Pronger loses friend, mentor

As a rookie, the Flyers leader was shown the ropes by Brad McCrimmon

Posted: September 09, 2011

It isn't a stretch to call Brad McCrimmon the most influential person in Chris Pronger's career.

"He had a great deal to do with it," Pronger, the future Hall of Fame defenseman, said on Thursday, one day after McCrimmon was among those killed in a plane crash carrying the professional Russian hockey team he coached.

Forty-three people died in the tragedy, including all but one member of the Lokomotiv KHL team. The league on Thursday postponed the start of its season until Monday.

Pronger, who will turn 37 on Oct. 10, is getting ready to start his third season with the Flyers and 18th in the NHL.

He was a raw, 18-year-old rookie when training camp started in 1993 and he and McCrimmon were paired together with the Hartford Whalers. Hartford general manager Paul Holmgren acquired the crease-clearing McCrimmon, then in his 15th season, before the 1993-94 season to stabilize the Whalers' blue line.

"My first two years, he was my roommate and my [defensive] partner," Pronger said. "I was green, coming into a league with grown men. I'm from a small town in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden playing in the National Hockey League with all these superstars."

Pronger paused.

"You can either be big-eyed and naive, or you can play the game the right way - and learn and work hard and be open to do things the right way."

McCrimmon, Pronger said, helped him make a smooth transition.

"He was the right leader in helping me to do that," he said. "He was vocal, and he knew why they brought him in. We'd have long talks about the game. He was a very huge influence on me."

Over the years, Pronger stayed in touch with McCrimmon, and they would catch up when Pronger played against one of the teams McCrimmon was coaching. McCrimmon was an assistant with the Islanders, Atlanta, Calgary, and Detroit.

When they were Hartford teammates, "I was probably with him for 90 percent of the meals," Pronger said. "We had the fine-dining club on the road. He'd break out sugar packets and draw out plays, diagramming them on the table."

Pronger's voice was filled with admiration.

"Obviously, he was a very passionate human being and opinionated," Pronger said, fondly. "All the things you appreciate and grow to love.

"He's going to be missed."

Pronger said McCrimmon gave him advice that has stayed with him during his entire career: Play with an edge.

"He'd always say, 'You want them [the opponents] to be unprepared,' " Pronger said. "Maybe slash a guy . . . maybe be in that gray area. If they never know [what's coming], it keeps the other team off-balance. And I've tried to live by that sword in my career, and he was certainly right in a lot of aspects."

As for the coming season, Pronger is trying to return from four surgeries in a 91/2-month span. He has started a weightlifting program, and on Friday he will begin skating for the first time this summer.

"I'm going to throw the blades on and see how it goes," he said.

He said he would not be able to take part in practice when veterans report to the Skate Zone in Voorhees next Friday, and he's not sure if he will be ready for the opener Oct. 6 in Boston.

In May, a disk fragment that was pressing against a nerve was removed from Pronger's back. In the last 91/2 months, Pronger also had surgery on his foot, hand, and knee, which is why the veteran has called it "the season from hell."

Breakaways. The Flyers' rookie camp will start Monday in Voorhees at 10 a.m. It is free and open to the public. Among the prospects: Brayden Schenn, who was acquired in the Mike Richards deal; Sean Couturier, the eighth overall pick in 2011, which was acquired in the Jeff Carter trade; Zac Rinaldo; and Eric Wellwood. . . . The prospect camp will conclude with a 5 p.m. rookie game Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center. Admission is free, but a ticket is required. For more information, go to philadelphiaflyers.com. . . . General manager Paul Holmgren, who broke a shoulder and some ribs in a bicycle accident Monday, was released from Cooper University Hospital on Thursday.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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