It’s not uncommon for former junior B players to end up as firefighters.
There’s certainly a few in town.
It’s less common, however, that a junior B player makes it to the NHL. But it happens. Rare, if ever, does an NHL player jump in to fight a full-on wildfire.
It’s been that kind of summer for Adam Cracknell. The former Saanich Brave has one of the most curious cases leading to the start of hockey season.
Tthe 30-year-old, who played for the Braves in 2001-02, recently signed a one-year contract to play for the Vancouver Canucks. And on Aug. 31 he found himself throwing dirt on the flames of a wildfire in Moyie, a small town near Cranbrook in the Kootenays.
“It was pretty intense, flames were eight to 10 feet tall and it was really windy, about 40 kilometres per hour,” Cracknell said.
Untrained in the ways of firefighting, this was his first experience.
The whole event only took about an hour, but it was one Cracknell won’t forget. Cracknell was in the area to skate with his WHL alumnus, the Kootenay Ice, where he played four seasons from 2002 to 2006.
He was watching the flames with a neighbour when the fire became increasingly threatening.
“My neighbour and I looked at each other and you could see the flames, and just knowing how dry it is and what’s going on around here, we figured let’s grab some shovels and go help out and try to contain it.”
The two threw dirt into the flames and other strategic areas, following the instruction of a retired fireman, until a helicopter showed up to tackle it from the air.
“We were in good hands, guys were spotting us and making sure we were OK, watching out for other flames,” Cracknell said. “Looking back on it, it was dangerous, but we had a lot of help. Anything to help out around here, it could have been worse.”
Cracknell was in Greater Victoria for 12 days earlier in the summer for his annual pilgrimage to train with Jeff Compton (as many NHL players do). Cracknell’s been working with Compton, the highly regarded Victoria Royals strength and conditioning coach, since he graduated from Belmont secondary in 2003.
This week, however, Cracknell is still on the South Coast (albeit across the Strait of Georgia), as he acquaints himself with his new team through informal skates. Players don’t officially report to the Canucks until Sept. 17.
It’s another leg in the long journey for the kid from Prince Albert, Sask. Cracknell moved to Langford and played with Juan de Fuca minor hockey before joining the Braves. He joined the Kootenay Ice partway through the 2001-02 season.
“My days with the Braves were a great time and helped, a big step before the WHL,” Cracknell said. “I still have friends from that team.”
In 2004 Cracknell was drafted by the Calgary Flames and in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons he played a regular role as an energy player with the St. Louis Blues. He was so impactful against the Los Angeles Kings during the first round of the 2014 playoffs that the Kings signed him shortly after they won the 2014 Stanley Cup.
But the Kings waived him before he played a single game. After spending the better part of two seasons with the Blues he played 17 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, only to be traded back to the Blues where he finished the season playing 22 games for their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
If the Canucks are looking for a disciplined, sizable energy player they’ve found one in Cracknell. For a hard-working, hard-hitting fourth-liner, Cracknell has managed to draw just 14 minutes in penalties in 82 regular season games and one minor in 10 playoff games.
“It’s an exciting time, an opportunity [in Vancouver] to play a [type of] game that I like to play. I feel like I have a good chance and opportunity. I have to try to stand out from the rest of the guys.”
Coming to a new team and competing for one of only a couple spots is always hard, but there’s a reason they sign you and you have to remember that, Cracknell said.
“It’s always competitive when you get there but I shouldn’t have any nerves. It’s great to be back in B.C.”