David M Singer
Mar 23, 2005
Troy Crowder went into the NHL with a well-earned reputation. Crowder was as tough as they come during his juniors years. He made an immediate impact during his first full-season in the NHL bloodying legendary tough guy Bob Probert and then going on to put down many other challengers. The hockey world was abuzz about the new heavyweight on the scene and the anticipated rematch with Probert.
After a solid first season in the NHL, Crowder caught an injury bug he was never able to shake. Leading a list of “what ifs” is what sort of career Crowder would have had if not for being hurt early in his career. Forced into long rehab stints and early retirement, Crowder has taken everything he's absorbed on the sidelines and set up a summer hockey camp for kids to pass along his knowledge.
Singer: During your last juniors year, you had 12 goals, 39 points in 46 games with the OHL's Belleville Bulls - pretty good totals. However, you were drafted a couple of seasons before you put up those numbers, were you expecting to play an enforcer role, or were you expecting to be more multi-dimensional?
Crowder: I was pretty sure that the enforcer role was going to be my main role for sure, but like most fighters and most players out there we grew up as kids playing hockey and loving the game, so I was hoping to evolve into an all-around player, but I knew that was what was going to get me there.
Singer: A couple of years later, in '89 - '90, you had an interesting season. You played a few games in the ECHL, and then you jumped right to the NHL. What was that jump like and were you trying to do more than just play an enforcer role, because you only had one fight in all those games with the Devils?
Crowder: The year before I played in the American League, and the coach [Tom McVie] and I down there didn't really see eye-to-eye. I thought I was down there to develop my skills, but he knew I could fight and it was just a constant to him - he wanted me to fight - and we really banged heads with different philosophies on how to motivate players. He was pretty old school, and I was more about trying to figure out what makes someone tick. So I had a really bad year that year, and I wasn't very happy with it. I came back to the NHL the next year and he was at training camp, and it gave me bad feelings about hockey, so I just said I have other talents, and wanted to enjoy life, so I just retired from hockey at that point.
Throughout that next year the Devils were trying to get me to come back and play and I just kept saying no and no. Finally after Christmas, some time in the new year, they asked again. They said, if you come back, you'll go right to the NHL and won't have to play down in the minor leagues. I said I was out of shape, so they actually sent me on a conditioning program for a month, and then just to get a little game shape they sent me to the East Coast Hockey League, because I didn't want to play for the coach for the American Hockey League. So that's why they sent me there to play a few games, and in turn, once I played a few games and got just a little bit of timing, they brought me up to play the rest of the year in the NHL.
My first game back was in Toronto, at Maple Leaf Gardens and John Kordic had a little thing going with Slava Fetisov, because I guess Fetisov kneed or had something that happened with Wendel Clark. Anyway there was a big hoopla about how they were going to get him back, so that was my first game back, in Maple Leaf Gardens for that game, so I fought John Kordic that game. It just kind of evened out the heavyweight battle, I guess, so they wouldn't have any issues with my key players. After that, there were only about nine games left in the season, and the coach [John Cunniff] just said to me, “you know, let's just get your confidence here, and let's get playing,” and so that was kind of my job - just to get ice time and get myself back into the swing of things. So I played for the last nine games, and since I fought before in the American League and I fought before in the playoffs, the guys kind of knew me, so nobody was actually chasing me down for a fight. Also I wasn't really looking for it - I was just trying to play, so that was kind of how that season went, and then the following year was my first full year in the NHL.
Singer: Tracking back a little bit, I wanted to ask you about your first NHL game where you went in and…
Crowder: The Stanley Cup Semi-Finals…
Singer: Yeah, what were the circumstances that led to the Devils suddenly including you in the post-season roster after not playing during the regular season?
Crowder: I was in junior hockey that year. That was the year I played in Belleville and had a good year that year, and actually I was a defenseman that year.
Singer: Those juniors numbers look even better now.
Crowder: I tried many times to get my coaches to play me on defense, but everybody always thought I was a forward, even though my year in Europe and England and my year in junior, my highest point-total years, were as a defenseman - so I don't know why I could never convince anybody to give me a chance on D. Anyway, I got called up to the American Hockey League after my season ended and I played the final 3 games. I think I probably had 4 or 5 fights - maybe even 6 in the 3 games, and I made my presence known. When the season ended - that night I think - the Devils played their final game to see if they could make it into the playoffs. It came right down to the final game and they won it and made the playoffs for the first time ever. My season had just ended in Utica and then they turned around and called me…. well, actually, Lou Lamoriello and a lot of the scouts were down and they watched a lot of the final few games that we played in the American League. They were kind of in doubt to see who they were going to bring up for the playoffs as extra players, and I got picked with a couple of other guys to come up for the playoffs. So four of us went up and I ended up being the only guy getting to play in the playoffs out of those guys. It was pretty interesting because I didn't play in the first round, didn't play in the second round, and all of a sudden the third round came and they said, “okay, you're playing tonight.”
