SIMMONS: A brother and best friend gone, a Cup to win for Kelly McCrimmon
WASHINGTON — Kelly McCrimmon was sitting at his desk in the front office of the Brandon Wheat Kings when one of his colleagues interrupted him on an early September morning, almost seven years ago.
“What team is your brother with?” he was asked and the question just didn’t seem right in the moment.
“Yaroslavl,” said McCrimmon, and within minutes he knew something was wrong. Everyone knew. The details were sketchy and didn’t come in quickly. There had been a plane crash in Russia.
“I went to get my wife, went home right away, feared the worst,” said McCrimmon, the assistant general manager with the Vegas Golden Knights. “My mom and dad were on a golf holiday in Scotland and we were kind of frantic because we didn’t have contact information for them. We knew they were with (former NHL coach) Terry Simpson and his wife. We finally got through.”
The hardest phone call he ever had to make — Kelly McCrimmon had to tell his mom and dad that his older brother Brad had died in the airplane crash that killed 43, including all but one member of the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. Brad McCrimmon, 52, one year older than Kelly, his brother, his best friend, was the head coach.
“The next morning Maureen (Brad’s wife) and I headed to Russia to do all the things you had to do,” Kelly said. “The devastation, I don’t think I’ll forget that. You had to go over and identify the body. You don’t expect to be around a tragedy of this magnitude. We’re in Russia, we don’t speak the language, we don’t know what’s going on, and we’re trying to make sense of everything, and you see everything around you. It’s the saddest thing ever.”
They grew up on a farm in small-town Saskatchewan, somewhat isolated, outside of a place called Plenty, population 164. The big city, Rosetown, was 50 miles away. Dad farmed. Grandpa farmed. Brad and Kelly lived the farming life almost from the day they were born. They had no neighbours, no kids on their street. They had each other. Eighteen months apart. They played, they fought, they wrestled, they helped dad and grandpa whenever they could. And just as their father did, they loved and lived hockey.
Brad had more talent, enough to play 18 years in the National Hockey League, enough to pair with Mark Howe on the best defensive unit in hockey, enough to win a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989. Kelly had enough talent to get a hockey scholarship to Michigan. He was enough of a leader to be captain as a senior, just not good enough to play beyond that level.
Kelly figured he was going home after college to a farming life, because that’s what McCrimmons did. “I’d come home every summer and farm, Brad would come home every summer and farm. That’s what we did,” he said. Only, like his dad, he started to coach. First with a local senior team. Then in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. And before long, he was coaching the Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League.
One day, as a relatively young man, at the age of 31, Kelly was offered a one-third stake in Wheat Kings ownership. He jumped at it, the farming life was over — and his father, who raised cattle and farmed grain, completely understood. “Everything always revolved around the farm,” he said. “Brad came home every summer and helped out. But there came a point when I was in Brandon and get home to help out anymore.”
Brad was making it big in the NHL. Kelly was making it big in junior hockey as a coach, general manager and owner. “We were each other’s biggest fans and best friends,” Kelly said. “We were really close because of the way we grew up. Any success that either of us had meant so much to the other one. When he won the Stanley Cup, I remember I couldn’t be any happier or prouder of him. I think I know every game Brad McCrimmon played in, I know the score, I know what he went through. I was always his biggest fan.”
“He was the same with us,” Kelly added. “He played for the Wheat Kings and when I got involved owning and running the team, he came whenever we had something big going on, like being in the Memorial Cup. As long as it didn’t interfere with his season, he was there.” Three years ago in Red Deer, Brandon played in the Memorial Cup. “I miss him so much. That week I really felt it.”
This week, the Golden Knights are pushing towards a Stanley Cup. They may win, becoming the greatest hockey story of all time. And it didn’t really occur to Kelly until I brought it up to him — at least that’s what he says — that he may end up with a Stanley Cup ring from this miraculous season, and that would make two rings for the McCrimmon family. One remains in Michigan with Maureen. Maybe one will end up with McCrimmon in Las Vegas, his new home, after finally giving up the junior hockey life to become George McPhee’s right-hand man with the Golden Knights.
“I think he’d be really proud of what we’ve done here,” Kelly said of his brother. “Not just being in the Stanley Cup Final, but the whole opportunity I had, how well the team has done, how we built the team. He would be proud of all those things. He loved to talk hockey and talk hockey detail. And he had a great mind for it.”
“We were each other’s biggest fans and best friends … Any success that either of us had meant so much to the other one”
– KELLY MCCRIMMON ON LATE BROTHER BRAD
There has been no shortage of difficulty for the McCrimmon family but you would almost never know it from Kelly’s uplifting personality. He lost his brother in 2011; his parents moved from Saskatchewan to High River, Alta., where twice giant flooding robbed them on a lifetime of memories and keepsakes; the Vegas season started just days after one of the giant shooting tragedies in American history and a few months before that the Humboldt Broncos bus crashed, killing 16. All of that touched McCrimmon personally and professionally.
“I felt connected to Humboldt,” he said. “For so many reasons. I know what happened to Brad’s team and how difficult that was for everybody. And as someone who put on a lot of miles riding buses in the Saskatchewan Junior League and the Western League, I just looking at those pictures and in them there was this bright blue prairie sky in the background, and I’m thinking, all those kids, all those families, and you know, I always used to worry about bad roads and bad weather. It’s the saddest thing ever for those families.
“My dad felt the same way I did. He said to me ‘I know how those families are going to feel.’ It isn’t something you ever really get over.”
Source: Steven Simmons | Toronto Sun