Crow Smith Taught Life Lessons In Hockey
BY DAVE SHEA
In the long and never-a-dull-moment life of George T. "Crow" Smith only a vey few things preceded his love for sports and the game of hockey.
One was his love for family and another was his love for doing business.
At age four he was featured in a newspaper article as the youngest businessman in America.
He was selling peanuts at minor league baseball games where his dad, George "Pappy" Smith, was playing.
Seventy-seven years later he was still doing business around sports. On Tuesday he passed away at age 81 at the St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse one day after being transported there after being stricken.
At age 19 he opened his own shop for drilling bowling balls at the alleys operated by his father in Massena. He later operated Crow’s Sport Shop for 30 years in Massena where he was staunch supporter and coach for minor hockey and one of the founders of the Massena Juniors.
In recent years, Crow has operated a successful warehousing and shipping business in Ogdensburg, N.A.C. Logistics and Crow's Sports and Bike Shop, in partnership with his daughter Betsy Smith.
"My dad loved all sports and played most of them. And he loved talking to people about sports, all sports," said his daughter Betsy.
His personality and expertise made him ideally suited for operating his sport shops while pursuing a host of business ventures. In 2012 he opened Crow's Sports and Bike Shop in Ogdensburg eight years after relocating his N.A.C. Logistics warehousing and shipping business.
While traveling the full spectrum of sports Crow Smith made a legendary mark in hockey providing equipment to players of all ages from mites to the college and NHL level. He played a major role in refining and then marketing one of major innovations of the game, the Tuik Skate Blades. At one time at his Massena Shop was the sole US distributor for Sher-Wood hockey sticks, Daoust skates and the Tuik blades.
He also worked with many amateur and professional hockey players in pursuing and advancing in their collegiate and professional hockey careers and his shops at both locations featured an array of photos and testimonials from those players and teams.
But in Crow's Sports in Ogdensburg he was most known as Crow, a kind gentleman with a Santa Claus like twinkle in his eye who loved to put youngsters in skates, keep their skates sharp and do anything he could to give them a deal on sticks.
A guy with a wit as sharp as a Wayne Gretzky wrist shot who loved to laugh and make people laugh.
“I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken" was one of among his favorite remarks which worked every time.
"Dad spoiled people. They would bring their skates in and he would sharpen them while they waited," said Betsy Smith.
"I don't think we can do that any more but business will go on usual even though there is no way to replace dad. Our bike shop operator Jason LaMay will continue to sharpen skates and Sam Rapin will be sharpening skates on Friday mornings from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. starting Dec. 27."
Rapin is a former trainer and equipment manager of Brockville Braves and Brockville Tikis and presently serves those roles with the South Grenville Rangers.
Like his Massena shop, Crow's shop in Ogdensburg featured a regular traffic of customers and people who sought his counsel on hockey, business and/or life in general.
OFA Hockey Coach Jon Frederick was a regular visitor. Often with his son Tegan to get his skates sharpened and often on his own.
"I talked to Crow a lot. I sought out his advice because he knew so much about hockey and about evaluating and developing players. He scouted for NHL teams and people sought him out about his knowledge. Not just on talent but on character," said Coach Frederick.
"He came to our OFA games and he came and watched my son play. He told me that in dealing with players, you develop the talent and don't make it conform to a system. He helped me so much because he knew how tough coaching can be sometimes. I am really going to miss him."
The current OFA team has a special attachment to Crow and they will wear the Crow Brand with wings decal on their helmets . He sponsored many of the players as Squirts when they won the Northern Zone Championship. Three members of the team Holden Woods, Keighan Sias and Drew Costello worked at the N.A.C. Logistics facility in the Ogdensburg Industrial Park where they were dubbed the "Weekend Warriors" by Betsy Smith.
Before Saturday's OFA -Massena game at the Massena Arena, Crow's impact on hockey and youth in Massena, Ogdensburg and the world will be honored in a pre-game presentation by Massena Coach Mike Trimboli. Tromboli was coached by Smith as a Squirt.
"I think that will be very fitting. Dad played his final game when they opened the arena in a game with a travelling team of former NHL players, the Aces," said Betsy Smith.
"And he scored a goal."
"Crow loved to give kids a chance and the players on our team were really sad when they heard that he had passed away, It was a real shock," said Coach Frederick.
"He used to joke with me that he was pretty much out of the loop now in terms of talking to NHL people. But I visited with him the day before he died when he got a call from Steve Yzerman (General Manger of the Detroit Red Wings) who wanted to talk to him about a player. That really made him feel good and I am so glad that he got that last call."