Monday, March 15, 2010

Like Crozier 44 Years Ago, Howard Looks Like a Fuzzy-Faced Playoff Starter

If you never got a chance to see Roger Crozier play goal for the Red Wings, I can replicate the experience for you.

To recreate the acrobatic, helter-skelter manner in which Crozier tended net, drop a few unpopped kernels of popcorn into a pot coated with sizzling oil. Then try to predict in which direction those kernels will fly once they pop.

That was pretty much it when it came to Crozier, who used the goal crease as his own gymnastics mat.

Crozier, who passed away at the too-young age of 53 in 1996, was a highly entertaining goalie who wasn't above using any part of his body in any location, no matter how unnatural, to stop pucks. I actually think I once saw Crozier break apart, like a man made of Lego, just so he could get a limb, or maybe it was a rib cage, in the way of a speeding vulcanized disc of rubber. Then he put himself back together again.

Crozier played maskless, so we could all see the terror and desperation on his face. He tended goal in the same slapstick fashion as Lucille Ball in that famous candy-wrapping/conveyor belt scene of "I Love Lucy."

Crozier was a fuzzy-faced 24 year-old when he goaltended the Red Wings to the 1966 Stanley Cup Finals against Montreal. He was in just his second full season.

Crozier played every game (you heard me) in the '64-65 season---70 in total. He was the Calder Trophy winner as Rookie of the Year thanks to that yeoman work. He played in 64 games in '65-66. It's amazing that he didn't give himself whiplash, or seizures, with the frantic gyrations that he underwent in goal.

Crozier was so good in that '66 Cup Final that he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, even though the Red Wings lost to the Habs in six games. The Cup-winning goal was a controversial one: Montreal's Henri Richard and Red Wings defenseman Gary Bergman slid into Crozier---and into the net, and the puck went in with them. Old-timers will still tell you that the Wings got rooked on that one.

It only LOOKS like Roger Crozier lost his head making this save, but with him, you never know

It's 44 years later, and it looks like Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is going to ride his rookie goalie, Jimmy Howard, in the playoffs for as long as the kid will take them---if the Red Wings qualify, of course.

Howard will turn 26 soon, but he had fewer games in with the Wings (9) prior to his first full-time season as Crozier did (15) prior to Roger's first full-time season in '64-65.

I guess I was wrong. All season I've been trumpeting Chris Osgood as the man to step into the crease when the post-season started. I believed the Howard emergence was a nice story, but that once the "second season" began, Babcock wouldn't trust a rookie in goal.

But it appears that Babcock will do just that; Osgood hasn't started a game since a loss in late January.

It doesn't appear logical now to insert the 37-year-old Osgood when the playoffs start, simply because he's the veteran with the Stanley Cup rings.

The timing might be right for a Jimmy Howard playoff run. If there's ever a year for the Red Wings to start a rookie in goal in the playoffs, it's this year.

The Red Wings will be on virtually no one's mind when it comes to handicapping the Cup contenders next month. They might get some token consideration due to long and faithful service, but little more.

What better way to try to capitalize on those low expectations than to start a rookie in goal and give him invaluable experience?

It won't be like when Ozzie was a rookie in 1994, when he was thrust into the fire of the playoffs because of the ineptitude of starter Bob Essensa. Howard has been the No. 1 goalie for the Red Wings since around Thanksgiving, virtually. Just like Crozier in 1966, Howard will have gobs of games under his belt, accumulated during the regular season, when playoff time rolls around.

Babcock has made no bones about Howard's play, being effusive in his praise of the rookie. And the coach has been no less forthright in his gentle criticisms of Osgood. It seems pretty clear to which man Babcock is leaning for playoff playing time.

They say a rookie isn't a rookie anymore when the season is this near the end. That might be true in other sports, but it's laughable in the NHL for a goalie who hasn't played a second in the playoffs.

Jimmy Howard will notice the difference about 30 seconds after the puck is dropped in Game One. But Babcock thinks the money is still smartest if placed on Howard's seemingly unflappable approach to his craft, plus his 50-plus games played this season.

I guess we're about to see.

1 comment:

Duane Ficzere said...

I agree with everything written except Detroit flying under the radar come playoff time. A certain amount of expectation comes with a dynasty team come playoff time one with the exception of a few players, (Mccarty, Chelios), that is still intact. Any fan who even half follows any of the league outside their own team realizes that the red wings will slip into the plaoffs anywhere from 6th to 8th due to man games lost well over 300 by far the most in the league. Any fan knows this, and if asked the sharks, hawks and canucks would all rather face the flames, preds or Avalanche in the first round. Detroit is a good mix of stanley cup winning prooven veterans, mixed with young and upcoming talent,(Helm, Ericsson, Howard). I find how much Helm mirrors a young Kris Draper scary. His speed and defensive awareness along with his ability to chip in the odd goal at the most important time reminds me of Draper in the mid 90`s! Whether Howard plays well or falters and is replaced by the veteran Osgood, I feel flying under the radar for a team who has won 4 cups in 12 chances ( I dont count 05 as no one won that year ) could be more difficult than let on in this article!