Every team needs at least a couple players who sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team, players who accept checking or energy roles and do some of the dirty work necessary for the team's success, including dropping the gloves when needed. For the Green Bay Gamblers, right-winger Christopher Crane is such a player. Crane's 4 goals and 5 assists in 20 games couldn't be considered as lighting the USHL on fire (although they're not too bad considering he isn't on Green Bay's powerplay), but he was still a vital cog in helping the team to its East Division-leading 18-6-3 record heading into the Christmas Break. The 6-foot-1, 193-pound Crane is a tenacious forechecker who plays a physical game, is a regular on the penalty kill, and will drop the gloves, as witnessed by his team-leading 73 penalty minutes, of which 25 of those were for fighting majors and another 20-plus minutes incident to those scraps. Crane excels in his checking/energy role for the Gamblers so well, in fact, that Team USA tabbed him to play that role at the World Junior A Challenge in November, where the American team took the gold.
Thus, despite not having overwhelming offensive numbers, Crane is still a possible pick for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft as the USHL enters the New Year, because every team needs players like him in their system to succeed, and Crane may have five years of additional development before turning pro if he plays one more year in the USHL prior to playing for Ohio State.
McKeen's correspondent Kevin Wey had the opportunity to talk with Green Bay Gamblers right-winger Chris Crane after a game in December. He discussed playing for Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge, his development in the USHL, his role as a checking-line/energy player, his hockey prior to Green Bay, his commitment to Ohio State, his prospects for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and some NHLers he has his eye on.
McKeen's: Back in November you were with Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge. Going back to the beginning of that experience, when did you find out that you'd been named to that, when did you find out you'd been named to the team, who told you, and what was your reaction?
Crane: Actually, it was after a game. It was on a Saturday night and coach came up, there were actually three of us that got selected to play for the team, and he told us after the game. It was the best feeling in the world. Honestly, it was a surprise to me, and I was honored to get selected for the team.
McKeen's: I hadn't heard anyone say they'd found out after a game yet, so the three of you (Nick Jensen, Kevin Albers, and Crane) may have that unique experience. Tell me about the travel arrangements and how it was that you guys got to Prince Edward Island.
Crane: We actually flew into Chicago. Once we got to Chicago, we met the team there and the coaches. We flew into Prince Edward Island as a team. Once we flew into there (pauses), well, we actually flew into a different airport, and then we had a three-hour bus ride to Prince Edward Island. So, it was definitely an all-day trip. Definitely a tiring day, but it was exciting to get to be there.
McKeen's: I was curious to find out if they put you guys on any ferries, although the highway does go across to Prince Edward Island, but I know that places like Saint John, you sometimes have to take a ferry to get to there. With that, comparing the play of the USHL to the World Junior A Challenge, what were your impressions?
Crane: Well, with the team I was selected to, it was pretty much like a USHL all-star team. Pretty much, we were going against the best junior A players in Canada, in Sweden, and Russia. So, it was definitely, I think, the game play was a little bit faster. You didn't have as much time to do plays or conduct goals or whatever you wanted to do. It was definitely, I would say, a little bit higher, but the level of competition, it was something that we did not have a problem with.
McKeen's: Tell me about your role on the team and who your linemates were.
Crane: Umm, I played with Nick Sorkin and John Parker, and, pretty much, our role was to go out there and create havoc for the defensemen. I'm actually known for going into the corner and being a grind guy and get the puck and get the dirty goals in the dirty areas, so that was mostly my role. I usually killed penalties. I believe our line played what our role should have been to win the gold medal.
McKeen's: In a way, it sounds like it's what you do for Green Bay every night, only on a grander scale.
McKeen's: Who were some of your Team USA teammates that impressed you the most and why?
Crane: I would have to say our captain, David Gerths. He came and showed up every night. He hit bodies and he scored goals. Also, our two assistant captains, Jeff Costello and Nic Dowd. Those were some gamers that we had on the team and they definitely helped us, not just in the gold medal game but throughout the whole tournament.
McKeen's: Each one of you that I've talked that have played for that team has named David Gerths as one of the guys. So, that tells me a little something. Moving to the USHL, last year you started out as kind of a pure energy guy, but toward the end of the season you were getting more touches with the puck, it looked like you were more confident handling the puck at this level, but those were my observations. What areas of your game did you feel improved the most during last season and what were the biggest adjustments for you?
Crane: You know? I feel like I've grown in size and I feel like I'm stronger this year. My hands, I feel like they have gotten a little better. During the summer I worked a lot on quick feet, worked on my stride, worked on my hands, worked on my shot. So, all around, I think I've progressed, a little bit all around. I've definitely been training hard for this season.
McKeen's: Tell me about some of the particulars you did with the quick feet and the quick hands.
Crane: I do a lot of ladders for the quick feet. I do anything: cones, jumping, squats, just to name some things. I actually have a trainer that I work with during the summer, and he has a program for me. Last summer, I went up to Canada and I worked with Sam Gagner's dad, Dave Gagner, and I got on the ice with him and he taught me a couple things. With the quick hands, basically, during the summer, I would just get a piece of cardboard in front of my TV, throw it down, and stickhandle with a golf ball while I'm watching TV and just go backhand, forehand, side to side, just getting comfortable with the puck.
