Interview: Rangers Brandon Crawley on Chris Kreider’s leadership and training to join expanded roster

Growing up in Bergen County, NJ, hockey for Crawley started out as just a hobby together with his brother but it paved the way for a professional career. Going to a boarding school in South Kent, CT, Crawley was given a scholarship and spent a year there before receiving an invitation from the London Knights of the OHL. Crawley accepted and signed with the team that just hosted the Memorial Cup, as a free agent. So begins Crawley’s journey to become an NHL defenseman.

Brandon Crawley of the London Knights. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

London calling

“I didn’t have the intention of going the OHL route but I joined them for the mini-camp and Mark and Dale Hunter asked me to join the team”. Crawley’s parents supported him in his decision. For an American prospect it’s not the most conventional route, but the coaching staff and the facilities especially gave Crawley the feeling this was the right fit and the best platform to chase his dream. “The organization is just well-run and first class, all the way from the owners to the coaches, the trainers and players.”

Hockey Friendships

Crawley and Mitch Marner are good friends and have known each other since they were 11-12 years old. They’ve won a championship together and even years later they still talk and share the same jokes and the experiences which makes him look back and realize it was the right decision. The year Crawley won the Memorial Cup, he played with NHL-ers Christian Dvorak, Matthew Tkachuk, Victor Mete, Robert Thomas and also former Rangers prospect Daniel Bernhardt who unfortunately had to retire from hockey due to medical reasons.

It was truly amazing and I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a part of that team. When you are a teenager you don’t realize it at the time, but your decisions affect your future”, Crawley continued. Buying into the philosophy, and the coaching staff giving people the confidence to perform in the role that best suits them is what helped Crawley go from a free agent, to being drafted in his 3rd year of eligibility.

Draft and pro hockey

Crawley entered the 2015 draft after interviewing with several teams and Crawley was ranked 102nd. He expected to be a later round pick, knowing teams had shown interest in him. “It was definitely a disappointing time when you get passed over and something you never forgot, but you can’t let it affect you on the ice. I kept working and am fortunate it worked out and led to being drafted 2 years later“.

It is not something they talked about a lot in London. The end goal for junior players isn’t to get drafted. The end goal is to set yourself up to potentially have a career in hockey after playing juniors. Crawley played top minutes the year they won the Memorial Cup and several teammates got drafted. Crawley expands on the philosophy he picked up with the London Knights: “If you get the process right, the results will come. It’s about doing the right things, putting in the work and eventually you build towards your own success“.

Going into the 2017 draft, Crawley met with a handful of teams again and this time his name came up when the Rangers picked him in the 4th round. “To be drafted by the team playing basically in my backyard that I grew up watching, and inspired me as a kid to play hockey, was extremely special. It will always be a special day and memory I cherish.” He did not attend the draft because one of his closest friends was getting married. Crawley looks back and says it’s a cool day and he was rewarded for what he worked so hard for. It’s not about where you start, but where you want to finish.

Making the jump to professional hockey

Crawley grew up in the area, and knew what to expect of New York City of course. The prospect development camp was a great experience for the then 20-year old. Meeting guys like Brian Leetch and Chris Drury, who I grew up idolizing and used to watch them play every night, it was awesome. Crawley says it gives prospects a great insight into what the organization wants, and it was a really special experience for him. He signed his entry level contract straight out of the draft and as a 20-year old he could transition to the AHL immediately.

That transition didn’t come easy and it’s often overlooked by people. “The biggest challenge was understanding that it’s a job. It’s not like playing hockey with your friends. In the AHL you play against people with families, who have to perform to pay their mortgage. There is just a lot more at stake“, Crawley explained. The need to perform every day, to adjust to the higher pace, stronger and older opponents, makes it a big jump.

Chris Kreider a Leader

Crawley praises Ben Prentiss who is an important part of a lot of player’s development. Another one is Chris Kreider who Crawley has played with in pre-season and training camp several years. “Chris (Kreider) has a big influence on young guys. He is very competitive but at the same time humble and patient with the prospects. He takes his time and he’s a special guy to this organization“. There are a lot of different adjustments you learn over time, and even seasoned NHL veterans say this. It’s about creating a routine that works for you, so you listen to 10-15 players and try to learn from all of them, to see which benefits your development.

To Maine and back

This season Crawley started in the ECHL with the Maine Mariners and for Crawley it was a valuable experience, and it showed him a big difference between the two, “The biggest difference is the mentality. In the AHL, everyone is on the same page. They want to work out, get better, develop. In the ECHL players have a different outlook. They play it because they love the game“. Crawley had different resources to utilize, and learned that the player is responsible for his development. There were a lot of lessons to be learned, and Crawley finished the season in the AHL after the trade deadline. “I dealt with some injuries and setbacks. When I was put in that situation, I was forced to think of how to handle this…How to get better“.

Playing at Madison Square Garden

Crawley has played 4 pre-season games for the Rangers and growing up in the NJ/NY area, his family and friends attended those games. “It’s such a special opportunity for me, playing in my backyard basically, with everyone I know in attendance. Those are coveted opportunities that will stay with you“. Crawley scored for the Rangers at the Prudential Center in 2017, which means Crawley played in the 2 arenas closest to home.

Crawley was given number 73 by the Rangers, which was random, but as a kid Crawley was given number 14. He is very adament though about the jersey number. “You have to earn the privilege to pick your number so until I do, I will use the number I am given. It takes a ton of work, patience and time to get there“. Crawley understands the significance of how special it is to play professional hockey. As a kid, it was all about having fun. He reflects on his successes as much as his mistakes. He considers himself very fortunate to have been given the opportunity as a kid, and eventually get to where he is right now.

Crawley’s entry level contact expires this summer, and with the NHL season continuing Crawley is a very likely addition to the expanded roster. The Rangers have told the Wolf Pack players to stay in shape and be prepared for a call to join the roster.

Author’s Note: As always, I want to thank the player, Brandon Crawley in this case, for sitting down with me and telling me his story and giving me the opportunity to share it with our readers

Rangers fan living in Europe, traveling around the world to attend hockey games, see prospects and contribute with interviews