Remembering beauty of the 'Beast'

FARMINGTON, Mich. -- Brad McCrimmon didn't discriminate during his life. He shared stories with everyone. He gave everybody a hard time. He also helped and reached out to anyone he came in contact with.

In remembering her father, Carlin McCrimmon summed up his life perfectly: "His heart knew no bounds."

Which is why hundreds showed up Saturday to mourn McCrimmon's passing. It was a testament to the person he was.

He was one of the most highly respected men in hockey, a statement further cemented by those from the hockey world who somberly walked down the aisles of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church.

An entire Detroit Red Wings team cut its training camp practice short and flew in from Traverse City; Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, Scotty Bowman, Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and enough other Hall of Famers to fill a wing in Toronto put busy lives on pause to pay tribute to the longtime NHL defenseman and coach who died last week in a plane crash in Russia.

Ex-teammates from all over the league were also there for support and to grieve. And, in perhaps the biggest indication of how much McCrimmon was admired, trainers, television analysts, equipment managers, PR personnel, reporters, doctors and front-office workers all came to be a part of this day.

"That was the beauty of old 'Beast,'" said Garnet Exelby, who played for McCrimmon in the WHL for the Saskatoon Blades and in the NHL for the Atlanta Thrashers. "He treated anyone he ever met like his own family."

The Saturday mass was filled with people who won't recover for a long time, comforted only by the realization that McCrimmon died while chasing his dream of becoming a head coach.

After three seasons coaching under Mike Babcock in Detroit, McCrimmon parted ways with the Red Wings, simply telling friends it was time for something different. He believed in developing as a person and developing professionally. Spending the next several years as an NHL assistant wouldn't help him do that. He was ready for the challenge of being a head coach and didn't mind leaving North America for a job running the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to make it happen.

"I remember him calling me shortly after he signed and I haven't heard him quite that excited in a while," Exelby said. "It was good to hear."

He had a way of holding his players accountable that would have translated in any language. When he was the head coach of the Blades, there were younger players who had issues missing class. McCrimmon quickly instituted a policy where a few of the team veterans had to run the stairs of the entire arena after practice if the younger players skipped class. It quickly ceased being a problem.

"Your goal is to create a culture where [your own] traits are in stone," McCrimmon once said, describing how he'd run a team.

In Russia, he shared the work ethic he developed under his father at their Saskatchewan farm. McCrimmon didn't learn the lessons of working hard on an ice rink; it was during harvest.

"You worked until you fell asleep," he said.

Later in life, he demanded the same from his players.

McCrimmon respected anyone who put in a long shift, regardless of the profession. It's partly why he was adopted so easily in a blue-collar city like Detroit, where he played three seasons and coached three more. (His wife, Maureen, Carlin and son Liam live in nearby Northville.)

Escorted by the closest of family and friends, McCrimmon was carried out of the Farmington church in a coffin that had hockey skates carved in each corner. It was everything he loved and represented in life, and it was what surrounded him as he was laid to rest.

"He meant a lot to a lot of people," said Devils goalie Johan Hedberg, who flew in for the service. "There were a lot of nice words said today and they were all true."

Craig Custance is an NHL reporter for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and ESPN.com.