To understand the connection Vancouver Canucks bench boss Rick Tocchet has with his junior coach, Terry Crisp, consider that Tocchet can still rattle off the names that Crisp gave to the drills he used in practice with the Soo Greyhounds four decades ago.
Crisp is now 80, and retired two seasons ago from his gig as an analyst for Nashville Predators’ TV games. He was a centre with the Philadelphia Flyers in their Broad Street Bullies’ era and won Stanley Cups there in both 1974 and 1975. He won another as head coach of the Calgary Flames in 1989.
Between all that Crisp did a six-year run as head coach of the Greyhounds, and helped turn the team from Sault Ste. Marie into an Ontario Hockey League power. Tocchet landed a spot with the club as a 17-year-old rookie winger in 1981-82.
Crisp gave his drills back then specific names. It was a practice he says he borrowed from football. He would shout out a name, and the players would instantly get a drill set up and underway.
“Toc is one of those guys who can still name them to this day. All of our breakouts, our regroups, our centre-zone plays,” Crisp said recently over the phone from Nashville.
In those days with Crisp, Chicago High was a rim drill, a breakout setup that would start with a defenceman firing the puck around the boards to a waiting winger. You bring up rim drill to Tocchet, and it brings up Chicago High for him still.
“There are drills that I do now and I name. It’s not specific to his drills, but I name them because I remember his outlook when it came to drills,” Tocchet explained.
Tocchet played 18 years in the NHL. His head coaches included Mike Keenan and Scotty Bowman. He had John Tortorella and Ken Hitchcock as assistant coaches. He’s been guided by some of the most celebrated at the craft. He counts Crisp among his major influences.
“He’s been a huge part of my career,” Tocchet, 59, said. “He taught me how to be a pro. He taught me work ethic and leadership. He helped me learn to come every day and be a leader.”
The Canucks are in the midst of one of their best seasons. Five players are going to the NHL All-Star Game in Toronto next week. Tocchet is headed there, too, to coach one of the squads.
Crisp attributes Tocchet’s success to his passion for the game and the fact he always “worked for everything he got.”
“Nothing was given to him. He wasn’t a natural. And when you come through the ranks like he did and played the style he did, you appreciate what it takes to win and you appreciate the skill guys and what they need,” Crisp continued. “He always wanted to be on the ice as a player. He was always working on getting better.
“He took his last shift playing for me as seriously as he took his first shift and every shift in-between. Rick Tocchet, to me, was what you were looking for in a kid who just loves to play the game and knows how to play his style and what he is.”
Tocchet had seven goals, 22 points and 184 penalty minutes in 59 regular-season games in his 1981-82 rookie season with the Greyhounds. As an 18-year-old the next year, he jumped to 32 goals and 66 points, to go with 146 penalty minutes, in 66 regular-season games.
The NHL Draft was in Montreal that summer. Crisp was on hand, and says he promoted Tocchet to some old Flyer buddies, including Bobby Clarke, the centre who was in the midst of winding up his playing career and on his way to a job in team management.
“We were catching up and I told all of them, ‘I’ve got a guy on my team and he’s a born Philadelphia Flyer,’ ” Crisp remembers. “I told Clarkie that if we were in our swashbuckling days and there was ever a kid who would fit with us and play rugged hockey, this was the kid.”
The Flyers took Tocchet in the sixth round, No. 121 overall. He would play one more season in the Soo, producing 44 goals, 108 points and 209 penalty minutes in 64 regular-season games. He made the Flyers in 1984-85 and was there for 7 1/2 seasons before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He made stops with four other teams before being traded back to Philadelphia and spending his final 2 1/2 seasons there.
He’s third all-time in goals (440) and points (952) for his draft class, trailing just Steve Yzerman and Pat LaFontaine in both categories. Tocchet’s second in penalty minutes (2,972) in that grouping, behind only Bob Probert.
“Geez … I don’t know who coached him in junior but he must have had a good coach,” Crisp said, tongue planted in cheek as the numbers were being brought up.
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