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Richard Crozier steps down as St. Joe’s coach

Photos by Andrew Miller

Richard Crozier was 10 years old when his father stepped away from hockey coaching in 1986 to devote more time to his family.

Joe Crozier was the Sabres’ head coach when they made the playoffs for the first time in the 1972-73 season. He was the man who put the fabled French Connection together. Crozier still had dreams of coaching in the NHL again and chasing the Stanley Cup.

But Joe had coached in eight cities over a 13-year stretch. He was weary of moving his family and decided to settle down for good in Amherst. Richard revered his dad, looked up to him as a hero, and he never forgot the sacrifice.

On Wednesday, Richard made a similar choice. After 15 glorious years as the head hockey coach at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, and just 18 days after winning a seventh New York State title, Crozier stepped down as coach.

“I would say it’s 100 percent connected to my dad, the decision,” Crozier said Wednesday morning. “It’s mainly a family decision. My son Jake is a senior, and it was an awesome gift to coach him the last two years. With the way we ended it, I kind of got the storybook ending that everybody wants.” Talk about storybook endings. St. Joe’s won an eighth Federation title and a seventh state crown, winning three games in a row by 3-2 scores to do it. They beat St. Francis in the Monsignor Martin semifinals, came from behind to beat Timon in the Federation final, then beat Monsignor Farrell in OT to win it all.

The state championship game was his 300th win at St. Joe’s, which was a perfect bit of symmetry.

Along the way, Crozier kept telling the Marauders not to be satisfied, that there was a lot more yet to be done, that they couldn’t be content.

“I’ve always had that mindset that the minute you’re satisfied, you’re kind of done,” Crozier said, “because if you’re not aspiring to other, greater things, it’s time to move on."

“That’s kind of where I’m at. I’m feeling satisfied in this chapter of my life. I was able to accomplish a lot there, and to do it with my son, who’s been coming to games with me since he was 6 months old."

Crozier, who is the principal at Smallwood Elementary in Amherst, wants to spend more time with his daughters Sydney (16) and Lily (14), and his wife, Becky. He has a 29-year-old son, Joe and a 7-month-old grandson.

As his dad discovered, coaching hockey can be an all-consuming passion. It was even more so as the St. Joe’s program evolved. With multiple teams, modified programs and summer leagues, it became a year-round commitment.

“It’s no longer a job that starts in November and ends in March,” Crozier said. “In my tenure, we started a modified program in the spring for eighth-graders that are coming to Joe’s. It’s growing significantly. St. Joe’s was one of the first to do it; now it’s unlikely a high school hockey team doesn’t have a modified program for seventh- and eighth-graders. That’s something I’m very proud of. “We also play in the summer league out of Harbor Center, very similar to what my good friend Coach Kensy does with the Amherst (basketball) team in their summer league. Last summer, there were 14 teams and that goes to the end of August."

“The responsibilities of the job have grown quite significantly over the 15 years,” Crozier said, “and I absolutely love it. I’m passionate about it. It’s incredibly important to me. But I also know what it takes to do it.”

Brian Anken, the St. Joe’s athletic director, is well aware of it. Anken, a former high school and college lacrosse coach, said the school will “restructure” the position of Federation hockey coach, which evolved to include the duties of director of hockey during Crozier’s time.

“We’re going to hire a Federation head coach,” Anken said. “Our priority is finding the best coach for our Federation hockey team with that person knowing he’s going to have involvement with those other teams as far as staffing and oversight. But we’re going to tailor it a little bit, based on the candidate.”

Anken said St. Joe’s is excited to find out who might be interested in one of the top hockey jobs in Western New York. It won’t be easy to replace a coach of Crozier’s stature. He made competing for the Federation and state championships a yearly expectation, rather than a dream.

Crozier loved it. But he admits he lost some of his passion for coaching when his father died 18 months ago. Joe remained active after leaving coaching and settling in Amherst. He scouted, worked in the Sabres ticket office. When Rich became a coach, he was a devoted fan of the Marauders.

“When my dad died, it was hard for me to go back to the rink,” Crozier said, “and I continue to feel that way a little bit. It was such a big part of my childhood. When your dad is a professional hockey coach, you don’t know any other life.

“There was no bigger fan of this program than my dad. So, when your biggest fan passes, it’s kind of tough to keep going. So I looked at this season with my son being a senior, in the back of mind I said, this might be it, so be sure to soak it all in.”

Crozier, 48, said he was fortunate to work as a principal in Amherst while coaching hockey at St. Joe’s. He has 700 elementary students and 125 employees who rely on him at Smallwood. Now he’ll have more time for his main job and his family.

That doesn’t mean he's through with coaching. He’ll continue as assistant golf coach at St. Joe’s. And if they want him to help the hockey program under the next head coach, Crozier will certainly listen.

“I told Brian, if there’s an opportunity for me to continue in some capacity with the hockey program, I would love that,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m giving up on my dreams. At some point in my life, I had aspirations maybe to coach at the collegiate or NHL level. Right now, I want to give my full focus on my family.”

“I’m not retiring, I’m just being realistic. Who gets the storybook ending? This chapter is closed. It’s been a great one. But I’m not going anywhere. I’m just refocusing.”

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