Singer: …and they threw you in and you get to face off against Jay Miller and Lyndon Byers?
Crowder: Yeah, that was pretty interesting. I had a couple of fights, got to play defense, forward, power play - they played me all over that game, and it was pretty interesting for my first ever game to be in the Stanley Cup Semifinals and getting that much ice time was pretty awesome. At the end of the game, their coach, Terry O'Reilly was mad because I'd fought a couple of their players and hit a few guys and he was screaming at me from the bench when they kicked me off. But we had only a minute left to go in the game, so I was blowing him kisses and he was screaming at me, and it was pretty theatrical. It was actually at the end of that game that Jim Schoenfeld had the bump-in with Don Koharski, the referee, and I was actually standing in the hallway because I just got kicked out of the game with a minute left, so I was watching the final minute. Then all of a sudden the game ended, and that's when Schoenfeld's yelling at Koharski, “you fat pig - eat another donut” and they bumped chests down the hallway. Then Koharski slipped into the dressing room and I kind of got to witness all of this. Along with that and having O'Reilly screaming at me and a couple of fights, my first game was quite theatrical.
Singer: What was it like going from playing in the juniors and just being able to skate around, being a big guy, make the jump to play a few games in the AHL and then to the NHL playoffs - was that a system shock?
Crowder: Well, going off to the American Hockey League and then going up to the NHL were both like my first year junior, where you're a kid coming into an older teenager's level. This was like being a teenager and going into a man's league and I got those same nervous feelings, making that jump up to that level above you. Also you know, the speed of the game is a little bit quicker, and the guys are much stronger, but I was a fairly dominant fighter in my last couple years of juniors when I came up to the NHL. I felt fairly confident in myself. When you're fighting, you realize the guys could last longer and they were stronger and you couldn't push them around quite as easy, you know?
Singer: A couple of years later - '90-91, your first full year in the NHL - did you have a particularly great training camp or do anything to win over the Devils that year or was it just your role going in?
Crowder: Well from that previous year where I quit and they brought me back to play those 10 games or whatever, it was kind of a given that I would come back, play the rest of that season and then play the next year, so I kind of figured that I would play [in the NHL]. I trained very, very hard that summer, so I was in great shape, and I boxed a lot that year and those were the years when conditioning really started being important. The Devils' training camps were - I mean, even still to this day, I've been to the training camps since then until '97, and I never remember it being as hard of a training camp as being a rookie in the Devils' camp. We had two-a-day ice sessions - so we were on the ice four hours, we'd work out with weights, we'd have dry-land training, and then we'd play rookie exhibition games and all they consisted of were like brawls and fights. It was just a month of pure craziness where you were fighting and getting beat up and skating, so I wanted to get in the best shape as I could so when I came in I was in really good shape. I started right in training camp and all the way through where I won all my fights and I was able to keep up with the play and I was scoring some goals here and there, and it was my kind of transition to being ready for the league.
Singer: Now that very first fight that year, I'm sure you've been asked about it a hundred times…
Crowder: A hundred thousand.
Singer: That very first Bob Probert fight, people still love to hear about it – what is your take on that fight? What was going through your mind?
Crowder: Well, what had happened was that Claude Lemieux was a new player to our team that year. I'd been in the three previous training camps, plus that was my fourth, maybe fifth, training camp being there, so I knew all the players and had played exhibition games with the veterans. I'd played the season before the last 10 games with them. I'd played in playoffs with them a few years earlier, so I felt very much a part of the team, and I knew that my job was to kind of protect the team. Claude Lemieux was a new guy to our team that year, and he had quite a reputation as a shit disturber, and I guess he had done something in a previous year to piss off Bob Probert. So Bob went after him and hit him in the head with a hockey stick and gave him a couple of punches to the head as well, or whatever, and so when I saw that, it was my automatic instinct to protect my teammates, so a teammate was coming by and I yelled at them to change.
They came off, I jumped over the boards and just went right after Probert because that was just my job, not really even thinking, you know – that he was the toughest. I knew he was tough. It wasn't even that. It was just an instinct to protect my players, and as luck would have it, or timing, or whatever you want to call it, I got a couple of good punches in on him and cut him. If I wouldn't have cut him, it would have been a normal fight because I didn't knock him out - I didn't knock him down. I just happened to get him with a good cut to the cheek, and so that was the first time I guess he had been cut badly or cut at all, so people took it that I won the fight, which I felt like I did. I didn't get hit from him, but I had many fights again with him afterwards, and like I said, I had hit him harder with other punches and never cut him and never knocked him down, and he's hit me before, and so in this kind of game, we have a very similar fighting style. We both like to stand up and swing and kind of give the guy his arm and you just hold on and go, and so our fights were usually fairly even, and they were exciting because there was no tie-up and no hold-on and dance around - we used to just tried to throw punches.
