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Craighead looks to follow in father's footsteps

Thursday, February 25th
Craighead looks to follow in father's footsteps

South Carolina Stingrays’ rookie forward Darien Craighead did not have to look far for inspiration when he was growing up.

His father, John, had a 13-year pro career, which included 44 games with Huntington, Johnstown, Louisville and Richmond in the ECHL during the 1993-94 season. He also reached the pinnacle of the sport, skating in five games in the National Hockey League with Toronto in 1996-97 before spending the bulk of his final seven seasons in Europe.

By that time, Darien had been born and was able to experience first-hand the joys of having a parent playing pro sports.

“I definitely remember being over in Europe and I have memories of watching him play,” Craighead said. “He would come over to the glass after the game and grab me and my brother and skate us around the rink, which when you’re a young kid like that, it’s pretty cool.”

Those early memories, and his dad’s stories of reaching the NHL, helped to form Craighead’s desire to stake out his own career on the ice.

“Obviously, the NHL is not an easy league to make, a lot of guys play a lot of years and sometimes don’t even get into a game, so the fact that he got there kind of shows how determined he was,” he said. “He’s had a lot of tips for me along the way and he coached me a lot growing up so he taught me how to play the game the right way.”

Craighead has started his pro career on the right foot, posting six points (4g-2a) through his first 13 games with the Stingrays. His early success is building off a solid four-year career at Northern Michigan University where he totaled 109 points (49g-60a) in 153 games.

“As far as on the ice and playing the game, the biggest adjustment is knowing that every player out there is a good player,” he said. “You can’t really take a night off. Every team has players that can burn you so it definitely takes a lot more dialing in and focus. But, it’s been fun so far. We have a great group here and a lot of good leadership that has helped me feel comfortable and helped ease me in.”

The other adjustment for Craighead heading into his first pro season was the different feel to the off-season brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were definitely some stressful times during the summer months,” he said. “I know guys that are really good players and they don’t have a spot to play this season with the limited teams that are playing. I think that everyone on our team knows that it’s a pretty big privilege to be able to play at this time with everything going on, so you just take a step back and realize we get to play a game right now while a lot of people out there are going through some tough times.”

John Craighead played in the ECHL when the league was more of a rough-and-tumble outfit, with not as much focus placed on developing players for the AHL and NHL. So, while he couldn’t offer a lot of first-hand advice to his son on what to expect coming into the league, he was still able to pass on a few pointers.

“Minor league hockey is not quite the same as it was when he was playing, but he definitely made a name for himself back in those days,” Darien said. “His main advice to me going into this season was to just enjoy it. You’re going to meet a lot of people along the way to wherever you end up. So, just enjoy and get to know your teammates. Don’t think about the next stage, just be in the moment and put your best foot forward and do your best.”

No matter what happens for Craighead the rest of the way, the memory that will always stand out to him from his rookie season is scoring his first career goal on January 9 against Wheeling.

“I was actually on a line with Justin Florek that game, and he’s probably one of the biggest alums Northern Michigan,” he recalled. “I’ve skated with him in the summers, and I didn’t really picture myself getting to play with him some day, but he made a really nice play to set me up and it was really cool for the Northern guys to connect for my first one.”

With his pro career off to a solid start, it might be only a matter of time until another Craighead starts making a name for himself moving up the hockey ladder. 

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