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Top 100 Goalies: No. 60 — Corey Crawford

The road to the NHL meant leaving home at a young age and spending years in the minors, but it paid off in Stanley Cups.

Geography was cruel to young Corey Crawford. At 15, he had to leave his home on the south shore of Montreal to play midget hockey two hours away in Gatineau, because his hometown of Chateauguay fell into Gatineau’s catchment area. So if a team two hours away from his home wanted him, he had to play there rather than one 20 minutes from his house.

The son of a social services worker for the Quebec government and a student services officer at McGill University, Crawford has been on his own ever since, playing major junior for four years in Moncton before turning pro. His father, Trevor, was a decent player back in the day and still shares the school record at the University of Prince Edward Island for goals in a game with five.

With Nikolai Khabibulin, Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet all getting starts before him with Chicago, Crawford had to be patient early in his career and ride the bus in the minors.

Years in the AHL made him resilient, and he learned to loosen up his technically sound style and become a battler, someone who never gave up on the puck. He already had the fundamental base from working with Quebec goaltending guru Francois Allaire since he was 16, but he knew he had to leverage some of his calculation in exchange for desperation.

Not once, though, did he think he was being overlooked, even when the Blackhawks went out and signed Huet to a four-year deal worth $22.5 million on the first day of free agency in 2008, after Crawford had already put in three years in the minors and thought he was NHL-ready. “You wonder sometimes why you’re still there,” Crawford said. “You try to stay positive, but there were times when I thought, ‘Would I ever make it? Is this the right road for me?’ There were tons of things I thought of.”

Crawford used that development time to build a steely resolve, one that has served him well since he stuck with Chicago for good in 2010-11. Even that season, Marty Turco was supposed to carry the load but ended up deferring to Crawford. “The one thing I said to people after the year was, ‘That guy, he never had a bad day,’ ” Turco said. “Joel Quenneville’s practices were notorious for being goalie killers, and he really enjoyed it. He worked his tail off. And he was amazing.”

For a stretch, some Hawks fans made fun of Crawford’s inability to post shutouts, but eventually the goose eggs came. After winning his first Stanley Cup in 2013, Crawford grabbed a local TV reporter and constant critic by the lapels and informed him he was aware of the criticism he was getting, but then smiled and said it was all cool because he was a Stanley Cup champion.

It might have irked him in the past, but Crawford was a true No. 1 by then. His play in the 2015 Cup final was something to behold, as was his .938 save percentage. His defining moment came in Game 6 when he stopped Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos on a clear breakaway in the second period, en route to a 2-0 shutout victory and another championship ring.

Pierre Bouchard once compared Hall of Fame teammate Ken Dryden to a duck, saying that on the surface he floats along as though everything is just fine, but what you don’t see is beneath the surface where his legs are moving like crazy. “That’s a pretty good comparison,” Crawford said. “Sometimes when you’re standing there by yourself, you start picking at yourself and overanalyzing things.” In the end, Crawford found his comfort level and became crucial to the Blackhawks.

Today, Crawford is working his way back from the serious side effects of a concussion. He may not return to his halcyon Cup days, but there’s no mistaking the impact Crawford had in Chicago once he got there: two Stanley Cups, two Jennings Trophies, and in 2015-16, he even led the league in shutouts. Time has a way of working those things out – when you put your heart into it.

Born: Dec. 31, 1984, Montreal, Que.
NHL Career: 2006-present
Teams: Chi
Stats: 230-124-45, 2.37 GAA, .919 SP, 23 SO
Stanley Cups: 2

DID YOU KNOW?

Crawford rode the buses for 55,011 miles over five AHL seasons – 12,175 and 14,898 in two seasons with the Norfolk Admirals and 9,350, 10,385 and 8,203 in three seasons with the Rockford IceHogs. In his rookie AHL season, he had a 19-day road trip that started in Bridgeport, then on to Albany, Providence, Springfield, Portland, Manchester, Hartford, back to Portland, Lowell, back to Bridgeport, then to Binghamton.

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