Frantz Jean saw all the signs of Corey Crawford’s current success when Crawford was a teenager.
The Tampa Bay Lightning goaltending coach knows Crawford well from their time together with the Moncton Wildcats (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), where Jean once held the same job. Jean has watched Crawford go from leading the Wildcats to big-stage games to leading the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup.
He’s proud of his former protégé, but he’s hardly shocked at Crawford’s success.
“What he’s doing in Chicago, he did in Moncton,” said Jean during a telephone interview on Friday. “There were playoff runs he had, we had no business being in those series and he was a big reason why we won and we advanced and went to league finals. When I see what he’s doing, I’m proud and I’m not surprised.”
Crawford played four seasons with the Wildcats, where he worked with Jean to hone his craft. From Jean's vantage point, a lot was already in place with Crawford.
“Corey’s always been a very good technical goalie,” Jean said. “He’s always been very precise in what he was doing and it was a good marriage for us because I’m the same type of person. I’m very thorough in what I do, precise, and I like things done in a certain way. He’s the same personality. The technique was there with him; it was just about improving every year.”
Crawford’s lengthy road to the NHL has been well documented. He spent five years in the American Hockey League and, after competing for the backup Blackhawks goaltending job in the fall of 2009, watched Antti Niemi get the nod. It’s been a long trek to this point, but Jean believes goalies should get a good helping of minor-league experience before hitting the NHL.
“I’m a firm believer that a young goalie has to go into the AHL and get about 150 starts to be ready for the NHL. He probably had more than that, but it really helped him handle the pressures and challenges he had early,” Jean said. “It made him earn it, for sure, in the NHL. When it’s not handed to you, you value how important it is. You really value what it takes to get there and you understand the work you need to put in every day to stay there.”
That appreciation to be here and Crawford’s laid-back personality explain how the goaltender has taken the slings and arrows with grace. He’s had plenty of criticism, be it from the media, fans and even his own. He’s also heard the “Crawford” chants by opposing fans. When asked about it following Game 6, in which he stopped 34 of 35 shots in the series-clinching victory, Crawford gave a little smile and said, “I enjoyed it.”
Jean said Crawford’s always handled the pressure well, and that his ability to do that helps the rest of the team.
“Win or lose he has the same personality, the same body language and guys feed off that,” he said. “They know it’s secure in player and staff that your goalie is in control of his emotions and game. He’s always been good at responding to pressure, challenges. He’s not a rah-rah guy. He just competes and he’s a gamer and a winner. Whatever pressure there is, I’m sure he’ll come out of it with flying colors.”
Crawford has become as much a part of the Blackhawks core as anyone. Jean saw the potential Crawford had, even as a teenage goaltender. He’s proud to have helped Crawford get to this point and he’s not surprised he lifted that Stanley Cup in June.
“The past couple of years, he doesn’t have the .930 save percentage (in the regular season) but he wins games. He makes key saves when it’s time,” Jean said. “Last series (against St. Louis) was a perfect example. He started slow but got better and outplayed (Ryan) Miller. He was one of the reasons why they beat St. Louis in six. That’s the type of goalie he is. He may not have unbelievable records, but he’ll win consistently.”