So that first fight kind of rocked the fighting world because no one had ever seen him cut before. I really never thought much of it at the time, and then the game went on, and then I don't know if he came back or didn't play the rest of the game. He had stitches so maybe they told him not to fight because they didn't want the stitches to get cut again. Anyway, nothing happened for the rest of that game and then the media got a hold of it and they made it like, Oh geez, Bob Probert and this heavyweight Troy Crowder , and then it turned into, Oh, what's he gonna do? When's the rematch? Then it just built, and it built from September until January until we played again - January or February, whenever it was, so it was like a snowball down Everest, because it grew and it grew. Every arena I went into, reporters would ask me about the upcoming fight with him, and it was like three months away. I was still thinking about that night's game.
Singer: Did you get instant respect from that?
Crowder: I got a lot of respect, but then I got a lot of challengers from that, you know?
Crowder: Guys figured, well, if I beat Probert, and they could beat me, then maybe they'd be the top of the heap, so I had a lot of guys come after me after that.
Singer: Well, those few weeks and even after that, you had some even more impressive bouts. That five-fight run might be the best, most dominant run anyone's ever had. How were you able to get yourself ready, knowing that each night someone was probably coming after you?
Crowder: Yeah, you know, it's stressful on your nerves. I was just trying to think about the game, play the game, and if [a fight] happens, it happens. But when you know it's going to happen, it's stressful. Even if there's nothing going on a lot of the time, you know, people would want you to fight - just to intimidate the other team to get the upper hand. Knowing it was going to happen for that next little while, your nerves are trying to stay jacked up so that you're ready for it. But then you spend the day before and all that day all jacked up and you end up frazzling your nerves and being tired, and so that was kind of the biggest battle. I think a lot of the fighters do that.
When you're really known as a fighter more than a player-fighter, it's trying to keep your nerve level to a point where you're not burning yourself up, but then still staying kind of attentive and ready for it. So it was just a very intense run for a month after that where I was kind of always ready, and I had a trainer who loved fights, so I think he promoted half of them anyway. But it was pretty interesting to every day be hearing that guys were going to come after you and wanted a piece of you. I know other players and other fighters were asking me what it's like, what are my strong points, what are my weaknesses, and so it became quite a focus. I really was trying to kind of keep my mind on the game, but a lot of it was on the fighting.
But overall it was a couple of good months for me. I was able to score some goals. I had some good fights, and I got a lot of ice time which was really inspiring for me. Guys like John MacLean and Kirk Muller, who were our best players, were having slow starts, so instead of getting three shifts a game, I was getting eight or ten shifts a game. When you get that many more shifts, you get that many more chances to play and score, so for me, it was great. I had a great couple of months where things were going well. Then John MacLean and Kirk and those guys starting coming on, and my ice time kind of dropped down a bit so I got more back into the enforcer / checking line kind of role, but it was a great start of my first year in the league for sure.
Singer: What would be your most memorable moment of that start besides, the Probert fight, whether it be a fight, your first goal, what really stands out?
Crowder: A lot of things. That first two months my old roommate, Dave Maley, used to call me the “King” because I was on such a roll there, so it was pretty funny. Every game there was something - I'd either score a goal or score two goals or get in a fight or knock somebody out. Things were just really clicking well, so it was just every night there seemed to be something else going on. I remember scoring two goals in one game on Long Island , I remember my first goal, first knockout fights. I remember going into Philadelphia , and we played them a lot in New Jersey . I think we played them eight or ten times and so I'd go and fight one guy and knock him down and knock him out and so they'd send somebody else the next game, and so they'd send two guys the game after that. I had at least five fights just in Philadelphia alone that year. I remember going into Philadelphia at Christmas time, and they had a magazine that they give out to the fans at the arena and I was half the magazine - an article about me. It was kind of a strange feeling going in to read this thing and the article was all about me in there. There were times when it was almost surreal with all that was going on in my life. We had a young team with Brendan Shanahan and Kirk Muller was the captain, who was an unbelievably young captain at the time, and Sean Burke and Chris Terreri. There were a bunch of young guys that were on our team - guys that were eight year veterans, but were still in their mid-twenties, you know, so it was a fun, fun team to play with and we almost felt invincible, you know, and everybody had energy galore, and we hung out together as a team, and it was a really fun year playing with the Devils that year.
