Over the summer, Connor Crisp added a couple more jerseys to his collection, being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens and being part of an early September trade to Sudbury. But far from being thrown to the Wolves, Crisp said the transition has been more positive than he could have imagined.
“You know what? [The transition has gone] smoother than I thought,” Crisp said. “We’ve had a few line changes already; it’s only been a couple of months in so that’s expected, but when you’ve got great players like [Nicholas] Baptiste and [Mathew] Campagna out there it’s easy to make chemistry.
“Good players know where to find you and that helps out a lot.”
Crisp has had a fair bit of experience playing with good players. Last season, as a member of the Erie Otters, he was part of a veteran crew that helped introduce Connor McDavid to the junior ranks. And as much as the 15-year-old forward learned from them, Crisp said the veterans learned from McDavid.
“Playing with him was special,” Crisp explained. “Usually younger guys look up to the older guys, but I think a lot of the older guys were looking up to him. You can learn a lot from a kid with that kind of potential.
“He’s having a good year, that team’s having a good year, but so are the Sudbury Wolves. It’s just looking up for us and I’m looking forward to it.”
Crisp, along with defenseman Jimmy McDowell, were traded to the Wolves in early September in return for Cory Genovese and a pair of draft picks. The trade followed a summer where the Alliston, ON native re-entered the NHL Draft, was selected in the third round — 71st overall — by the Montreal Canadiens, and opened some eyes at the NHL club’s camp.
“It was a great experience. It was an honour being drafted by them,” he said. “I had no idea if I was going to be drafted — period. But getting a chance to go to rookie camp, then staying for main camp was pretty cool.”
Crisp said the speed of the game at the NHL level was the greatest difference he noticed, which has helped him coming back to the junior ranks.
“Here you have three seconds with the puck, there you have half a second,” he explained. “I think that’s what’s helped me with my game the most — the patience aspect. I’ve come back to junior and you realize you have more time with the puck than you would at the NHL level.
“You need to just be aware. It obviously helps a lot when you have chemistry with your linemates and you know where they’re going to be. If I get the puck around the boards, I know my centre’s going to be there. I don’t need that extra second to chip it out to him because I know he’s going to be there. Having chemistry with your linemates and just being aware of everybody on the ice.”
Although Erie is having a resurgent season this year, Crisp said he’s noticed a big difference from last year’s Otters’ environment and what he’s experiencing in Sudbury, both on and off the ice.
“There’s more positivity. I think having a tough year last year, not winning games, guys would start to get down on themselves. Knowing that we weren’t in the playoffs was tough,” he said. “[In Sudbury] every game guys are coming in knowing that we’ve got a good team — a team that can compete in the East — and a team that’s going to compete for an OHL championship, so I think the atmosphere is different here with the positivity and that’s what you need to win.”
And playing in a more traditional hockey market has also been a positive experience, even if it means that you have to be on your toes at all times.
“When you’re winning you’re winning. Fans want to come see winning teams and obviously that wasn’t the case with Erie last year. They’ve got their new rink and everything now, which is good for them,” Crisp said. “But in Sudbury, it’s a hockey town. They love to come out, they love you around the city.
“Maybe you should be a little more careful about what you’re doing outside of the [arena] because everybody’s watching, but it’s a great hockey town and when you’re winning they come out to see.”
Sudbury is climbing the standings in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. They’re a point behind the first place Mississauga Steelheads in their division, and are in fourth place overall in the conference. But while a couple of teams have gotten off to hot starts, the sense is that the conference is ripe for the picking — and Crisp said he feels the Wolves are ready to pounce.
“Obviously Oshawa and Kingston are good teams, we’re battling for a spot ahead in our division, but that’s not what we want. We want to be ahead of the conference and ahead of the league,” he said. “And I think we can do it. It’s coming along; guys are starting to click. We’re getting guys back from injury, which has been a huge loss for us since the beginning of the year. We’re getting [Dominik] Kahun back next weekend, hopefully, which will be a huge asset to our team.
“Injuries hurt us at the beginning, but we’ve battled through that and we’re going to get better when everyone’s back.”
Crisp has been doing his part. Last year with Erie, he scored 22 goals and added 14 assists in 63 games, along with spending 139 minutes in the penalty box. This year, he’s on pace to shatter those totals, averaging nearly a point-per-game with six goals and eight assists, along with 36 penalty minutes.
For years the Habs’ roster has been light on size and physical play. So, knowing that, has Crisp looked at the Canadiens’ roster to see where — and when — he may fit?
“You know what, I don’t pay attention to that. I know that I’ll be in Sudbury this year. I haven’t signed obviously, so my main goal is to do what this team [Sudbury] wants me to do,” he said. “If I ever get called up and make it to the next level, then I’ll do what they want me to do.
“But right now I’m focused on the Sudbury Wolves, being a good team player here, and hopefully taking us far in the season.”
So does doing what a team wants him to do include strapping on the pads again?
“Well, let’s not go that far…” he added, laughing.
Last season, Crisp was conscripted to man the Otters’ net as an emergency goalie after starter Ramis Sadikov was injured two minutes into a game against the Niagara IceDogs. In his 58 minutes, Crisp allowed 14 goals, but gained a measure of fame coast-to-coast.
“It comes up every once in a while. I think it will for the rest of my life. People will want to hear the whole story again, even though I’ve told it 4,000 times,” he said. “It’s in the past, it happened, and it obviously got my name out there a bit, which was pretty cool and it was a great experience.
“But I’m here to show that I’m more than that, and that obviously I can play hockey as an offensive forward.”
Crisp said the experience was actually beneficial to his offensive game.
“Absolutely. My coach actually told me before I went out to have fun with it and learn something,” he said. “So as I’m skating on the ice, after all the commotion and stuff, I started thinking about the angle game.”
And it’s something he continues to this day. “I still do it in practice . I just kind of hang out in the net where the goalie’s standing,” he said. “You learn to see where it’s hard for a goalie to stop the puck — where you’ve got to be and where you’ve got to shoot.”
The combination of physical play and the ability to put the puck in the net are part of what attracted the Habs to him. And it’s what makes him an important part of the Wolves going forward. Crisp said he feels his style of play translates well to the professional game.
“I think it’s huge. I think every team needs a physical, big body to bang out there. I’m not afraid to get dirty,” he explained. “I score most of my goals within five feet of the net. I think that’s where most of my play’s got to be and if you want to be there, I’ll be there.
“If the D don’t want to get me out of the way, then I’ll put the puck in the net. I like to contribute offensively. I think that’s my game and that’s what I’ll stick with throughout my career.”
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