Cracknell excited for Olympic opportunity

Photo: Mark Nessia

📝 by Patrick Williams

The Bakersfield Condors had one parting message for teammate Adam Cracknell before he departed for Switzerland last week.

It was a succinct send-off: “Bring home gold.”

At 36 years old, Cracknell does not have much left undone on his hockey checklist, but this month presents him with rare uncharted territory in his 16th pro season. The Condors forward will don the Maple Leaf at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“I know they’ll be watching,” Cracknell said in recounting the story while preparing with the rest of Team Canada in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s exciting. That’s a big motivation.

“I can’t let them down.”

Cracknell, who became an American Hockey League regular at age 23 in the 2008-09 season while in the Calgary Flames organization, has put in 210 regular-season games in the National Hockey League, including full seasons in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Add another 10 Stanley Cup Playoff games to his name as well. Four games with an Original Six club in the New York Rangers. In the AHL, he has 362 career points (164 goals, 198 assists) in 597 regular-season games. And to change things up, he spent a half-season playing in Denmark along with another season in the Kontinental Hockey League.

This season, with the Condors once again in Pacific Division contention, Cracknell has shown no sign of slowing down as one of the AHL’s oldest players. His 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) through 28 games have him third in team scoring.

Cracknell, a ninth-round pick by Calgary back in the 2004 NHL Draft, will join fellow forward Josh Ho-Sang (Toronto Marlies) and defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon (Utica Comets) in representing the AHL on the Canadian roster in Beijing, along with long-time NHL forward Eric Staal, who had a four-game run with the Iowa Wild last month. Former Rockford IceHogs head coach Jeremy Colliton will guide Canada at the tournament; Nolan Baumgartner, a member of the AHL Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, will assist Colliton.

But for all those years of hockey, the Prince Albert, Sask., product has had only one chance to represent Canada, a four-game run at the Spengler Cup tournament in 2018.

“We all grew up as Canadians, watching World Juniors, the Olympics. You know, that’s what you got up early for, to watch and support your country and watch great hockey. To really wear the jersey now, especially in practice, it means so much. Everyone back home reaches out. It’s a dream come true.

“It’s a huge honor to wear the Maple Leaf. We play with pride. Hockey’s our life, and we know what it means to represent our country. So this is an opportunity a lot of us probably never thought we’d get, especially for a few guys twice.

“I’m looking forward to wearing that jersey, being a part of the Olympics, and giving it my best effort to go for gold. It’s such a huge honor, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

The past few weeks have been particularly eventful for Cracknell, even beyond his Olympic selection. During the Condors’ trip last month to play the Abbotsford Canucks, he was able to break the news to his father, Peter, in person. Peter had not seen him play in person for a few years before that weekend.

Photo: Mark Nessia

Canada starts play Feb. 10 against Germany before taking on Pat Nagle (Lehigh Valley Phantoms), Aaron Ness (Providence Bruins) and the rest of the United States entry Feb. 12. Round-robin play concludes the following day against host China. The team also has an exhibition game against the American side set for Feb. 7. Only Staal and Daniel Winnik will be older than Cracknell on the Canadian roster, and Cracknell’s long body of work made him attractive to Team Canada management during the player selection process.

“We did scouting on a lot of players… we had close to 100 players on our original list,” said Claude Julien, the team’s original head coach who will not be in Beijing after fracturing his ribs in a fall last week.

“Adam has been around for so long, and he’s been nothing but a great teammate. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s had success. He’s still having success right now in the American Hockey League, and we felt he was a great addition for us. He can play center. He can play wing, and he’s one of those guys who has already told me, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I will do.’ Those are the kind of guys you pick, guys with the right attitude.”

Julien’s words come backed by parts of 18 seasons as an NHL head coach in a career that has featured a Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Boston Bruins. Julien’s coaching work has also won him the NHL’s Jack Adams Award with the Bruins and the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2002-03. Cracknell is aiming to go into the coaching business when his playing career ends; he has found a great fit taking on a key leadership role in Bakersfield for the Edmonton Oilers organization.

“Without [Bakersfield’s] support and Edmonton’s support in letting me go, especially [Oilers general manager and president of hockey operations] Ken Holland being so involved in Hockey Canada…” said Cracknell. “Without those guys trusting me to play in their American League system and being part of that organization, I wouldn’t be here.

“So it’s very exciting. My teammates were thrilled that I got to play the last couple games with them before taking off, and we [have] built something great there over the last couple years. You know, without those guys pushing me every day to be as good as I can be, I wouldn’t be here, either. So it’s a huge credit to the Bakersfield coaching staff and the players. They make it fun every day to play hockey, and I enjoy the rink just as much as I did the first time I stepped into a pro dressing room.

“I can’t thank those guys enough.”