Singer: Speaking of having that feeling of invincibility, fast-forwarding the next few months to right before the Probert fight - this would be the Kimble fight - I remember watching it and the announcer said, “I think we've seen a first,” because he caught you with a punch or two. Was that just another fight and you were just caught with a punch, no big deal, or does that take away anything from you going into the next game and the next possible fight that you may have?
Crowder: You know, I'd been winning fights all year and when we came to play those guys, he was kind of their tough guy, and in the years before at the American League, I had watched other guys on my team beat him up, and so I didn't give him the rating that I might have some of the other heavyweights. So I didn't go in there with that “be a little bit scared kind of feeling.”
Singer: You underestimated him?
Crowder: Yeah, and if you don't go in with a little bit of fear to get that adrenaline going, then you kind of take things a little easy, and at the start of the fight I went in pretty easy. Once I got into it, then the adrenaline started, but at that point, I went to give him a really good pull and I pulled his jersey right off him, and so the next 10 punches he throws, he's got no jersey, and my arm's out there trying to figure out what I'm going to grab onto. I couldn't get a hold of anything, and he hit me with one which rocked me a little bit so I tried to grab a little bit better. Then he got me with the second one, and that kind of buckled me a little bit, and so then I kind of came to and I said, “you know, we're gonna go again”, and he never came back.
He said his hand was sore and so we didn't get to fight – and I just played for the rest of the game. So, I had to wait two more years before I could get him again, that was the next time we played. I chased him around the ice for a while, and then I finally said, “okay, let's go”. It wasn't much of a fight. I threw a couple of punches and he just kind of wrestled. That first fight was two factors - one going in and underestimating and not getting my fear level up, and then two, him not being tied down. Right after that fight, it was once of the next few years, they put in the jersey rule where you had to tie down, because I had lots of fights with Probert and Kimble and other guys and I kept pulling their jerseys off– and you obviously see the dominance involved. That was Bob's famous way of doing things - he'd pull the shirt off and you'd have nothing to hold onto, and it wasn't too long after that the NHL put in the tie-down rule. It was kind of a combination of a couple of things - the shirt coming off and then me underestimating him.– The invincibility definitely takes a little bit of a kicking, but I was still was pretty confident in myself - it was just, you know, that it took a little bit of a kick.
Singer: I don't know if it was the next game or maybe two games later after that first Kimble fight - that you finally had that rematch with Probert - I guess you had to know it was coming?
Crowder: Oh, yeah.
Singer: So the first fight was in Jersey - and the rematch was in Detroit , was that getting to you, or were you just thinking, “all right, I know it's going to happen and that's it. We're just going to go out there and do it and just get it over with”?
Crowder: Well, you know, we had about a 6 or 7 game losing streak on the road, and we were going into Detroit and this was the big rematch night. Kirk Muller was our captain at the time - a young guy, but a great leader, and I think he knew I was nervous. He knew there was a lot of hype. We weren't winning on the road anyway, and then, maybe not the best idea in the world, but he decided to tell the whole team that we were all going out that night - the night before the game, we were all gonna go out and have a little team party. We weren't going to go in for curfew - we were going to stay out and have fun and blow off some steam, and that we did.
We stayed out quite late, and fought through the pre-game skate the next morning with a bit of a hangover and then had a little nap. I think it was enough to give everybody a little shakeup and we went out and the first few shifts my coach was letting me get some skating in before the fight was going to happen. When Bob would go out, he would hold me back, and when he'd come off, he would let me go skate. After I'd had a few shifts, I guess they figured we were both ready, so I was out, and I was coming off the end of one of my shifts and I was pretty tired. Bob came off and challenged me, and you know, ego says you can't skate away from this, even though you're tired, because then the fans are going to boo you and think you're scared. I ended up dropping the gloves and had a fight with him, and as you know, he's very strong on his skates and he hit me a few times, but didn't really knock me down or out, but I'd lost my balance on a few of the punches and I fell down. So that was kind of the end of that, and nothing really hurt or anything.
I went to the box and when I came back to my bench, my coach was quite pissed off. He said, “That's bullshit. You got hit at the end of your shift.” He said, “I'm going to wait until the end of his shift and I'm sending you out there after him.” So, later on, when Bob was on a shift my coach came by me on the bench and yelled and called off one of our players and sent me out there. I went after him and everyone says, “he didn't want to fight you - you jumped him”, and I said, “Look, this is kind of the same scenario of what had just happened with me in the shift before.” I challenged him and we fought and same scenario, you know, they were pretty even fights. Some will say I got the best of one and he got the best of the other, but in general, they were pretty even. Anyway, that happened, and I got booted out maybe because of the instigator rule, I think it was.
Singer: You got a gamer then for the incident?