McKeen's: What are the areas of your game that you're focusing on improving or that you feel you need to improve the most to get to the next level?
Crane: I feel like I need to work on my d-zone play a little bit more. I know as a winger I need to be able to get pucks out when the puck's ringing or when they see you ring the puck. That's something, actually, I work on every week. Pretty much, I've got to battle along the wall and get pucks out for my defensemen.
McKeen's: That touches on my next question a little bit, I think. Tell me what you feel are the strengths of your game and, for those who have never seen you play, your style.
Crane: I would say that I'm pretty much an energy guy. I'm not scared of anyone. I'm capable of dropping the gloves. I'll go and hit somebody to change the game. I can get in the dirty areas and score the dirty goals. My best asset is in the corners in the offensive zone. I can be a playmaker if I have guys that support me down low, I can throw it to the net, and get to the dirty areas to try and make something happen.
McKeen's: You've touched on this a bit, but most kids don't come up through the ranks fighting in pee wee and bantam, and not so much in midgets, either, but you've obviously taken that role on. At what point did you decide to incorporate that into your game and fulfill that role and what do you feel is important in doing that well?
Crane: You know? This summer, I took boxing lessons with a guy. I'm from Cincinnati and I took some boxing lessons. Pretty much, my coach, he told me that that's going to be part of my role on the team. I've always grown up being one of the guys that will be able to take the big guys on. This year, so far, I've usually fought guys that are 6-3, 6-4. I guess I would say that I'm not scared of anyone. Most people aren't able to say that. I think I just have the drive in my game to not be scared of anyone and just do what I do.
McKeen's: If memory serves me right, you played midgets with Honeybaked.
Crane: Yes, sir.
McKeen's: Tell me how it was that you came to play for them, since you are originally from the Cincinnati area.
Crane: I was playing hockey for the Northern Kentucky Norsemen and I didn't really know where to go after that year. I have a family advisor out of Canada and he recommended me to enter the Midwest Elite Hockey League [Note: Now the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League]. We looked at all of my options, Belle Tire, Little Caesar's, Honeybaked, and when I visited all of those teams, I felt right about going to Honeybaked. I liked the coaching staff and they told me I was going to be one of their gamers. So, that's pretty much how I ended up with Honeybaked.
McKeen's: If I might ask, who is your family advisor?
Crane: Ian Pulver.
McKeen's: Okay, yep, of the Pulver Sports, so there you go. How old were you when you first started playing hockey and how did you get that start?
Crane: I actually got my first pair of skates when I was two years old, for my second birthday. I actually hated it at first and my dad kept bringing me back and bringing me back. He actually stepped me on the ice one time and he just left me and he said, "You're going to have to find your way off the ice," and I did that. Ever since then, I've loved it. I actually started on my first team when I was four years old.
McKeen's: I assume your dad played then.
Crane: Yeah, my dad actually played with Chris Chelios and Brett Hull in high school.
McKeen's: Oh, okay.
Crane: He played for Mount Carmel, and he's from Chicago.
McKeen's: What were the different teams that you played for at the different age groups, if they were indeed different?
Crane: I actually am originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and I moved from Virginia Beach when I was ten years old to Cincinnati, and I played for the Cincinnati Cyclones. Then, after the Cincinnati Cyclones, I moved to the Northern Kentucky Norsemen, and then from Northern Kentucky I moved to Honeybaked for two years.
McKeen's: So you've moved around a little bit, then.
McKeen's: You're committed to Ohio State. So, when did colleges start talking to you and what were the other colleges that were considering you, or that you were considering, and what made you decide on Ohio State?
Crane: Ohio State started talking to me early, it was my first year with Honeybaked when I went down to see them. They pretty much told me they're not going to let a guy from Ohio get away from them. But, other schools that I talked to are Miami, Bowling Green, Colorado College, there's a number of them, but Ohio State was the one that I felt was the best.
McKeen's: This is your draft year, and although CSS didn't have you in their Top 25, I think you have a chance at selection if things go well the rest of the season. But, what are some of the things that you feel you need to do so that NHL teams will consider pulling the trigger, maybe in the late rounds, on draft day?
Crane: You know? I think (pauses), I'm not going to be the guy that goes out there and scores all the goals. I think I bring something to the game where I'll be able to go out and hit somebody and be able to scare people when I go into the corners, and I think that's what teams need. I think, like, if you're going to go out there and score goals, you go out there and score goals, and that's not my role. I believe my role is to go out there and hit somebody and make them scared of me next shift. I don't really pay much attention to the draft, to be honest with you, I just go out there and play my game. If something happens, hopefully, that'll be awesome.
McKeen's: Have NHL teams expressed interest in you, at least that you're aware of?
Crane: I know my family advisor has talked to some teams. They say they like me, but I need to improve on some stuff. Who knows? We still have a long season here ahead of us. To be able to get drafted would be awesome.
McKeen's: And, you have more than one year to do it, if necessary. Lastly, who were some of your favorite players growing up and why and some players today that you'd like to equate to?
Crane: I would say Darren Helm. I think I play a lot like Helm. Rick Nash, he's a big guy, he's one of my favorite players. He actually plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets and I'm from Ohio. Joe Sakic is another one of my favorite players, just because I've grown up liking him.
McKeen's: I wondered if Rick Nash might work his way into your answer, since you're from Ohio.