Friday, May 27, 2011

Conn Smythe - 1965 : Roger Crozier

It was only a matter of time before the selection process pertaining to Conn Smythe Trophy winners raised it's ugly head. Like most circumstances which don't call on statistical data as a prerequisite for determining a winner, the Conn Smythe selection was based on opinion. Of course, statistical information came into play, but is wasn't the overriding factor. It was the responsibility of the National Hockey League Board of Governors to determine "the outstanding player of the play-offs".

In the 1966 playoffs, the Board of Governors would get their first taste of Conn Smythe Trophy controversy. In the final, defending Stanley Cup champions, Montreal, were matched-up against the Detroit Red Wings. The Canadiens emerged victorious, taking the best-of-seven series four games to two.

The Canadiens were odds-on favourites to repeat and when they completed the task, many thought the Conn Smythe recipient would come from the winning squad. Names such as Jean Beliveau, Gump Worsley and J.C. Tremblay were being bantered about as possible candidates.

When the league announced Detroit goalie Roger Crozier as the winner, many people in hockey were surprised. How does a player on the losing team, rate consideration over an individual who made a contribution to a winning effort? The debate began immediately, with pros and cons on each side of the argument.

Roger Crozier was Detroit's talented young goaltender who had a style all his own. In an era where stand-up goalies were the norm, Crozier resembled a fish out of water. His acrobatic movements were a thing of pure delight. On many plays around his goal crease, Crozier would be flat on the ice. His legs and arms flapping to reach the puck or cover as much space as possible. It was poetry-in-motion when Crozier moved to the front of or beyond his crease to confront a shooter head-on. By doing this, he took away the angles, which suddenly narrowed, as Crozier moved out from the net. As the opposing player advanced, Roger "The Dodger" would back-up in order to adjust to the situation. If a cross-ice pass was completed, the Detroit goalie reacted by propelling his extended body laterally to protect the open-side.

His flair for the dramatic was evident in his skill to engage his glove hand. Crozier had the ability to make a routine glove save look as though the puck was shot at 100mph and headed right towards the top-shelf.

In games one and two of the Cup final, Detroit upset Montreal in the Forum, winning both contests. With the score tied 1-1, early in period three of game two, Crozier's glove hand went to work.

Red Burnett of the Toronto Daily Star, described what happened next in his game report the following day.

Tremblay, a left winger, crossed over and stormed in from the right side for his try. He had Crozier well out on a good angle and lashed a low backhander, one that he described as one of his best shots of the season, for the far corner. Roger's right hand snaked out and gloved the sizzling puck.
 Seconds later, it was Big Jean, one of the most feared close-in marksmen in the game, powering in alone from the left side. Like Gilles (Tremblay), he had Crozier well out, with the far side yawning an invitation. He let go with a thunderbolt, but Crozier's right hand was quicker than the shot.

In game four, Crozier suffered two injuries - a sprained knee and twisted ankle. Crozier was at his acrobatic best on the play involving Canadiens forward Bobby Rousseau. Crozier commented on what transpired following the game, "At first, I thought my leg was broken. I was stretching for the corner of the goal when Rousseau fell going through the crease, jamming my leg against the post. There was a searing pain and my leg went limp. It started to quiver, I couldn't control it and couldn't regain my feet."

Despite the injury, Crozier returned for game five. However, his presence wasn't enough to ward off Montreal's powerful offensive attack. The Canadiens won game five by a score of 5-1. In game six, a disputed goal by Henri Richard in overtime, ended Detroit's dream of a Stanley Cup.

Roger Crozier learnt he was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, while removing tape away from the injured parts of his body in the Wings dressing room. He quickly changed into his streetclothes to accept the trophy from Clarence Campbell.

In the Canadiens room, this quote came courtesy of netminder Gump Worsley concerning the Conn Smythe Trophy, "I think Big Jean Beliveau should have won it. We wouldn't have retained the Cup without him."

Did I mention controversy?

If Roger Crozier needed something to help him forget about his banged-up leg, the Board of Governors supplied the perfect tonic. In addition to the $1000. cash award, a $5000. sports car was thrown into the mix. Crozier could motor around Bracebridge, Ontario during the summer, never having to worry about applying too much weight or pressure on his leg.

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