Craig back in AHL to lead Silver Knights

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

June was a memorable month for Ryan Craig.

Thirteen days after winning a Stanley Cup championship as an assistant coach with the Vegas Golden Knights, Craig was named the new head coach of Vegas’s AHL affiliate in Henderson, the next step in his coaching career.

Craig, who spent six seasons with the Golden Knights, will be joined by new Silver Knights assistant coach Brent Kisio along with returning assistant Jamie Heward and goaltending coach Fred Brathwaite.

Craig, 41, is ready to lead his own show. Leadership has been a familiar role for a 14-year pro forward who captained AHL teams for nine of those seasons. He led the Lake Erie Monsters to the Calder Cup in 2016, and after retiring in 2017, he immediately joined the Golden Knights for their inaugural season.

“It feels like a whirlwind,” Craig said shortly after securing the Henderson post. “It’s a huge opportunity, a great challenge, but one I’m looking forward to.”

The Golden Knights acted quickly to install Craig in Henderson following the departure of head coach Manny Viveiros after three seasons. Within 48 hours after winning the Stanley Cup, Craig explained, Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon reached out to him about the AHL vacancy. A conversation with Silver Knights GM Tim Speltz followed as the process accelerated.

Then making his own outreach to contacts in hockey, Craig determined that this was “the right time, the right challenge.” He also spoke with Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy and assistant John Stevens, both AHL coaching alumni.

When the Golden Knights brought the AHL to Henderson in 2020, the move meant that players and staff would all be within the Las Vegas area. With that set-up, Craig could take this new opportunity without having to uproot his wife, Jaydee, and their children from their home of the past six years.

“It just felt like it was the right thing for me professionally,” Craig said. “It’s the next step to run my own bench and to work with and manage a great staff. We can continue to be part of the community here, which was just as important, so it made a lot of sense. It checked a lot of boxes.”

And while many AHL head coaches advance to roles as an NHL assistant coach, Craig has taken that route in reverse. In doing so, he was able to study under Golden Knights head coaches in Gerard Gallant, Pete DeBoer and Cassidy, plus several experienced assistants. Now it was time to try life as a head coach.

“Nobody has the same path. I was very fortunate to be given an opportunity at the very start of it and be here for six years with the Golden Knights, and I feel like it’s prepared me for the opportunity with the Silver Knights as head coach.”

Along with making the transition back to the American Hockey League, where he played 711 games, Craig has had a busy summer. He went to the NHL Draft in Nashville and then had development camp back home with the Golden Knights. He had his day with the Stanley Cup in July in Brandon, Man., where he played his junior hockey in the Western Hockey League.

But now the hockey calendar is intensifying further. There was a prospects tournament that the Vegas organization hosted earlier this month. The Golden Knights are already well into training camp and made their first round of AHL assignments earlier this week. Craig and the Silver Knights host Tucson in a preseason game Oct. 6; a two-game set at Iowa opens the team’s regular-season schedule a week later Oct. 13.

When players – be they prospects, AHL veterans, or players fighting to stick with the Silver Knights – make their way to the Henderson roster, they will be dealing with a head coach who has been in each of those roles and more, including all of the highs and lows that an AHL season entails.

“I’ve been through injuries,” Craig explained. “I’ve been through conditioning stints. I’ve been through call-ups, send-downs, everything you can imagine, so I know what they’re feeling.”

Craig will preach the need for readiness to his players. Whether it’s an NHL recall or more minutes in the AHL, be ready at all times.

“You never know when that opportunity is going to come,” Craig outlined. “The call could come at 2 a.m. that you’ve got to get on a flight to New York City, and that could be your opportunity to play in the NHL. The call could also come at 4:00 in the afternoon that you’ve got to come and take warm-up. There’s a chance you’re going to play, and that could be your opportunity.”

So Craig is back in a familiar league to pass along lessons learned during his playing days, as well as to learn the head-coaching business. The AHL helped him to skate in 198 games in the NHL after being an eighth-round draft pick, and then vault to the Vegas coaching staff after his playing days ended.

Now it is the next step toward putting him closer to someday leading his own NHL club.

“I know how special it is to be in the American League,” Craig said. “I know how hard it is to be in the American League, but I know how rewarding it is to be in the American League.

“It’s important to have that perspective.”