Eagles' Randy Craig has developed quite the hockey resume

Coach Randy Craig, who guided the Eastern Connecticut Eagles coooperative hockey prorgram to its first state championship in 2018, watches from the bench during a recent game against Woodstock Academy at Connecticut College's Dayton Arena in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Coach Randy Craig, who guided the Eastern Connecticut Eagles coooperative hockey prorgram to its first state championship in 2018, watches from the bench during a recent game against Woodstock Academy at Connecticut College's Dayton Arena in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

New London — It may have been a significant piece of his resume as "Randy Craig, hockey guy," which was added last season as the Eastern Connecticut Eagles — the high school hockey team for which he has served as head coach for the last five seasons — won the Division III state championship.

Only Craig, 56, received his baptism into hockey at the much earlier age of 5. In 1967, Craig's dad, Wayne, purchased season tickets to the Pittsburgh Penguins in their very first season in the NHL. Sitting three rows off the ice, Randy once took a puck to the chest, which the gentleman sitting in front of him retrieved and gave to the little boy to keep.

"I was about 10. The tears were coming. Then I was good," Craig said of how much he appreciated the gesture. "I still have the puck."

Now, Craig has so many indelible memories of the sport.

As a brother.

Craig's older brother David was a junior at Montour High School in the outskirts of Pittsburgh when he died of leukemia. David was a hockey player, with Randy — who shared a room with him — choosing to follow his brother's path.

As a dad.

Randy and Kathi Craig's sons, Cameron and Colton, both Ledyard High School graduates, grew up playing youth hockey for their father as members of the Southeastern Connecticut Seahawks and the Northern Virginia Ice Dogs. The scrappy 5-foot-8 Cameron "won't take no ... he'll score every goal in front," Randy said, while the 6-foot-1 Colton was more likely to put his size behind a powerful slap shot.

As a coach.

"I think I've calmed down a lot," Craig said earlier this week following a 4-1 victory over Woodstock Academy at Connecticut College's Dayton Arena. "When I was younger, I would get more excited. I don't say much (during a game). I coach in practice. I was never a big wins and loss guy, particularly in youth hockey.

"My basic philosophy is one, when we do our offseason workouts, we do everything in sets of eight because you need eight wins to get into the playoffs. And two, at the end of the day, 'I want you to love hockey as much as I do at my age.'"

The Eagles are 5-3 overall, 5-0 in the Nutmeg Conference headed into Saturday's league game against Housatonic/Northwestern/Wamogo at 1 p.m. at Dayton Arena.

Craig's team was last season's Cinderella, first shocking top-seeded Staples 8-6 in the semifinals of the state tournament, then winning the program's first state title 7-3 over Tri-Town at Yale University's Ingalls Rink. The Eagles finished 19-3-3, one year after going 4-17.

As a reminder, Craig wears his state championship ring on game days.

"He yells, but you can tell that it's just because he wants us to win," junior forward Kyle Jacobson said of Craig. "He brings a positive attitude. He loves the sport."

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There are times Craig's career has pulled him away from hockey. As a 24-year Navy man, for instance, Craig was removed from the sport when he was on active submarine duty, last as executive officer of the Groton-based USS Miami.

Craig originally received his associate's degree in specialized technology from the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, planning to follow his dad — a 44-year employee of USAir — into the industry as an aircraft mechanic. With the airlines not hiring at the time, Craig turned to the Navy.

He went on to receive his bachelor's degree in engineering science from the University of Texas and holds master's degrees in acoustics from Penn State and in national security policy from the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

Craig served at sea in the Persian Gulf and was stationed at The Pentagon in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, when the building was attacked by a hijacked American Airlines flight, the same day as the devastation at the World Trade Center in New York. Craig had been to the main Pentagon building earlier that morning, as was his routine, before heading to his office in nearby Crystal City.

Craig retired from the Navy in 2007 and is currently the modernization training director at the Submarine Learning Center in Groton.

He and Kathi, whom he met during the summer before his junior year of high school, live in Ledyard, now with a nest empty of their three children, including daughter Katie, the youngest. Through all his travels, however, hockey was never too far from Craig's mind.

"We were stationed in South Carolina in 1991 or so when they got the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL," Craig said. "I took my oldest son to the very first Stingrays game. That got him into it. The very first time he skated was there.

"When I was stationed at the Pentagon in 2000-2001, they had a really good men's league team; we traveled to tournaments and stuff. I don't play now as much as I'd like to."

Now, the main affiliation for Craig, a former center and defenseman, is as Eagles coach — the team fields players from eight high area schools (East Lyme, Fitch, Ledyard, Stonington, Waterford, Wheeler, Griswold and Hale-Ray).

He was named last year's @CTHSHockey Division III Coach of the Year following his team's triumph. Craig is assisted by Rick Close and Keith Tower.

"I wasn't as good as anyone out here (on his team)," said Craig, who lists Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins as his favorite player of all time, despite remaining a diehard fan of the Penguins.

"This core group ... we got lucky with some puzzle pieces. Before last year, we were struggling to win games, but had good leaders. Then last year we had three, four, five really talented guys take that leadership and that connected to wins. Some of these seniors, Ryan (Huta), Trent (Hughson) have been through a lot."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Eastern Connecticut Eagles head coach Randy Craig, right, talks to Thomas Zimbelmann prior to the start of Monday's game against Woodstock Academy at Connecticut Collegte's Dayton Arena in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Eastern Connecticut Eagles head coach Randy Craig, right, talks to Thomas Zimbelmann prior to the start of Monday's game against Woodstock Academy at Connecticut Collegte's Dayton Arena in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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