Crowder: Yeah, we ended up winning 5 - 2 or something like that, so Kirk Muller was taking everybody out for a night on the town for us breaking our losing streak on the road. We won our first road game in about 7, and I got my fights and that kind of toned everything down.
Singer: A lot of people, when they reminisce, put Bob Probert on the top of their all-time best fighters list or near it. You fought him a few times, do you think he deserves this all-time ranking?
Crowder: Well there's not too many losses that he's ever had - and even the ones he did lose, they were not really big losses. And he just did it for so long - you know, 10 years or 12 years or whatever as a fighter, - that's a couple hundred penalty minutes every year for that long. It's the longevity of doing the same job like that all the time. I would put him on top with Dave Brown. Fortunately, or unfortunately, whichever you want to call it, I never fought Dave Brown- we played each other a couple of times, but we never ended up fighting, but I've seen a lot of his fights on tape, and again, he had a fairly long career - 10 or 12 years of doing the same job. It's like comparing Gretzky to Lemieux - how do you say who's the toughest ever - but he's definitely got all my respect for doing that job and for being as good as he was for that long.
Singer: Now, you mention you saw a lot of Brown's fights on tape?
Singer: Were you watching tapes during your playing years, before games, or is this just afterwards?
Crowder: You know, I thought about fighting enough on my own that I think if I watched tapes, I probably would get myself in such a frenzy that who knows what I would do, so I didn't watch a whole lot of fight tapes. I boxed with a boxing club back home, and so I was a strong puncher and I was big and fairly strong, and I had not-bad balance, and so I had my certain way of how I liked to fight. I just did it, and if it worked on a guy, great, and if it didn't, I tried to do something a little different for the next time. That's pretty much all I did. I didn't really try to study guys and their techniques too much, but as you know, in the hockey world, there are guys who love hockey fights, and so you would be in someone else's house, or someone sends you a tape of the Best Of, or whatever else, so you would always see tapes here and there, but I never really watched them on my own.
Singer: The following year you moved to Detroit . Were you in Detroit 's training camp that year, and did you have any run-ins with Probert at that point?
Crowder: We met at the golf course and kind of laughed about being on the same team, and then we bumped each other a few times on the ice, and kind of chuckled about what would have caused a fight before. But he ended up being a great teammate, and he invited me over to his house for dinner just take the edge off right away. He was a great player.
We played a couple of exhibition games together, and Keith Primeau, Bob Probert, and I were a line together. I think the one game we played together, Primeau scored two, Probie scored one, and I had two or three assists, and so we were looking forward to having it big. Keith could skate and Bob could skate and I was an up and down winger, and we weren't getting messed with by anybody, that's for sure. I was looking forward to an interesting year with guys like that on my line, but it was frustrating.
Unfortunately that summer, I was lifting some weights, training for that year, and I tweaked out my back and went into training campwith it bothering me. Everyone figured it was fine - just a muscle pull- but I injured it again and again, and in one of the first games of the season, I got hit from behind, and finally they sent me in for an MRI and realized that I'd herniated a couple of disks. I tried to rehab, and every time I'd come back, I just kept injuring it over and over. It was a very frustrating year.
The more I hoped it would get better, it just never seemed to, and it was a frustrating year. It was a frustrating year for my teammates too. They were excited to have me play for them, and I ended up getting to play three games the whole year, so that was a really big turning point in my career - from kind of flying high the year before to that, and then ending up just not getting any better, so I had to retire and I didn't played for almost three years.
Singer: During those three years, were you rehabbing the whole time?
Crowder: Yes. The first year I pretty much just rested. The doctor told me to do that. Also Mario Lemieux - I was quite happy with this - but Mario actually called me, and I didn't really even know him, and he just said, “I heard you had a back problem,” and he started explaining about surgery and he recommended not having surgery. He said it feels better at the start, but then it gets worse later. Then I talked with Dr. Watkins in Los Angeles , who is one of the premier back guys, and he said the same thing. He said, “you know, your back - it'll heal on its own eventually”. He said, “we have to cut into muscles and whatever else to get to it, to try to take away the pain that's there by removing maybe part of the disk.” Also he said, “listen, the odds of you playing again are at the most 50/50, but it's not going to be for a long time”, so he suggested that I not play, and I decided to retire.
The first six months I just rested. Every time I twisted one way or another, my back was sore, and after six months, I started general conditioning. The second year, it felt pretty good, so I started skating in a men's league once in a while and working out a little bit more. Then the third year, I really got into it, and I started skating more and working out more.
