London, ON - Last week, Lawson Crouse hung out in the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room and appeared on Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner.
He, Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome warned Jack Eichel about a plan to present Don Cherry with a USA Hockey shirt during their top-prospects segment at the Stanley Cup final.
“We were joking around that (Don) wouldn’t take it well,” said the hulking Kingston Frontenacs forward and expected Top 10 NHL draft pick on June 26 in Sunrise, Fla., “but he took it better than everyone thought he would.
“It was kind of funny at the end.”
On Monday, Crouse was back in London for another big hockey game.
Instead of the Madhouse on Madison, this was at the Colborne St. United Church gym, where he played with a bunch of kids as part of a major fundraiser for the Montessori school he attended as a toddler that is now run by his mom, Kristen.
The game — parents got their kids signed up for $75 a pop — helps fund two outdoor playgrounds at the local elementary and pre-school locations.
“I remember when I was that age and it’s a lot of fun thinking back to when (the Knights players visited his elementary school) and it’s cool I can be that player now,” said the Mt. Brydges native, who turns 18 on Tuesday. “I’ve been throughout these halls and buildings. It’s a unique school and it’s a good chance to play a little hockey with the kids.
“Any kid that has that opportunity should take advantage of it.”
Two years ago, a lot more people were discussing the game of Crouse’s Elgin-Middlesex teammate and buddy Travis Konecny, the OHL’s first overall pick to the Ottawa 67’s.
But this season, the 6-foot-4 power forward led short-handed Kingston in scoring, at one point rocketing up to third behind McDavid and Eichel in the North American draft ranking conversation, and was Canada’s youngest player in the march to world junior gold.
He brought his sweater, his gold medal and his gaudy Hockey Canada ring for the Montessori kids to eyeball.
“The lessons I learned at that tournament were incredible and will go a long way in my life,” he said. “I learned a little bit from each of the players and the coaches. We had a lot of fun playing in Toronto and Montreal. The crowd created an extra boost we needed and just to win it on home soil was a tremendous opportunity.”
Best dressing room -- the Canadiens or Maple Leafs?
“They both had their key features,” said Crouse, who grew up a fan of the Buds. “The Montreal lounge was really nice. But both rooms are high-class organizations and they both treated us very well.”
A player’s NHL draft year always has a hint of strangeness to it. People you’ve never seen before are picking apart your individual game and national media types are busting out weekly risers and fallers charts based on the smallest sample sizes.
“I’m getting used to it and I think you have to if you want to play at a high level,” Crouse said. “This is what comes with the game and I’m doing what I can on the ice and letting the rest take care of itself off the ice.
“It was fun to get to meet Don Cherry. It was a crazy day, and by the end if it, I was pretty pooped. It was a great experience getting to know a lot of the media stuff outside of the game and then sit down and watch (a Cup final) game with the top prospects.”
If any NHL GM has any more doubts, they should know this about Crouse: he scored four goals in six games against stingy Memorial Cup champ Oshawa this year. He went up against the Generals best defenders and, in one late-season tilt, infamously whacked captain and Londoner Josh Brown with a heavy two-handed slash that sparked a near-brawl.
“That was some emotion taking over,” he recalled. “I obviously had my good battles against him all year, but I think we’re over it now. I’m happy for them. It’s a proud moment for the league when an OHL team wins it and I have some buddies on that team (including former PEAC school classmate Mitch Vande Sompel).”
The school kids love his work ethic on the ice and his demeanour off it.
“We had a big luncheon here at school during the world juniors and it was crazy cheering for Lawson,” 11-year-old Jack Dell, a Grade 5 student, said. “He’s probably going to be drafted in the top 10 so it means a lot to have such a high-calibre player here and getting to know him.
“He’s really big, but he’s a really nice, calm, cool and collected guy.”
The butterflies, of course, will be in full force next Friday night.
“We have a lot of family coming,” Crouse said. “We rented a house down there, so it will be nice after the draft to sit down and relax for a couple of days.”
By then, he’ll be NHL property, one part of Miami will turn into a mini-Mt. Brydges, and his old London school will roar once more.