Corey Crawford crouches in front of the net and glides side to side, guarding his domain.
The Blackhawks goaltender uses his entire body as well as his stick and glove to block the 150 pucks flying at him in one hour of a recent practice. Few evade him, and those that do are usually fired by superstar Patrick Kane. Most pucks clink off the goal post, slap the glass or ricochet off his pads.
The 28-year-old Crawford skates over to the bench where players keep equipment during practice. He would later give a stick to a dad holding his young son.
A sign posted at Johnny's IceHouse on the West Side where the Hawks practice reads: "Success is a journey, not a destination."
The Hawks look to repeat their success—Sports Illustrated favors them to win it all—when they open the regular season Tuesday. As the team tries to avoid a Stanley Cup hangover, Crawford finds himself with a new goalie coach, shorter leg pads and a shallower net.
The pressure of being that last line of defense could crush some. Not Crawford.
"I don't look at it as pressure," said the Hawk known as "Crow" to his teammates. "For me, it's fun. To have that challenge, to go out there and have that challenge to stop every puck, I enjoy that."
Crawford's journey hasn't been easy. Even though he was drafted in 2003, he was not a fixture on the active roster until the 2010-11 season.
His persistence has paid off. This summer he got his name etched on the Cup and a six-year contract reportedly worth $36 million.
A Montreal native, the laid-back Crawford idolized legendary Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy and switched to the position when he was 9. Like Roy, Crawford won the Jennings Trophy, an honor he shared in 2013 with teammate Ray Emery for allowing the fewest goals in a regular season.
Off the ice, Crawford seems as normal as anyone else. He chills out at home with his fiancée and two dogs watching "Breaking Bad" and "Dexter." He bowls with friends and teammate Bryan Bickell, who enlisted Crawford as a groomsman in his wedding. After games, he often rewards himself with a steak at Chicago Cut Steakhouse.
"He's got a really relaxed personality," Bickell said. But he is all business when it comes to hockey. "His focus level has changed through the years to where it is now. He's an elite goalie in the league for a reason."
Crawford has mastered the art of harnessing the good energy and blocking out the bad—just like in "Happy Gilmore," which he is known to quote.
"Getting frustrated or getting upset doesn't really help," he said. "In the past, I've gotten mad or frustrated and it's carried on for a couple days, a couple games.
"Now I found from experience that this is a really good league and things aren't going to go exactly how you want it all year. In tougher times, you have to be able to fight through it and get past it as quick as possible because there's going to be times when things are just … no matter how hard you're working or how hard you're trying, it's just not going to go your way."
Crawford is known to stay on the ice as long as players at practice want to shoot pucks at him, said Jake Dowell, who played minor-league hockey with Crawford in Rockford.
"He's not a crazy goalie you can't talk to and has all these superstitions, but he is quiet and he's focused," said Dowell. "Usually he doesn't show a ton of emotion. That's sometimes a great quality in a goalie, to have him stay even-keeled all the time."
People who know Crawford outside of hockey see a different side of him, too. When fan Matthew Yore met Crawford over the summer, he tried to play it cool and failed.
"He's exactly how I thought he'd be," said Yore, admittedly gushing at the time. The 32-year-old attends games wearing Crawford's jersey and a replica of his mask. "Reserved but still amicable, and he'll entertain an overzealous fan. He seems like he would be a good guy."
His teammates speak to that, too.
"There's always a smile on his face, so he'll be a good time," Hawks forward Andrew Shaw said. "He always looks out for everyone else before himself. All around, just a fun guy to be around."
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