are preparing to graduate. He took an alternative route that took him to the Great White North.
In 2009, while many of his high school friends were packing and moving to college campuses around the country, Craig, originally from Bath, Ohio, was picked up by a team in the Central Hockey League in Canada (which is known as a junior league, or ‘Juniors.’)
Craig hopped the northern border, to Pembroke in Ontario, and began playing for the Pembroke Lumberkings.
His peers were struggling with 8 a.m. classes, pulling all-nighters and navigating life in the college town, but Craig’s schedule was a comparative breeze. If there wasn’t a game, his day was fairly simple. He had to be at the rink by 10 or 11 a.m. for a two-hour practice. He would then return home, eat lunch and nap. Later, he would return to the rink for another two-hour practice.
That was it—no homework, no other obligations. Just hang out with his teammates. The 25 guys on the team were his entire social circle, but Craig didn’t feel as if he was missing out.
“Juniors was the time of my life,” Craig remembers. “I still have dreams about Juniors.”
He lived with a host family, which for families in Pembroke, housing a player is an honor. It’s a bragging right at the bar the next night if your player does well in the previous night’s game.
“They would hang up signs saying, ‘A Lumberking Lives Here.’ It’s kinda cool to have real fans,” Craig says. “You’d walk into the mall and people would ask you for your autograph.”
At one point he was traded to the Hawkesbury Hawks and once again placed with a host family. However, with the move came one problem: Hawkesbury is in Quebec and is a small town that speaks French almost exclusively. His host father spoke broken English. His host mother spoke none. In true American spirit, Craig didn’t learn much French.
“I only know how to say, ‘Fuck off,’ ‘You’re sexy’ and ‘Can I get a beer?’” Craig says.
The first phrase was for the ice, the second was for the ladies and the third was to avoid being overcharged.
“The bartenders all knew bar-English but they would charge you, like, four more dollars if you don’t order in French,” Craig explains.
Being traded is a whole other experience in itself. There were times he felt as if he had no control over his own destiny.
“Getting traded was, well, it was just… shitty,” Craig says. “You know you’re property when you’re up there.”
But a life of being traded is now in his past.
Now Craig lives in a dorm room with a roommate like any other freshman. It’s a 15-by-11 foot block of concrete, with extra long twin sized beds. The colors are muted and masculine and the walls are bestowed with the likeness of scantily clad beauties and toothless hockey gods.
His roommate is a year ahead of him in school, but took a similar route through the CHL. Almost all the players on OU’s team spent time in Juniors instead of going directly to college. But why do they choose to postpone their education, and therefore, their careers?
Playing a successful stint in Juniors might lead to some sort of contract in several professional leagues, with the NHL at the top of hockey’s Mount Olympus. For most players, though, it will likely lead to a Division 1 athletic scholarship. That was Craig’s goal.
“I knew that was my best shot at getting a scholarship, so I headed north,” Craig says with a chuckle.
Because of injuries, what Craig calls “blowing out” his shoulder twice, he was forced to consider that a Division 1 varsity program was not in the cards for him. Therefore, he began to consider his other options. Like most students who visit OU, he was smitten upon arrival. He’d already agreed to play in Pembroke when he toured OU’s hockey program and couldn’t shake the Bobcat fever.
“I remember coming to visit and I couldn’t believe how much I loved it here. I loved the campus, the people and the hockey program,” Craig says.
The coaches knew that his talent would likely draw him elsewhere, but a Bobcat at heart, he decided to return when his injuries prevented him from continuing in pursuit of the scholarship.
So now he’s in Athens, where hockey isn’t the national sport, and you have to do more than just go to practice. So far, no one has asked for his autograph, but that’s okay with Craig.
“I got two amazing experiences, and I know how lucky I am,” Craig says.
His younger classmates amuse him. To Craig, the age gap isn’t that telltale. They remind him of his younger brother, who is facing the same choice he had to make after high school. But like younger siblings, his classmates can grate on his nerves.
“It definitely helps that most of my team has been in my boat,” Craig states. “They have all been there.”
Many people Craig’s age are eager to graduate and embark on moneymaking ventures, but he’s not so concerned.
“I love where I am in my life right now,” Craig says. “I have the rest of my life to make money.”
He’s also grateful for the time playing in Juniors has given him. He knows many of his peers are going to experience that fresh graduation freak-out and thinks he can avoid it.
“So many kids graduate at 21 or 22 and are sort of like, ‘Fuck. What do I do now?’” Craig says. “I’ve got time and experience on my side.”
He’s an accounting major, and plans to get a job at his father’s accounting firm after his planned graduation in 2015. For now he’s basking in the freshman glory that is relatively easy general education classes, lucky enough to have the wisdom that his teammates and old high school friends were able to impart on him.
In his first quarter back from the CHL, he hasn’t quite lost the mellow schedule of Juniors. He’s in 12 credit hours of classes necessitated by his accounting major, to get back in the swing of things, and, to pad his schedule, basketball and ice-skating.
That’s right, ice-skating. Like any good freshman, it’s his easy-A class.