Wednesday

Roger Crozier

"I like everything about hockey,'' Crozier told Jim Hunt in the 1967 book The Men in the Nets. "The travelling, the friends I've met, the interviews. I like everything but the games.''

The game of hockey was more torture than joy Bracebridge, Ontario native Roger Crozier.

Crozier developed his first ulcer playing junior for the St. Catharines Teepees from 1959-62, winning the Memorial Cup in 1960. He would be hospitalized with pancreatitis more than 30 times during his NHL career. An early infection nearly killed him.

He made his big-league debut in 1963 as a 21-year-old call-up from the AHL Pittsburgh Hornets. Maskless, he had his cheekbone fractured by a Frank Mahovlich slapshot early in his first game, yet toughed it out to finish with a 1-1 tie before being sidelined for two weeks.

Unlike a lot of goaltenders Crozier never had great self esteem., especially after Detroit waived the great Terry Sawchuk. "Detroit have had such great goalies - Sawchuk, Glenn Hall and Harry Lumley. Now they're stuck with a little runt like me,'' he said.

But the runt earned the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie in 1964-65, playing all 70 games, winning 40, earning six shutouts and losing the Vezina as the league's top goaltender to Bower and Sawchuk by two goals in the season's final game, a 4-0 Toronto victory over Detroit.

An acrobat on skates, he took Detroit to the 1966 Stanley Cup final against the Canadiens, a six-game loss, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy and its $1,000 bonus and gold Mustang convertible as the playoffs' most valuable player. He starred in every match, despite an ankle badly sprained in Game 4.

Crozier's frayed nerves were legendary. Having lost three straight games at age 25, he quit hockey and returned home to Bracebridge to work as a carpenter. He had a change of heart four months later, and in June 1970 was traded to the expansion Buffalo Sabres for Tom Webster.

In Buffalo he again led a team to the Stanley Cup finals, this time losing a six-game Stanley Cup final to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974-75. Crozier retired in 1977 after three games, having being dealt to Washington Capitals.

The reluctant Crozier endured a 518-game NHL career that included 206 victories and 30 shutouts.

On January 11, 1996 Roger Crozier died after a long bout with cancer. He was just 53 years old.

Four years later, the NHL and MBNA Bank America, who Crozier worked for in hockey retirement, combined to honor Crozier's memory by awarding the MBNA Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award. The award is presented to the goaltender who finishes the season with the highest save precentage.

7 comments:

Steve Dolata,  5:03 PM  

He was electrifying with the Sabres. Great memories of Ted Darling losing his mind while screaming "Croooooozier" all night.

dg 4:35 PM  

He was great in Detroit, with Budd Lynch's punctuated "He shoots.....Crozier saves".

Anonymous,  12:47 PM  

He had the most unique style of any goalie in that era. In fact, if you were to watch clips of Glenn Hall through a mirror, you'd have Roger, since Crozier was left handed. Whenever he had to make a stretch to his stick side to get his blocker out, he'd hook his right hand catching glove around the top of the crossbar as he was falling down and backwards to catch and pull himself back up. Had a really fast catching glove hand and used his spread eagle style to lure shooters to aim for the ridiculous gap between his pads and then drop and slam his knees together to shut off the opening. The two goalies I've seen that come closest to matching him in style are Mike Palmateer and Pat Riggin. Riggin especially, since he had almost the same low crouch. Roger was a joy to behold in the Sabres nets.

Anonymous,  6:07 PM  

A fan favorite in Detroit as well. The Olympia would rock when "Roger The Dodger" would make one of his acrobatic saves. He had people forget about Terry Sawchuk real fast. The love affair did not last as the Detroit talent withered and Crozier's top defensemen like Bill Gadsby, Doug Barkley, Marcel Pronovost and others were either traded, retired, or forced out of hockey due to injury.

john smith 6:50 PM  

The first real hockey I saw was the '66 playoff series against Montreal. It was broadcast over one of the local stations in New York. I remember that as each game progressed, his performance grew more astonishing.

In those days, Montreal was magnificent, and far superior to the fourth place Red Wings, but Crozier's performance made me want to be a goalie (in my dreams). He was more than good, he was heroic.

Mike Matheson,  8:24 PM  

It's a crime that Roger Crozier is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Rookie of the year in both the AHL and NHL. Winner of two major trophies (Calder and Conn Smythe) and now has a trophy named after him (The Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award.) Reached the Stanley Cup finals with two different teams ten years apart. And one of the great stylists of any era. What more do you need Hockey Hall of Fame??

Imagine if Crozier had been between the pipes in the Canada - Russia series?

Anonymous,  3:06 PM  

He was electrifying! His reflexes were phenomenal,and as a girl in love with hockey in the 1960's and living in Detroit, Roger Crozier was bigger than life to me. I begged my dad to take us to Bracebridge, Ontario on vacation way back then thinking I may see him on the streets. He remains the most exciting goalie I have ever seen. Yes, when he was bad, he was awful....BUT, when he was on, which was often, he was the best ever. Thank you Roger!

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