Corey Crawford, Anton Forsberg quickly build beneficial partnership
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Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford is kind of a nerd.
OK, maybe ‘‘nerd’’ isn’t the right word. ‘‘Wonk’’? Yeah, that’s a better word. He’s a hockey wonk.
Crawford loves nothing more than diving deep into the finer details of goaltending — revolutionary techniques, cutting-edge mechanics, newfangled equipment. Anything that can make him a little faster, a little more flexible, a little better.
Fellow goalie Scott Darling was an even bigger wonk, a full-blown obsessive. The two would talk about their craft for hours, breaking down everything from mechanics to mask design. They picked each others’ brains constantly, making each other better in the process.
Crawford has wasted little time trying to build a similar relationship with new backup Anton Forsberg. But the first time Crawford, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, asked Forsberg, a guy with 10 NHL games under his belt, what he thought about a save he had made — and how he could have made it more easily — Forsberg was flabbergasted.
‘‘That was actually something that was shocking for me, that he was actually asking me things to discuss,’’ Forsberg said. ‘‘You see that he wants to learn every day and get better every day. He’s always trying to improve his game, all the little details.’’
The dialogue is nearly constant. During stoppages in play, Crawford might swing by the bench and ask Forsberg whether he has picked up on anything that might be useful in a game. During intermissions, the two chat with goalie coach Jimmy Waite. After practices, the two will linger at their locker stalls, talking about technique. Video sessions with Crawford, Forsberg and Waite drag on as they wade into esoteric topics and terminology that sound like gibberish to their teammates.
‘‘We talk a lot about how to play the post, how to avoid interference, when to stay back, when to take an extra step,’’ Forsberg said. ‘‘He’s always square and in the right spot, and it’s because he does all those little things right. He’s always so well-prepared.’’
Basically, any forum — the game, the dressing room, a plane, a restaurant — can turn into an impromptu goalie meeting.
‘‘That’s always a big part of getting better — seeing the game differently, getting different perspectives,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘It’s like anything else: If you sit in a meeting for anything, you can get different ideas. It’s the same thing for goaltending. For us, we’re just trying to find what gives us a better chance to stop the puck. . . . It’s good to go back and forth, just to see what works.’’
That partnership isn’t forced, either. Crawford considers himself lucky that he has found kindred spirits in his previous backups, including Ray Emery and Antti Raanta, and now Forsberg. He almost got bashful when he was asked if he takes special pride in Raanta and Darling becoming No. 1 goalies with the help of his tutelage. He insisted they got there on their own merits.
Now, as he takes Forsberg under his wing and into his confidence, Crawford still is teaching and, more important, still learning. He is tied with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky for the best save percentage in the league at .933 and is coming off another stellar effort in a 2-1 victory Saturday against the Penguins.
Forsberg, meanwhile, has impressed coach Joel Quenneville and Crawford in his four starts, going 1-1-2 with a pair of hard-luck losses.
‘‘I just think it’s really important to have that trust and to be able to talk about things,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘Having that sort of chemistry and that sort of friendship is only going to make us both better.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.