During that third year, I said, “you know what, I think I can play,” and so I trained pretty hard and I talked to Sam McMaster, who was the GM for the Sudbury Wolves at the time, after I had went to watch a Wolves game. He asked me what I was up to, and I just said, “well, I'm just training - I want to go back and play, and I'm feeling really good.”. He said, “you going anywhere particular”? I said “No. I'm just going to start making phone calls and whatever else”. He said, “okay”, and it ends up that when their season ended, he got hired as the GM for the LA Kings, and then he called me. At this point my agent started calling around, and so I started doing interviews with different teams in Toronto and Anaheim . I ended up going to Anaheim and they were ready to sign me to a contract, but while I was out there I got a phone call from Wayne Gretzky at the hotel and he asked me if I could delay my flight by a day and come out and have dinner with him and Janet and a few of their friends and talk to them and talk to Sam again. They asked me if I'd sign there for a few years, and I ended up saying, “Well, I'll just sign for one, because I want to see how good I'm going to be and what I should be doing”.
It was a one-year deal out there and then we ended up having a lockout that year and we didn't start until January. So, I played to the end of that year. It was a mediocre year. It wasn't a great year for me, and for the next year I wanted to kind of improve on that, so I trained pretty hard and went back to L.A. and I worked out so hard I was like 20 pounds underweight. I was getting kind of sick-feeling, didn't feel very well, and just couldn't get things going very well there. Plus, we had a pretty big group of heavyweights with Matty Johnson, Rick Tocchet, Marty McSorley and myself. Anyway, I guess I wasn't doing all that they expected, so they ended up buying me out of my contract for the rest of the year.
So I just trained after that, and trained and trained and skated all summer long, and then called Vancouver and George McPhee. I played with him in Utica and I played with him in New Jersey . He was Assistant GM in Vancouver , and I called him up and said I'd been skating and he said I could try out. So I went there on a try out, and ended up having a good training camp, had lots of fights, scored some goals, and played well with a few of the smaller guys. I got signed, played there, and it was kind of an up-and-down season. I had a couple of injuries and didn't play a lot of games, but the games I played there went fairly well. I really didn't see eye-to-eye with the coach there though. The philosophies on coaching used the defensive trap and not fore-checking, and I was into let's go ram 'em and let our five 50-goal scorers score the goals. So I probably opened my mouth a few too many times, and we didn't see eye-to-eye very well.
I didn't end up being signed back with them at the end of the year, and summer time, I was just trying to see what I was doing. I was kind of pissed off at the politics and things and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I didn't have any offers on the table at the time, so some buddies of mine called me and they were over in Europe and I didn't know if I wanted to go or not. I wasn't sure what I wanted yet, but they kept calling, so finally I said I would go over there and give it a try and see what it's like. I played in Germany and it was a ton of fun. I had a blast over there with a bunch of good guys. I had fun, played a few games, saw Europe and the following year, I think I went to…
Singer: You were in Hershey? Did you start the year in London or did you end there?
Crowder: I was in Hershey. I had fun in Germany the year before, but I kind of wanted to play back in the NHL again, and I decided to give Hershey a shot. But I don't know - I just didn't have it in me at the time. I just didn't have the drive to do what I needed to do, so I talked to the coach and told him I wasn't really happy with myself and my play and I was going to go over to Europe and have a little fun and play over there again. So I went back over and finished the year there, and was planning on going back again, but a few things didn't work out with contracts with them, so that was the end of that.
A couple of years ago I started working on a blade alignment thing. I've got fallen arches, when you skate kind of duck-footed.so I've been working on something that started as orthotics, but changed into blade alignment and I've got a pretty neat system going - aligning blades under the balance of your foot instead of just in the middle of the blade - so, it was going really well. So I said, “well, you know what, I should skate better now than I did when I was 20 years old, but I'm out of shape. So I started training and I was just going to go to wherever, from the East Coast League, to the NHL, whoever takes me to play again. Ended up having some buddies at San Jose and they got me a tryout there and I went there and I ended up tearing a ligament on the side of my wrist hitting the heavy bag and then I got into a fight and ended up tearing my biceps muscle off my shoulder in one of the fights there. I was there to the end of the training camp, and if it wasn't for injuries, I probably would have had a fairly good chance of playing, but that was the end of that. Still to this day I have to go and hopefully get this shoulder repaired, if they can do anything. Three years later, and it still bothers me…
Singer: Does it?
Crowder: Yeah. Once that happened, I just said, “you know what, my body's getting too old for this”.
Singer: One thing I wanted to ask you about Hershey, was about that big brawl against the Philadelphia Phantoms - what led up to Garrett Burnett standing over you, punching you while you're laying on the ice?
