Griffins enforcer Paul Crosty moved to Edmonton when he was seven years old, just in time to see the Oilers capture their fifth Stanley Cup in seven seasons.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Paul Crosty is your classic example of brains and brawn.
As an Ivy League graduate of Brown University, Crosty is obviously no knucklehead, and yet he’s not afraid to use his knuckles when it comes to standing up for his teammates.
Crosty, in fact, started boxing while still in the eighth grade, intrigued by the notion of putting on gloves to prove a point in the same way that a debate champion might engage in verbal sparring.
“Boxing was just something I wanted to learn,” he said. “I thought it would be a valuable thing to be able to do well and as I went on, I realized it was going to help me in hockey, too – learning how to throw a punch and how to protect myself.”
His parents, Bob and Gail, took him to the Cougar Boxing Club in Edmonton, Alberta, where the family moved when Paul was seven years old.
“My dad was real supportive, but my mom was a little hesitant, as all moms are. Once we went there and she saw what the club was all about, she realized it was just a good activity,” Crosty said.
While at Cougar, Crosty learned the ins and outs of the sport. “It’s an amateur club, so the boxers are pretty young for the most part, but there are some guys who trained there as amateurs and have gone on to professional careers in boxing,” he said.
“They welcome anyone who wants to experience what it’s like to box.”
At age 14, Crosty won a boxing gold medal at the 1996 Alberta Winter Games. When he was 16, his boxing club took part in a tournament at the Montana State Prison.
“My mom was a little worried about that one,” he said. “It was something that our club always used to do and the guys reassured us that it was just a lot of fun, and it was.
“I was a little nervous going in, but I was younger, too, so you really don’t think about those things too much when you’re that age. There were some pretty scary-looking dudes.
“I ended up winning my fight, so it was pretty cool.”
Crosty enjoyed boxing, but he harbored no aspirations of becoming the next heavyweight champion.
“Hockey is always what I wanted to do,” he said. “I never wanted to be a pro boxer, but I wanted to do well in the amateur ranks. I had a few fights but that was enough.”
He grew up skating on an outdoor rink near his elementary school.
“It was a really nice rink with boards and lines and everything,” said Crosty, who also enjoyed skiing and snowboarding. “I’d go to school and then head to the rink right after.”
He played two years of junior hockey before coming to a crossroads of sorts.
“For me, it came down to a decision to go to college or to play major junior hockey,” he said. “I valued the importance of an education and my parents certainly encouraged me in that regard.”
Also guiding his decision was Paul Rai, his coach during the second of his two years with the Fort Saskatchewan Traders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“He had played at Dartmouth, so he got me seriously considering college and was pretty influential in my decision as well.”
Crosty admits that he was somewhat oblivious to the whole Ivy League aura before he was recruited by Brown.
“I didn’t know a lot about the college route or the bigger colleges in the states,” he said. “I guess I was a bit naive to everything. Once I checked it out, I got a better understanding of how good a school it was.”
Not surprisingly, Crosty learned that you couldn’t cut corners if you wanted to succeed, whether it was in the classroom or the rink.
“It was demanding,” he said. “You really had to use your time wisely. You end up relying on your teammates a lot and we helped each other do what we could to pass.
Crosty majored in business economics. He ended up taking five years to graduate because he sat out a year after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a motorcycle accident just before he was scheduled to start his senior season.
Undrafted, he signed with Toledo in the ECHL after college, where he played with current Griffins Jamie Tardif and Mike Walsh. Midway through his rookie season, he was called up to the AHL by the Manchester Monarchs.
He finished the year with the Monarchs, then played two more seasons there. He shared the enforcer role on the team with former Princeton standout Kevin Westgarth.
“Two Ivy League tough guys on the same team doesn’t happen too often, so it was kinda funny,” Crosty said. “To us, it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Crosty joined the Griffins this season on a tryout basis before signing a standard player's contract in early November.
“One thing that we were lacking was a real physical presence and I didn’t know much about Paul, but (general manager) Bob McNamara liked him,” said Griffins head coach Curt Fraser.
“I knew he was tough, but he really impressed us with his play. He’s good offensively and smart defensively, although his real value is as a physical presence.”
At 6-foot-2, 225-pounds, Crosty is an imposing figure. He continues to work on his fighting skills, heading back every summer to the Cougar Boxing Club, where he still works with the same coach, Bingham Goodwin.
“You think you’re in good shape for hockey and then you go back to the gym and you realize you’re not in as great of shape as you think,” said Crosty, whose workouts consist of running, sparring, hitting the hand pads and speed bag, and skipping rope.
Boxing and hockey fights have things in common but they’re totally different in other respects.
“Obviously you’re on skates for hockey, so the balance is different, and there’s the whole grabbing thing, which is different from boxing,” he said. “Boxing helps you learn how to punch properly, how to see a punch and basically how to protect yourself.”
The pugilistic art is something that Crosty is still learning, and he’s more than happy to practice its finer points as often as necessary. “I have no problems doing it. I embrace the role and I want to contribute any way I can. I want to help the team win and be successful.”
Crosty has played both forward and defense for the Griffins this season. He started playing forward while he was in Manchester.
“It’s tough learning a new position but I got used to it and got comfortable there,” said Crosty, who admits that being able to play both positions is an asset. “It’s one of those things now where I can play wherever they need me.”
He is only too happy to fill whatever role the Griffins want him to play. “Coming here my goal was to earn a contract and show them that I deserved to be here,” he said.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone, especially with the way the team is playing. It’s a great group of guys and the coaching staff is really good as well.
“This is a team that I really think could go the distance. I know that’s our goal. We want to win a Calder Cup and I think we have the team to do it.”
It’s been a big year for Crosty. He married his long-time girlfriend, Ashley, this summer and they bought a condo in downtown Edmonton. “We spent a lot of time renovating it, re-doing the bathroom, painting and new floors.”
Ashley is a registered nurse in the pediatric oncology unit at the University of Alberta Hospital. “It’s basically kids with cancer, so it’s a tough unit, but she’s really suited to it and she does a really good job.”
She’s commuting back and forth when she can get time away from work. “We’re doing the long-distance thing, but it’s nothing we haven’t done before.”
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT EDMONTON:
1. Life Beyond the Oilers. Hockey isn’t the only sport in Edmonton. For example, the city’s entry in the Canadian Football League is the Eskimos. “I try to get to one or two games every summer,” Crosty said. “They’re always a lot of fun.”
2. Not So Crude. Most people figure it’s the oil services industry that drives the Edmonton economy, but the city has become a growing tech center. “There are lots of opportunities for work,” said Crosty, whose father found an IT job after 20-plus years in the military.
3. Shop, Shop, Shop. West Edmonton Mall is presently the largest in North America, topping even the Mall of America. “It’s got an indoor amusement park and indoor water park,” Crosty said. “I’ve been there many times, but it’s not as exciting as when you’re a kid. Now it seems like just another mall.”
4. All the City’s a Stage. Edmonton plays host to a number of large festivals, including Capital EX (formerly Klondike Days), the Edmonton International Fringe Festival (second only to a similar event in Edinburgh, Scotland), and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. “In the summertime, it seems like they’re nonstop,” Crosty said.
5. Bigger Than the Big Apple. Edmonton’s river valley constitutes the longest stretch of connected urban parkland in North America, 22 times larger than New York City’s Central Park. “It’s a beautiful river valley,” said Crosty of the area that includes 11 lakes, 14 ravines and 22 major parks, including numerous bike and walking trails.