Blackhawks to conduct review of assistant coach Marc Crawford as physical abuse allegations mount

Crawford, hired as an assistant this summer, has been accused of physically assaulting players while coaching the Canucks and Kings.

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Marc Crawford, who debuted as a Blackhawks assistant this season, has been accused of physically abusing players on previous coaching stops.

Marc Crawford, who debuted as a Blackhawks assistant this season, has been accused of physically abusing players on previous coaching stops.

Sun-Times file photo by Victor Hilitski

The Blackhawks announced Monday they will “be conducting a thorough review” of assistant coach Marc Crawford after numerous allegations that Crawford physically abused players in previous NHL coaching roles.

Crawford, who was hired as an assistant to Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton in June, will be away from the team for the time being, a hiatus that started with Monday’s 4-0 loss to the Blues at the United Center.

Former NHL player Sean Avery told the New York Post on Sunday that while playing for the Kings in January 2006, Crawford kicked him on the bench.

“He kicked me after a too-many-men-on-the-ice call I took,” Avery told the Post’s Larry Brooks. “You know how I stand at the end of the bench? He came down and gave me an ass kick that left a mark.”

Avery’s allegation caused old comments made by former Hawks defenseman Brent Sopel to resurface. Last November, Sopel said on a “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast that, while he was playing for Crawford as part of the Canucks in 1999, Crawford “kicked me, he choked me, he grabbed the back of my jersey and pulled me back. He attacked me personally.”

Sopel detailed numerous other instances of harsh treatment on the year-old podcast. In one story, he said Crawford told him one offseason to gain 20 pounds, then suspended him for six weeks the following season for his weight gain, making him bag-skate every day to slim down again.

Sopel declined to comment further when reached Monday by the Sun-Times.

Crawford issued a statement to the Sun-Times through his agent, saying, “As much as Marc would love to address these very old allegations, out of respect for the Blackhawks’ process we will refrain from comment at this time.”

Former NHL player Patrick O’Sullivan — who debuted for Crawford’s Kings in 2006-07 — also tweeted last week that he “went through awful things with my first NHL coach, who knew my abuse background as a child.”

Crawford is the latest coach in the spotlight in what has become an autumn of reckoning throughout the NHL.

Now-confirmed allegations of extreme verbal and physical abuse by former Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock and former Flames and Hurricanes coach Bill Peters have dominated the news in recent weeks.

Peters’ abuse was traced back to his 2008-2011 tenure as the Hawks’ AHL coach in Rockford, when he was said to have made racist comments to at least one and potentially multiple black players. The Hawks claimed in a statement last week that the front office was not previously aware of Peters’ misconduct, and they have managed to avoid any serious repercussions in the Peters fallout.

That likely won’t be the case when it comes to Crawford, 58. He has a long coaching history in the league, including four years with the Nordiques/Avalanche — with whom he won the 1996 Stanley Cup — as well as seven years with the Canucks, two with the Kings, two with the Stars and, most recently, three as a Senators assistant. He was the Senators’ interim head coach for 18 games at the end of last season before joining the Hawks early this past offseason.

He was supposed to bring much-needed experience and championship pedigree to the Hawks’ otherwise young and inexperienced staff.

“Chicago is a team that goes the extra mile to find a way to get things done,” Crawford said when hired. “No disrespect to any of the other places I’ve been, but it’s really nice when you have that organization.”

He won’t be with the organization while the investigation plays out. And based on the revelations against Babcock and Peters, and the severity and number of allegations against him, Crawford’s future with the Hawks is in doubt.

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