Terry Crisp was raised in the north.
Born in Parry Sound, his family lived in Garson for a little while, just before starting school in Capreol. This is also where he started his long and illustrious career in hockey, even if he never intended it to last a lifetime. “My aim with hockey was always to have fun with it, but get a teaching degree and be a high school teacher,” said Crisp.
The 77 year-old resident of Nashville gave little thought as he worked his way through the Junior B ranks (“this is pretty good”) and on to Junior A (“this is fun”). Talented enough to earn a pro contract, he figured he might just as well try it, though the teaching degree remained firmly planted in the back of his mind.
Hockey scouts, apparently, had other thoughts. “They would tell me I still have years, so while you’re capable of doing it and you’re having some fun, you might as well do it.” And so he kept climbing.
The same scouts would direct him to sign with the Boston Bruins, where Crisp muddled through the development system for four years, only cracking the NHL roster for a three game stint. “It was shutdown time,” said Crisp. “They shut you down unless you were really good.”
“I was fortunate enough that when the league expanded from six to twelve, Boston didn’t protect me - so St Louis drafted me to their first team.” Five years later, Crisp would be nabbed by the New York Islanders in another expansion draft, playing on Long Island for almost a full season before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Crisp would be part of both the 1973-1974 and 1974-1975 Broad Street Bullies squads that would lay claim to Lord Stanley’s Cup. But four short, yet gruelling years later, Crisp decided to hang ‘em up. “After I was done playing, I still loved the game and was offered a chance to coach.”
An assistant coach under legendary bench boss Fred Shero with the Flyers, Crisp began the second act of his hockey career. A few years later, his mentor would offer advice that would change his life.
“You don’t want to remain an assistant coach, Crispy, he told me,” said Crisp. “Yeah, it’s the NHL, but if you want to be a head coach, you have to find somewhere where you’re behind the bench and in the dressing room. I went looking and got a job with the (Soo) Greyhounds.”
There was an irony to this turn of events that was not lost at all on Crisp.
“I sort of laugh about it,” he said. “I wanted to play hockey, so I played as long as I could, and I always wanted to be a teacher, so when I was offered the chance to coach, I thought that’s the same as being a teacher.”
Crisp looks back fondly on his time with the Greyhounds. “You forget what minor hockey is all about when you’re in the pros,” he said. “You realize that these kids are 16 to 20 and they all have visions of going to the NHL or getting a scholarship somewhere - and they’re young kids.”
“The best coaching experience I had was those five or six years in the Soo.”
That’s saying something, when you consider that he would go on to win another Stanley Cup as head coach of the Calgary Flames (1988-1989) and was later named the very first coach in the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Still, his favourite experience was coaching the teens.
“We got into some great brawls with the Sudbury Wolves,” he added.
Fittingly, Crisp would often hear much the same sentiments expressed by the junior hockey prospects under his watch as the ones he felt when he walked in their shoes. “When I first went there, some of them said: coach, I know I’m never going to be an NHL player, I know I’m never going to be a star. I’m here to play as long as I can, and then go to school. While I’m here, I’ll play hard, but let’s have some fun while I’m doing it.”
The realization hit him like a ton of bricks. He had to respect his players, respect their perspective, in order for them to respect him. Throughout his entire career as a player, he had never taken the fact that he was given a chance for granted, nor those who opened the doors to such opportunities.
“I was fortunate enough to have good teams, good coaches, and I was lucky enough that there were always GMs who wanted roles filled - and I could fill them,” said Crisp. In the OHL, spending time behind the bench of kids half his age, he would learn the other side of the coin. And like all great teachers, he would both acknowledge and appreciate the reciprocity of his position.
“When I coached junior, people would ask me what I taught them,” he said. “The funny thing is that as I look back, it’s the total opposite - those kids taught me.”
His coaching days behind him, Crisp would work his way to the broadcast booth, signing on as one of the first to do the job with the Nashville Predators. His time behind the microphone, which started in 1998, continues to this day.
His legacy, in many ways, mirrors his career.
Crisp was part of the very first class of inductees into the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame (in Parry Sound), and was also the very first hockey inductee into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Completing the hat trick of Halls by virtue of his induction in Sudbury, Crisp does not see this latest honour as being any less meaningful.
“Being from Garson, being from Capreol, being a northern boy, it’s always a nice feeling to know that who you were and what you did, some people appreciated it,” he said.
“You think back and figure, wow, that’s pretty nice for Terry Crisp.”