of Fame goalies: Tony Esposito (418) and Glenn Hall (276)
- Second-best career save percentage (.919)
- Tied for second-best goals against average (2.37)
And if those numbers don’t prove how good Crawford’s been, remember that, when he missed a significant chunk of a season for the first time in his career, the team plummeted to the Central Division basement.
But there’s more to my personal appreciation of Crawford than his performance on the ice. In fact, much more of it comes from the way I’ve perceived Crawford off it.
Here’s the easiest way to sum it up: to me, Crawford seems unwilling and unable to give a damn about any of the expectations of what a professional athlete “should” be. Nothing else associated with the job matters to him. He’s going to be Corey Crawford and he’s going to handle things his way, regardless of what anyone else — including the Blackhawks organization — expects of him. And it’s become my favorite thing about Crawford.
The strongest evidence of this has come during the prior 10 months, when Crawford never seemed to fall in line with the timeline the Blackhawks constantly tried to set for his return.
In July, at the team’s fan convention, Crawford offered a different perspective, saying he wasn’t 100 percent yet.
In September, team president John McDonough said he expected Crawford to be ready for the start of training camp. When training camp opened, Crawford again steered away from the front office’s message.
As recently as one day ago, Crawford still wasn’t letting anyone else decide on his readiness for a return.
Corey Crawford said it's ultimately his decision.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) October 17, 2018
That subtle line from Crawford, that little hint of stubbornness, that this saga — like everything else in his career — was going to proceed on Crawford’s terms and no one else’s, only further cemented my adoration for him.
He’s always come across as eccentric in interviews, the type of oddball you’d expect of a person whose job is to move in front of 100 mile per hour projectiles. But none of that has ever led to any off-ice transgressions to tarnish his reputation.
In fact, the only thing close to missteps from Crawford’s career are things that made me appreciate him more. He’s gone on television during Stanley Cup parades and dropped F-bombs on live TV, twice, which sounds like it’d be a blast to do but no one is putting me behind a podium on live TV anytime soon. The other thing? He (allegedly) went to a music venue in Chicago that I frequent regularly and (allegedly) watched a band I’ve seen multiple times and (allegedly) tumbled down a rather steep staircase, causing an injury that forced him out of action for a few weeks. I can’t think of a better “one-of-us” moment involving a Chicago athlete that’s occurred this century. Oh, and they still won the Cup that season, largely because of him.
Basically, Crawford is the type of professional athlete I wished I could’ve been, if I’d been born with any sort of athletic ability and had developed the requisite work ethic to make it. And since neither of those things are going to arrive in this lifetime, I’ll have to settle for living vicariously through Crawford yet again.
And I can’t wait to do it all again, starting with Thursday night.