It has been three decades since Brad McCrimmon last played for the Brandon Wheat Kings, but the greatest defenceman in club history will never forget the place where it began.
The 52-year-old former member of Brandon's brilliant 1979 WHL championship squad and Memorial Cup finalists returned to the Wheat City this week for the MasterCard Memorial Cup and was the latest former Wheat King great to receive a standing ovation on Friday night as the club honours its former stars.
"I wear my Wheat King alumnus status pretty strong and I bump into guys throughout the league, whether I played with them or against them or even the young guys now and I always make sure I mention I'm a Wheat King alumni guy," said McCrimmon, now an assistant coach with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings. "But coming home to this rink, I had great years here, great teammates and a lot of great memories. So for sure coming back I always have little flashbacks."
In one of those stories that takes on legendary status, McCrimmon played almost the entire game in the 1979 Memorial Cup final, a game in which the injury-riddled Wheat Kings dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker in overtime to the Peterborough Petes. Thirty-one years have passed, but the pride in being a member of that team and the bitter disappointment of coming so close to winning the Cup remains fresh in his mind.
"It was really a crushing moment, but when you look back at it ... we were beat up," said McCrimmon, who had 24 goals, 98 points and 139 penalty minutes in 66 games in his final season in the WHL, adding nine goals and 28 points in 22 playoff games. "We played our hardest and we fell short, but I think in saying that we could never be ashamed of how we played. I felt we gave it everything we had."
McCrimmon went on to be drafted 15th overall by the Boston Bruins that summer and began an 18-year NHL career in which he played in a whopping 1,222 games, scored 81 goals and piled up 403 points and 1,416 penalty minutes, winning the Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989. Since retiring in 1997, McCrimmon has spent 12 seasons coaching, both as a head coach with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades and as an assistant in the NHL, the past two years with Detroit.
As for his former team, McCrimmon couldn't be prouder of how younger brother Kelly has helped turn the franchise around over the last 21 years and is impressed with the new-look Westman Place.
"The (luxury) boxes are outstanding, the score clock, the whole atmosphere, it's amazing how it can change a rink so dramatically, but it has," he said. "People from other parts of the country who came to the Memorial Cup are going to be immensely impressed with the facility, the building, the exhibits, the hospitality ... I think that people will walk away from this experience being totally impressed."