Long before hitting the ice with Tampa Bay, new Lightning forward B.J. Crombeen was well known to his teammates.
While with St. Louis, Crombeen served as the player representative to the NHL Player's Association. When Crombeen was acquired from the Blues in July, he remained an active part of the NHLPA as part of the negotiating committee during talks with the league throughout the summer and into the winter months.
For the most part, Crombeen remained in the Tampa area as part of a consistent group of around a dozen players that worked out at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon during the lockout. But he was a source of information when it came to anybody asking for additional input about what was going on.
With the CBA now done, Crombeen can finally get down to showing what he is capable of doing on the ice.
"It's something that I've been waiting for since the summer when I got the call and found I was coming here,'' he said. "Obviously I was pretty excited when it happened and it's pretty exciting to get back on the ice and into camp, and it's going to be even more exciting come Saturday night'' in the season opener against Washington.
What Crombeen brings with him is a gritty mentality of game, something that was absent once Steve Downie and Dominic Moore were traded in February.
"He brings a little bit of sandpaper and guys that get involved and we wanted to be a little bigger,'' head coach Guy Boucher said. "So with him coming in, that kind of helps. And the other thing we heard is he's a solid individual, good leadership qualities and we definitely in intangibles that are that important.''
Tampa Bay defenseman Eric Brewer played with Crombeen when the two were in St. Louis together, and Brewer backed up his coach's comments, having seen it first hand.
"He's just a great teammate,'' Brewer said. "He's a gritty guy, he's going to finish his checks, he's going to score a couple of goals, he's going to chip it around out there. He's going to kill some penalties and (fans) are going to like him.''
Crombeen is the type of player every team needs, sort of a jack-of-all-trades sort of glue guy that will do whatever he is asked. If it means protecting the lead late in a game, he'll do it. Want him to take on a checking role against the other team's top lines, he can do it. Need a key penalty kill late in the game, chances are he's hopping over the boards.
And if somebody wants to take liberties with some of Tampa Bay's top line players, well, Crombeen can intervene in that area as well.
"I try to bring a physical element to my game and try to be there for my teammates,'' he said. "But a big part of my game has always been to play a good two-way game, play strong defensive forward, do some checking, some penalty killing, all that kind of stuff and try to make it difficult on the other team's top players.''
Since being a second round pick by Dallas in the 2003 draft out of Barrie in the OHL, Crombeen worked his way up the long route to the NHL. After playing in the American Hockey League as a 20-year-old in the Stars' farm system, he split the 2006-07 team down in the East Coast Hockey League with the Idaho Steelheads as well as playing 55 games in Finland. He returned to play in the AHL in 2007-08 and has been a mainstay in the NHL since 2008-09.
In 288 career games with Dallas and St. Louis, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound winger has 27 goals and 29 points along with 580 penalty minutes.
Now after spending the past six months engrossed in labor negotiations, he's ready to show what general manager Steve Yzerman and Boucher that he is capable of doing what they brought him here to do.
"I think I know what (management and the coaching staff) see in me and I know what I see in me,'' he said. "It's not like they are asking me to come in here and change my game or do anything different, they just ask me to continue to play the way I can.''