Blackhawks assistant coach Marc Crawford will rejoin team in January after investigation

Crawford said in a statement that he regrets past incidents of player abuse and has been undergoing counseling since 2010.

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Assistant coach Marc Crawford will not be fired after an investigation into allegations of past player abuse, the Blackhawks announced Monday.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Embattled assistant coach Marc Crawford will remain with the Blackhawks after all.

Crawford will resume his normal duties Jan. 2, exactly one month after he was suspended and an investigation was launched into numerous allegations of player abuse at previous NHL coaching stops, the Hawks announced Monday.

“Through our review, we confirmed that Marc proactively sought professional counseling to work to improve and become a better communicator, person and coach,” the Hawks said in a statement. “We learned that Marc began counseling in 2010, and he has continued therapy on a regular basis since. We believe that Marc has learned from his past actions.”

Crawford has been accused by four players — Sean Avery, Brent Sopel, Patrick O’Sullivan and Harold Druken — of abuse during coaching stints with the Canucks and Kings between 1999 and 2006. Crawford was said to have punched, kicked and choked players, in addition to using excessively aggressive language. 

Since the investigation was launched, however, several current Hawks — including Robin Lehner and Zack Smith — have spoken out in support of Crawford, and coach Jeremy Colliton has noted several times the positive impact Crawford had brought since joining the Hawks this summer.

“I just love having his experience around,” Colliton said Dec. 8. “Obviously, just like everyone, you dole out the responsibility. We’re all contributing; we kind of fill that hole. Certainly we’re missing him.”

Sopel, whose descriptions of abuse occurred in a podcast more than a year ago, also released a statement — after the investigation began — saying that he intended only to tell a story, not disrupt Crawford’s career.

In a statement Monday, Crawford apologized to those harmed and said he has taken necessary steps to reform his behavior during the lengthy period since those incidents.

“I used unacceptable language and conduct toward players in hopes of motivating them, and sometimes went too far,” he said. “As I deeply regret this behavior, I have worked hard over the last decade to improve both myself and my coaching style.”

The firestorm surrounding Crawford emerged after widespread — and later confirmed — incidents of abuse by two other well-known NHL coaches, Mike Babcock and Bill Peters, took the NHL by storm in November.

Peters eventually resigned from his Flames position before his investigation concluded, and Babcock was fired by the Maple Leafs before his trouble erupted, but both likely have seen the end of their NHL careers. That same fate might befall Jim Montgomery, who suddenly was fired last week as the Stars’ coach for undisclosed “unprofessional conduct.”

Crawford, however, will avoid a similar destiny. 

His situation always seemed less clear-cut than that of Peters, whose repeated use of the N-word toward former Hawks prospect Akim Aliu clearly crossed the point of no return. 

As time passed and the outrage toward Crawford dwindled, with no word from the team on the investigation’s status, an eventual return to the Hawks’ bench seemed more and more likely. Monday’s announcement confirmed that.

The Hawks said Crawford will continue counseling, even after his January return, and will retain his full coaching duties, which included a large special-teams emphasis in October and November. 

He presumably will be behind the bench for the Hawks’ game Jan. 2 in Vancouver; his first home game after returning from suspension will be Jan. 5 against the Red Wings.

“Moving forward, I will continue to improve myself, to listen to those that I may have hurt and learn from their experiences,” Crawford said in the statement. “My goal is to approach all players, past and present, with empathy and understanding.”

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