by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Norfolk Admirals center Ryan Craig got one of the best jobs in hockey at one of the worst possible times.
Heading into the AHL all-star break, the Admirals were taking on some serious water with a 17-23-2 mark. Coach Darren Rumble was fired, replaced by Jim Johnson, who immediately tabbed Craig, who had been one of three alternates, as the man to wear the "C."
"We were sinking. We were falling out of the playoff race, falling out of something to play for," Craig said. "We want to be playing for something in February and March. That’s when it’s fun to start playing hockey. Maybe it puts some more pressure on myself, being named that. That’s fine."
Coincidence or not, Craig’s promotion has been a lifesaver for the Admirals.
Since that point, Norfolk is 10-2-1-1. The team’s goals scored per game has increased from 2.50 to 3.00. The goals allowed has dropped from 2.86 to 2.15.
"I just tried to reiterate Jim’s message. We’re a team that’s learning how to win. The best way to do it is to experience it," Craig said. "We just refocused, said we had 38 games left to go. We’re getting more confidence and finding ways to win hockey games. We’re focused more on little details. We’ve got back to those details that winning teams seem to do."
It’s a message that Craig, 28, has prepped to deliver a couple times. He was captain of Brandon of the WHL for two seasons, and also held that same role for Springfield in 2005-06. In what turned out to be a little twist on the challenge he faces this year, Craig began that season with Springfield, was called up to Tampa Bay after 28 games and the Falcons missed the playoffs without him.
"I’ve seen a lot of things. The biggest thing is if you do things yourself and you’re the hard-working guy, being the professional, you can hold your teammates accountable and lead your team in the right direction," he said.
Craig, whose 184-game NHL career has been spent entirely with Tampa Bay, is attempting a dual recovery this season, revitalizing both Norfolk and his own career. He hasn’t had an extended run in the AHL since those 28 contests with Springfield in 2005-06, but he’s skated in 49 games for Norfolk this season, chipping in with 16 goals and 12 assists. Those numbers include his first three-point outburst of the season in a win over Lowell on Feb. 13.
"I feel as good as I have since I’ve turned pro," Craig said. "You know what? This year was about getting back, proving I can stay healthy, play at a high level. I believe when you win as a team, good things happen to individuals. I feel healthy, energized, ready to take a step forward, ready, for a lack of a better word, to resurrect my hockey career."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com. Read today’s complete column here.