As impressive hockey homecomings go, Ryan Craig’s arrival in Abbotsford this week is roughly the equivalent of pulling up to your 10-year high school reunion in a limousine.
The 29-year-old Abbotsford native, indeed, has carved out a top-notch pro hockey career. He’s the captain of the AHL’s top team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who are in town to face the Heat in a Friday-Saturday set at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“It’s exciting to come back and play in front of lots of family and friends,” Craig said Wednesday afternoon, just after the Penguins completed their cross-continent journey from Pennsylvania.
After seven years in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization – which included 195 NHL games – Craig inked a one-year, two-way deal with the NHL parent Pittsburgh Penguins over the summer.
He has 38 points in 55 AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season, and he’s also been called up for six games with Pittsburgh.
“It’s been good,” Craig said, reflecting on his transition to the Pittsburgh organization. “I had a real good training camp with the Penguins, but I ran into a groin issue in my second exhibition game after scoring a couple goals in the first one. But I came back to Wilkes-Barre, and we’ve made a good run to this point.
“I’ve been able to get up there for six games in Pittsburgh and showed well, proved that I can play in the NHL again. Hopefully it leads to more opportunities, but as of right now, I’m having a lot of fun playing with Wilkes-Barre.”
Craig has helped the Baby Pens fashion a league-leading 45-18-0-0 record this season. Attention to defensive detail has been pivotal for the Penguins – they’re the AHL’s stingiest team, having surrendered just 146 goals this season
“We start from our goaltending and defence out, and we pride ourselves on being good on both sides of the puck,” Craig explained. “For the most part this year, we’ve found ways to score goals and win hockey games. We’re a confident bunch, and we like the way our team sets up.”