Back when Marc Crawford was coaching the Vancouver Canucks, no one ever described him as mellow. Mild mannered and well-spoken away from the rink, Crawford has always had a reputation as a fiery competitor.
Speaking on the Spittin’ Chiclets Podcast, former Canucks defenceman Brent Sopel gave us a look into what it was like playing for Crawford, and he didn’t hold back.
Sopel, 41, played his final NHL game with the Montreal Canadiens in 2011 and retired from the game entirely following a season with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves in 2015. He broke into the league with the Canucks after being drafted in the sixth round of the 1995 NHL Draft.
During the interview, Sopel talked about how he originally didn’t think he’d even play in the NHL, especially after one early conversation with Vancouver’s head coach.
Here’s what he said:
“I think it was my third or fourth training camp, I’m in Ottawa, we’d played an exhibition game, Marc Crawford is our coach at this time. He pulls me in and he says, ‘Sopes, we’re sending you down. You’re a p****, you don’t fight, you don’t hit, you don’t skate, you don’t pass. you don’t shoot. You’re a p****, you do f**king nothing out here so we’re sending you to the minors.’
“He said, ‘You’re terrible, you do nothing. You don’t shoot hard, you don’t skate hard, you don’t pass hard, you do absolutely nothing. You have no hope of an NHL career, so you’re heading off to the minors. See you later.’ No joke…
“I thought the NHL was no hope after that meeting.”
“Crow and I had a love-hate relationship. We had more f**k you matches on the bench and in the dressing room than I’ve ever heard. He came after me all the time.”
Now an associate coach with the Ottawa Senators, Crawford replaced a notorious hothead in Mike Keenan when he took over as head coach of the Canucks in January of 1999. Sopel appears to be describing Crawford’s first training camp with the Canucks later that year.
Twenty-two years old at the time, Sopel wound up splitting the season between the AHL (50 games) and NHL (18). The following year he began to solidify himself as an NHL regular, and would go on to play 659 games in the league – including four more seasons under Crawford.
Digging deeper, former NHL defenceman and Spittin’ Chiclets co-host Ryan Whitney asked this question: “Is it true he would go up and down the bench and kick guys?”
“He kicked me, he choked me, he grabbed the back of my jersey and pulled me back. He attacked guys personally.
“He came up one year after the season. He’s like, ‘Sopes, you need to work hard, you need to gain 15-20 pounds.’ So I left there, went home, hit the diet, hit the weights, put on 20 pounds of muscle.
“I came back here and he’s yelling at the bench, ‘What are you f**king Hercules now? Are you turning green? Are you the Hulk? Just screaming at me. He suspended me for I think it was six weeks. He wouldn’t let me play. Only in practice, he bag skated me and I have to step on a scale every single day to see what my weight loss was before he’d let me play…
“For whatever reason, he kept putting me out there. I probably played close to 500 games of my career for him, so as much as I hated him, for whatever reason, there was something he liked about me.”
If you’ve ever wondered what the term “players’ coach” means… this isn’t it.