From his office inside the Champions Skating Center, Bob Crawford peers through two large-paned windows that look out on to one of two sheets of ice where the 2013 Toyota-USA Hockey Tier II 18 & Under National Championships are taking place. During a rare moment of inactivity, Crawford watches the action between the Oklahoma City Oil Kings and the Seattle Sno-Kings.
With the Friday games well underway, it’s time to figure out who’s moving on to Saturday’s quarterfinals and who’s moving out.
Crawford soon notices a familiar face leading the charge from behind the Oil Kings bench. It’s a sudden jolt back to another time that would forever change his life.
It was March 11, 1986, and Crawford’s third season with the Hartford Whalers was winding down. The Belleville, Ontario native was beginning to establish himself as a full-fledged NHL regular while making a home in the Connecticut capital. Then came the news that he was traded to the N.Y. Rangers in exchange for Mike McEwen, who was becoming quite adept at the nomadic NHL lifestyle.
“It’s a business. When you sign a contract, it’s with  other teams,” says McEwen, who would wear seven different NHL uniforms during his 16-year career.
Crawford knew all too well the realities of professional hockey and had a deep appreciation for his NHL experience.
“Any game in the NHL is a dream come true,” he admits. “I didn’t care if the games were in Timbuktu. The NHL is a special place.”
While he may have left Hartford, the area never left Crawford. After his playing days were over, he returned to Connecticut where he has become a mainstay in the community, serving as the owner/operator of several area rinks, and as a member of USA Hockey’s board of directors.
Meanwhile, McEwen put down roots in Oklahoma City, where he has been coaching travel teams, as well as running beginner programs and summer camps. His current line of work is from the same mold as a lifelong aspiration.
“Well I don’t want to get a real job,” the hockey-lifer jokes. “I always wanted to be a teacher growing up, that’s what I’m doing.”
Whether it is in Oklahoma City or Hartford, these two former NHLers, who were once connected by a trade, now share the mission of growing the game, albeit in different parts of the country.
“More kids playing the game, that is my philosophy,” Crawford says. “My thing is, you get [the kids] here once, you keep them coming back.”
As the Oil Kings exit the rink and prepare for the long trip home, McEwen and Crawford exchange pleasantries for the first and only time in what has been a hectic week. There is little acknowledgement of their playing days or how they crossed paths on the transaction wire. Instead they chat about their respective youth hockey programs and the week that was.
Having been to hockey’s mountaintop, McEwen and Crawford now work at the other end of the spectrum, looking to instill the same love of the game that fueled their NHL dreams.
“It’s about having fun,” McEwen insists. “It’s a sporting experience, and the kids should just have fun coming to the rink.”
And just like these two old NHLers, it’s about the memories and the friendships made along the way.
Ryan Matlack is freelance writer/photographer and a producer for 101.3 FM ESPN in Burlington, Vt.