CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Brad McCrimmon, killed Wednesday when a private jet carrying a Russian professional hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff, was remembered as a rugged yet keen and confident hockey player and coach who helped dozens of players and teammates. He was 52.
McCrimmon became coach of the Kontinental Hockey League's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in May.
"He was such a personable guy and a guy you wanted to listen to on a regular basis," said former Calgary Flames teammate Perry Berezan.
Berezan was McCrimmon's roommate on the road during their time together in Calgary. Berezan described McCrimmon a leader on the team and a mentor to younger players.
"He was a big, barrel-chested man, a hairy man who told it like is, played hard, really hard and always just an honest-on-the-ice-off-the-ice kind of guy that you really respected," Berezan said. "The world doesn't have many people like Brad. I hadn't seen him very much over the past bunch of years and I'm really missing him right now because you know guys like that are pretty special."
McCrimmon approached playing and coaching with a crusty candor.
"Coarse, frank, blunt, but he was easy to understand," former Flames center Jim Peplinski said. "As soon as you could pierce that rough exterior there was a soft side that would go to war with you. We always called him Beast because he was so gruff.
"Beast was a quiet individual who in my opinion had a very deep and thorough understanding of the game, one that in initial conversations with him sometimes would be hidden. I took great pride and pleasure and a lot of appreciation in talking to Brad about parts of the game that he saw in a way that I certainly didn't and many others didn't."
While McCrimmon played for six NHL teams and served as an assistant coach on four clubs, the Flames felt his loss deeply Wednesday. McCrimmon helped the Flames win their lone Stanley Cup title in 1989 and he returned to the team as an assistant coach from 2000 to 2002.
"It's a real hard hit," Flames president Ken King said. "(He was) a guy who tried to hide his superb intellect and his great wit behind being a farmer from Saskatchewan, but he didn't do a very good job of hiding it because he was a real soldier, an awesome guy and I can't tell you how much he'll be missed."
"Brad was one of the toughest defenseman to ever wear the black and orange," Flyers owner Ed Snider recalled in a statement. "Off the ice, Brad was a true gentleman. A kind, caring and wonderful human being."
Red Wings defenseman Nick Lidstrom was McCrimmon's defense partner during his rookie season in 1991-92.
"He was more of a stay-at-home defenseman, letting me get involved with the offense," Lidstrom said. "He also protected me at certain times when things got heated."
McCrimmon had 81 goals, 322 assists and 1,416 penalty minutes in 1,222 NHL games. His plus-minus of plus-444 ranks 10th, according to hockey-reference.com, and the nine players ahead of him are all in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
McCrimmon spent the last three NHL seasons as an assistant coach with the Red Wings. He left the organization when his contract expired to take his first head coaching job in pro hockey with Lokomotiv.
"Beast was a confident guy and he would look at this as a challenge," Peplinski said. "I remember when I heard Sarge had gone over there I thought, 'The Russians better be careful. This will be good for them.'
"Lots of confidence in himself, an independent thinker and a person that would have improved the game in Russia and brought his own unique skill set and abilities to that organization."
Born in Dodsland, Saskatchewan, McCrimmon grew up in Plenty, west of Saskatoon, and played junior hockey with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings. McCrimmon's brother, Kelly, is the owner and general manager of the Wheat Kings.
McCrimmon was drafted 15th overall by the Boston Bruins in 1979 and spent three seasons there, followed by five with Philadelphia before he was dealt to the Flames. McCrimmon went on to play for Detroit, the Hartford Whalers and Phoenix Coyotes before retiring in 1997.
McCrimmon started his coaching career as an assistant with the New York Islanders before returning to the WHL to coach the Saskatoon Blades. He headed back to the NHL to coach with Calgary, the Atlanta Thrashers and Detroit.
McCrimmon and his family lived in Northville, Mich.
He's survived by wife Maureen and children Carlin and Liam.