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Marc Crawford rejoins Blackhawks, discusses personal evolution in first media appearance

The embattled assistant coach addressed his regrets for prior player abuse, his ongoing counseling and his coaching duties with the Hawks in an interview session.

Assistant coach Marc Crawford will resume duties Thursday for the first time since Dec. 2.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The sound of some 25 sticks tapping against the ice gradually rose in volume, eventually echoing deafeningly through Rogers Arena.

The Blackhawks tapped to salute assistant coach Marc Crawford, who returned Thursday from a monthlong suspension that began with an investigation into past incidents of player abuse. But they also tapped to mark the end of a tumultuous period of off-ice distraction.

‘‘It was great to be out with the guys today,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘They gave me a nice reception, and they did in the room, as well. That certainly was good. I want the team to get to normal as quick as they possibly can. . . . It’s really important for the Blackhawks to continue to focus on what’s really important right now, which is trying to make the playoffs.’’

But Crawford — speaking publicly for the first time since the offseason, save for a written statement published when the Hawks announced his return date in mid-December — also dived into his emotions and regrets.

The former Canucks, Kings, Stars and Senators coach, who was accused by four former players of kicking, punching and other physical mistreatment from the late 1990s through the mid-2000s, said he has ‘‘reached out to many, many players’’ and heard back from many, too.

As he did in his statement, Crawford directly apologized, admitted there were times he ‘‘crossed that line’’ between motivation and abuse and mentioned he ‘‘appreciate[s] the strength of those players that came forward.’’

The fact that Crawford, 58, has undergone counseling for the last nine years seemed to factor significantly into the Hawks’ decision to retain him, and he explained Thursday why he began it.

‘‘After [I lost] the job in L.A. [in 2008], I really thought, ‘Hey, I’m not liking where my coaching is right now,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘I felt, from that point forward, that the game was changing and that I needed to change along with it.

‘‘I just felt I was apologizing too much, and I didn’t like that feeling. And finding out why I am like I am takes a lot of introspection. I feel good about the things that I’ve done to improve.’’

Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton and numerous player leaders repeatedly have spoken about Crawford’s positive influence since his summer hiring. Colliton reiterated that sentiment Thursday, saying Crawford has ‘‘carried himself in a way that’s been an example of how to act.’’

Crawford returned the praise.

‘‘One of the things that amazes me is [Colliton] never, ever loses his cool,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘I admire that trait in him so much.’’

He said he spent his 31 days away from the Hawks reading, thinking and watching a lot of NHL games on television. He tried to view them from a more humanistic perspective, too, looking to identify which players were playing with confidence, which weren’t and what the underlying reasons might be in each case.

He’ll seek to apply that empathetic perspective now that he’s back with the Hawks, where his early-season duties — special teams and opponent pre-scouting among them — will remain the same.

‘‘People talk a lot about reading and reacting as a coach; my natural tendency was to react and then read,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘I’ve learned through my time that those are good traits, but you don’t want them to take away from anything else.

‘‘Nobody wants to take emotion or passion out of the game; it’s what makes it beautiful. But making sure we keep control of it is also important.’’