Crowder: He was kind of running around a little bit that game, and Mike Foligno was our coach at the time, and he goes, “that's fuckin' bullshit….he'll fuckin' pay.” So I kind of took that at the back of my mind as “you want somebody to do something about it?” The next time he was out there, Mike made some comment so I decided I'd go, so whoever was coming off, I said I'm going, and I jumped out and I went after him. When I got to him I said, “let's go”, and he said, “no, no, not now,” so then he skated around for about 30 seconds I guess, to get himself jacked up or whatever, and he looked at me and said, “let's go”, and so I said “let's go.”
So we squared off and he just ran and tackled me on the ice and he fell down on top of me, and I started laughing at him, and I said, “you did all that for that?” I said, “you didn't even throw a punch”, and I was kind of laughing at the whole scenario, and then the referees were on top of us and the referee said, “okay, that's it - that's enough - break it up - I got 'em - I got em.” As he's pulling him off, and supposedly got him, I let him go, and then he just stood up and then jumped back down and punched me in the face while the other ref was sitting on top of me. He just hit me once, but he hit me square in the eye and gave me a cut over the top of my eye and my head banged off the ice, I guess, so apparently he gave me a little knockout there.
Then I got up and was bleeding everywhere, and I looked around and I saw Scotty Parker running after him and getting him in the corner and everything else. I said, “where is he? Where is he?” I was going to go after him. My trainer said, “no, you have to get off the ice.” So, anyway, he took me over there and I had, I don't know, a dozen stitches over the eye. Anyway, we played him a little later on in the season, and Scotty I think fought him again since then, but then I finally went out and had a fight against him again. It wasn't much of a fight. I hit him a few times and he just kind of wrestled. So anyway, the season went on for a few more games. I had a few more fights, but I just didn't have that drive to want to win fights.I If you're not really into it, you're not going to win fights, so I just told Mike that I'm not into it - I just don't have the drive right now, so I ended up going over and just having fun over in England and playing hockey over there.
Singer: What are the ages of the kids in your hockey camp?
Crowder: We have kids from 8 to about 15.
Singer: Do the parents ever come up to you and start to reminisce about your career?
Crowder: Yeah. The kids don't even know - they've never really seen me play, - they're too young for my time of playing, but quite a few of the dads saw me play. Or if I go out to a restaurant, or if I am somewhere and someone recognizes me, that's the first question: who's the toughest guy I ever fought and what was it like fighting Probert? And it happens on a pretty much daily occurrence.
Singer: Do the kids ever ask you about fighting?
Crowder: No. Not really. I mean I have pictures around the lodges and the cabins of stuff. There's pictures of Gretzky and buddies of mine I've played with, me skating, me maybe in a fight and they'll ask me about the fighting pictures - like, were you in a fight? And some of their dads tell them they know I was a fighter, we talk a little bit about it, but not a lot.
Singer: Any parents ever say “well, you were a fighter - what are you teaching the kids?”
Crowder: No. Our web site explains and when parents call I kind of give them a scenario of what I teach. When I was with New Jersey I was a tough player and I could shoot, but they wanted me to work on my skating because I had that duck-footed kind of slow skating, and so they sent me to Finland . I skated with other national teams, with teams that won national championships, plus they sent me to three or four different power skating instructors, to hockey camps, they had me on dry land programs. I was fortunate enough to be taught by a lot of great power skaters while I played hockey.
Also I watched the game asking - Why does he shoot so hard? Why is he such a good stick handler? Why is Wayne Gretzky the best player in the world? When you sit on the bench for that long, you just start watching what's going on, so I just say to them I'm here to teach the little things that I've observed or I've been taught over my career to make your kids better stick handlers, better shooters, better skaters. Then I get other NHL guys - my instructors, and guys that played in the American League or the East Coast League - and they give their two cents of little things that they know or they've done or they've seen, so we pass on little tidbits of information that the average hockey instructor will say, okay we'll do a cross cut, and we'll break it down to issues like, where does your knee bend? What directions are your hips going? Where's the lean going? So the basis of the camp is to give the kids something to work with so when they are practicing at home, they are at least practicing it right. So, we break down how to body check, how to shoot, how to skate, keeping their heads up - you know, they always say it is quite important, but it is unbelievably important. That's what makes the best players the best players - they can skate around with their heads up even when they have the puck, so we just go through the whole scenario to try to make them better individual players.
Then we do a little bit of team play about how to read the ice and who they should be looking for and what's going on, and then the rest of the camp we spend back here at the resort, which is on a beautiful lake, and we have a sauna and water trampolines, kayaks and mountain bikes. So they come back here and play, and they kind of get the best of both worlds. They get taught by great instructors and have a summer camp experience that is better than most of them ever heard of.
Singer: It flew by before, but I wanted to ask, what was it like, being wooed by Wayne Gretzky to come to the Kings when you came back?
