From the Oklahoma City Blazers to the Bakersfield Condors to the Bentley Generals; it’s been a road-map year for Graeme Craig.
Craig, a five-year WHL defenceman who skated with the Swift Current Broncos, Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders, signed with the Edmonton Oilers in 2014 and last winter played in the AHL with the Blazers and in the ECHL with the Condors.
But then it was decision time for the 22-year-old, and he settled on pursuing a post-secondary education at the University of Alberta, where next fall he will join the Golden Bears after red-shirting this season.
Craig will take advantage of the WHL scholarship program with the notion of playing three to four years of university hockey and perhaps taking another shot at the professional game upon graduation.
“There’s a lot of guys from this program who graduate and then move on to pro hockey,” said Craig, who is originally from Red Deer. “The thought is I can always go back and play (at the pro level) after I get my degree. I’ve got a bit of (pro) experience too, so that will help the resume.”
Ineligible to play with the Bears this season, Craig, who is enrolled in native studies at the U of A and plans to eventually move into the business program, was only too happy to join the senior AAA Bentley Generals for the 2015-16 season.
“I figured that playing some kind of games would be better than not playing at all this year,” he said.
Craig suited up with the Gens in exhibition games versus the RDC Kings and SAIT Trojans and two weeks ago played in the Innisfail Eagles preseason tournament, which concluded with a rugged, hard-hitting 2-1 shootout win for Bentley over the host Eagles.
While the level of play at the senior AAA level doesn’t match that of the pro game, especially the AHL, Craig has been impressed with the pace and competitive nature.
“I’m kind of surprised at the quality of play,” he said. “There are guys out there who still have a lot of skill. The biggest difference is they have jobs so they can’t work out all the time, so their conditioning is not quite the same.
“But other than that, it’s still a pretty good brand of hockey. I was telling some of the guys here (U of A) that the recent game against Innisfail might have been one of the most physical games I’ve ever played in. Guys were finishing every hit.”
Craig felt like one of the boys the moment he first laced ‘em up with the Generals.
“It’s a good group of experienced guys,” he said. “I know a couple of them from playing with and against them in my junior days. It’s a tight group of guys and they made me feel welcome the first time I came into the dressing room.
“It’s a good situation for me. Because I’m going to school I might not be able to make it down to practice on a regular basis, but that doesn’t seem to bother them.”
Craig is just one of many former WHL regulars now competing with the Generals and Eagles.
In fact, the Bentley roster mostly features one-time WHL players, with the list including Curtis Austring, Thomas Heemskerk, Dustin Butler, Brett Thurston, Chance Lund, Greg Gardner, Josh Smith, Kyle Bailey, Brett Robertson, Teegan Moore, Eric Schneider, Dan Gendur, Adam Huxley, Cody Esposito and Kyle Sheen.
Eagles players who formerly skated in the WHL include Pete Vandermeer, Tyler Beechy, Justin Cox and Mike Ulrich.