COLUMBUS, Ohio — Corey Crawford doesn’t care what you think.
He didn’t care that before 2013, you didn’t think he was a championship-caliber goalie. He doesn’t care that in the years since, the national media still doesn’t think he is, despite being the biggest reason his own name is on the Stanley Cup. And he certainly doesn’t care if fans of other teams feel he’s deserving of the All-Star game start Chicago fans (who, let’s face it, were slow to come around on him in the first place) gave him this weekend.
“Whatever people want to talk about or say, it’s up to them,” Crawford said during Friday’s media day at Nationwide Arena, a smattering of Chicago-based reporters chatting him up as the throngs flocked to other, more recognizable players. “I just like playing.”
Crawford said he’s always been that way, though his skin has gotten thicker as he’s gotten older and more mature. It’s an attitude that helped him deal with the disappointments and difficulties of life in the minor leagues. And with the challenge of earning a full-time NHL job. And with the slings and arrows from fans and writers alike following two straight first-round playoff losses in 2011 and 2012.
A goalie has enough to worry about. And reputation isn’t high on the list.
“That could be it, too,” he said. “Being a goalie, there’s a lot of things you have to shake off. People writing negative things, or saying negative things, it kind of just flies off. … It’s just for you guys to talk about. It’s just stuff to write about, right?”
Crawford’s résumé speaks for itself. He has a Stanley Cup, and easily could have won the Conn Smythe if not for the national media voting for Patrick Kane’s remarkable closing stretch, instead. Only three goalies have more wins over the last five seasons than Crawford. And he was spectacular for the early part of this season until an ankle injury derailed him a bit lately.
Yet he’s deemed mediocre. A champion by happenstance. A beneficiary of the talent playing in front of him. More Chris Osgood than Dominik Hasek.
His teammates say it’s often the other way around. And while Crawford doesn’t care about public perception, the Hawks take offense. Jonathan Toews thinks it might have something to do with the long path Crawford took to the NHL — five full seasons in the American Hockey League after four full seasons of junior hockey. It’s only Crawford’s fifth full year in the NHL, yet he turned 30 on New Year’s Eve.
He never had the pedigree, he never had the name, so he never got the benefit of the doubt.
“There are a lot of great goaltenders out there playing well for their teams, and it’s nice for him to finally get that credit in the eyes of the fans and the media that we think he deserves,” Toews said. “Sometimes some guys come into the league with a name, and they always carry that regardless of their performance. So they’ll get chances for All-Star games, where a guy like Crow, who’s had to work his way up, doesn’t. So it’s good to see him crack through like that.”
Crawford has been reluctant to revel in his selection as an All-Star starter while games that counted were still going on, but on Friday, he was clearly excited to be doing it for the first time, flashing a big smile and cracking jokes with ease.
He said that he wanted to be picked last at Friday night’s fantasy draft so he could win a car, then was bummed to learn that goalies have to be picked in the first 10 rounds. He said he’ll probably stay farther back in the net because players tend to go for tic-tac-toe passing rather than dangerous slap shots, but he also admitted a goalie’s best All-Star strategy is “praying before the game you don’t get lit up too much.”
Crawford always watched the All-Star games on TV as a kid in Montreal, but he never dreamed of playing in one. The fantasies were always about winning the Stanley Cup, not playing in a midseason exhibition game. But having already done that, this weekend in the spotlight is a nice and welcome nod.
Crawford thinks he belongs. So do his teammates. And if anybody else doesn’t? Well, who cares?
“I just took a different path,” he said. “Maybe it took a little bit longer, but I’m definitely happy where I am now.”