After capping off an excellent four-year career for the NMU Men’s Hockey team, forward Darien Craighead has signed his first professional contract with the South Carolina Stingrays based in North Charleston, South Carolina, of the ECHL.
Craighead’s senior season came to an end in March and since then, despite COVID-19, he has been doing his best to stay at the top of his game.
“Basically [I’ve been] just skating and training, I got a new pair of rollerblades that I’ve been ripping around. I’ve been doing that. There’s a couple good spots in Vancouver for that kind of stuff,” Craighead said. “It hasn’t been too bad, a lot of the stuff that I usually do is open rinks and training facilities.”
This hasn’t been your typical offseason for these players, and each summer is about perfecting their craft and improving as a hockey player. Craighead feels like even with obstacles going against him, he has been improving over the past six months.
“I think every summer you just go into it just trying to get in better shape and on the ice to try and fine-tune a couple of things in your game. Whether it’s shooting, skating, just kind of little things like that,” Craighead said. “All around, I think I’ve become a better player, I really like the skate training that we’ve been doing. It’s been good.”
After talking with several teams in the ECHL, and with Stingrays Head Coach and General Manager Ryan Blair, Craighead and his agent discovered where his landing spot would be. Craighead also got the help of a couple of former NMU players including Justin Florek, Jordan Klimek and Andrew Cherniwchan that are in the organization with information about the city and organization, he said. After all of these years of dreaming of playing professional hockey, Craighead has earned his spot there.
“I think once you go to college to play four years, it was always my goal to play pro hockey and it was a little bit weird time, and I think it would’ve happened a little sooner without this whole pandemic going on,” Craighead said “Just try to find the right place, talk to people that you know in the hockey world and figure out the place that best suits you, and for me, that was South Carolina.”
The season is slated to begin in early December, but a delay wouldn’t surprise Craighead at this point, he said. Before that time hits, Craighead has taken time to reflect on how his NMU experience shaped him for this opportunity.
“You play on the weekends and you’re in the gym and practicing almost every single day during the week, and you’re getting bigger and stronger. Just the game’s a lot faster so you kind of have to adjust to that,” Craighead said. “I thought Grant [Potulny] was awesome for me, he really taught me how to become a 200-foot player and added things to my game that’ll help me at the pro level.”
The college hockey experience and coaching have helped Craighead, but it was hard for him to forget what his teammates have also done for him. Because just like Craighead, this year’s Wildcat team is looking to do big things.
“Everyone says college is the best four years of your life and when you’re playing hockey or any other sport, I mean those are friendships that’ll last a lifetime,” Craighead said. “I wish them well, and I hope that they have a really big season coming up here and I couldn’t ask for a better time at NMU.”