Crowder: It obviously worked. You know what, I had played with great players, Shanahan and Steve Yzerman and Peter Stastny and Slava Fetisov. The biggest thing was, I could go to Anaheim in California and it's sunny and it's nice, or I could go to L.A. , where it's sunny and nice and I get to play with Wayne Gretzky. That was, by far, the biggest pull for me. It was a chance to maybe play with him a little bit and play on his team and see what he does and it was a great learning experience for me to see how good he was, and what he did, and what made him better than other guys. And he was a great guy - I mean, super supportive, did a lot of favors for me. It was well worth the decision of going there.
Singer: You played a handful of games in the Quebec League (now known as the LNAH). What was that like?
Crowder: It was pretty crazy. After I went to San Jose and tore my shouldermy skating was still quite good because of the blade alignment thing I had been working on. So I just wanted to see how I felt on the ice. But my shoulder bothered me so much - even just pushing off of a guy killed me, so I just played a few games there to see if I had the strength in my arm to do it, and it wasn't there.I It was a pretty crazy league though. Sasha Lakovic, who I fought a couple times in the NHL, he was there, and he was quite an entertainer. He put on some shows for people there. He'd - just like the WWE - he'd skate around and put his hand to his ear and get the fans cheering and this was all while the play is stopped and they're waiting for the fight to happen.I It was Slap Shot - like modern day Slap Shot, for sure. I'm telling you, it's worth taking a bunch of guys and going on a road trip to see it, because it's - you won't even believe that it's real. I don't know if it's changed any, but when I was there, I tell you, you wouldn't even believe that it's real.
Singer: Now that you're running the camp and retired from professional play, how closely were you following the NHL up until the lockout this season? Do you still keep a good eye on it?
Crowder: Not really. I catch highlights and I watch the odd game. It's kind of like the fight videos - if I go over to someone's house and they're obviously watching hockey - all my friends are hockey fanatics, so, that's kind of when I see hockey, when I'm at someone else's house and they watch it, I watch it. I love skating. I love to play. Because of my shoulder I can't really do it. I get out on the ice maybe 10 times a year just to play a little fun hockey with my buddies or whatever - I like watching it, but I loved playing it more than anything, so I don't really watch it that much. But when I do watch it, I kind of study the game of what's going on.
I'm not sure what came out of Brendan Shanahan's meeting with the guys there a couple of months ago, but I've been saying it for years, and Mario Lemieux has said it for longer than that, and I think it's even more true now is that - if they could get rid of the hooking and the clutching and the grabbing, and let guys free-wheel out there, and the only way you could stop a guy is if you hit him with your body, or get in front of him, the game would be so fast. The players that can make those spin-o-rama twist moves and all the things - they'll do them because they won't be afraid of someone hooking their groin and tearing their groin out when they're in the middle of doing it. Guys will be going so fast, that when there is a hit, it's gonna be such a spectacular collision, that it will make the game much more exciting, much faster, and there would be more goals because there would be more breakaways, more two-on-ones. It'll just be a much better game. It's like taking, you know, a gun to a street fight. With a hockey stick - how hard is it for someone to just hook you in the waist or pull you down or clutch as defenseman? It's unbelievable. It's the easiest play in the world - guys skate down there, put your stick between the guy's leg. Scott Hannan of the Sharks, who played for Team Canada in the World Cup, he took Rob Blake's place, he's the best at it by far - the best defenseman in the league right now at sticking the stick between your legs.
Singer: A little can opener move?
Crowder: Yeah. He goes down and you go to do whatever, but he slows down just enough to get it in there and he kind of makes like he's going to go with you, but he's always got that stick right there, and if you go to make a really good sudden move, you can't, because you're going to trip over his stick. If he's close enough to you, the ref doesn't call it a penalty, but that should be a penalty. You've just used the stick to trip somebody, but there's all kind of little things like that. If you actually had to stop that guy with your hands or your arms or your body, and that's the only way you could stop that guy coming down one-on-one on you, there would be so many great moves and so many breakaways and so many of the guys getting burned - that it'll just make the game more exciting.– You watch videos of like the '80's even, let alone the 70's or the 60's or the 50's - there was none of that, and guys were on shitty leather skates that their ankles almost buckled over and it was still more exciting than what it is now.
Singer: Obviously it would be more exciting for the fans - but do you think it would keep players' desire high to play every night?
Crowder: Yea, you could make an unbelievable move, and it would be like “oh, my God, it felt so go to do that.”; and guys wouldn't get as tired or as injured because of guys pulling and hooking on them and shoving them, it'd be just good hockey. When you got hit, you got hit, and when you make a good play, it's a good play. That would improve the game - it would change it overnight.
Tons of thanks to Troy for taking the time to speak with hockeyfights.com.
If you'd like to learn more about Troy's hockey camp for kids, please visit Adventure North Hockey Camp.
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