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Wednesday, 08 May 2013 16:39

Former Broncos can’t wait for Memorial Cup

Written by  Brad Brown
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Graeme Craig is glad to see the Saskatoon Blades holding their own feet to the fire.

Nearly six weeks after the Blades were swept from the WHL’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the root cause of the embarrassing loss is still crystal clear to Craig.
“These past few weeks we’ve been practicing, there’s been a lot of guys pushing each other and holding each other accountable and that’s kind of what we need,” said the hulking blueliner, who was traded to Saskatoon in October after three-plus seasons with the Swift Current Broncos.
“That might have been part of the reason we were swept … but I think getting swept is a good wakeup call and shows everyone what we need to do to get through this.”
Unlike the other 14 teams who didn’t win the WHL title this year, the Blades have a second chance to make good on their season as host team for the Memorial Cup national championship tournament, which begins May 17.
Craig’s ticket to the big dance was punched Oct. 18 when he was dealt in exchange for centre Brent Benson.
“I was really good buddies with (Adam) Lowry and (Reece) Scarlett, and we’d all been there since we were 16 so that was the hardest part was leaving my good friends and good billets,” said Craig. “But when Mark (Lamb, Broncos general manager) told me I was getting traded to Saskatoon I was more just kind of stunned that they wanted me … it’s just kind of a kid’s dream.
“I never thought I’d ever play in a Memorial Cup. Not that Swift Current wasn’t a good team but we’d missed the playoffs a couple years in a row and it was more of a building season there.”
Craig, who had one assist in 11 games with the Broncos prior to the trade, was paired with Dalton Thrower on Saskatoon’s second pairing and added a goal and 14 assists for the Blades in the 59 games after.
Along the way he helped Saskatoon to a league-high 18-game winning streak that stretched from Jan. 27-March 1 and catapulted the Blades to top spot in the East Division.
“We got a big body, a guy that competes extremely hard, that pays the price and he’s been a real solid player for us and more importantly a real good kid,” said Blades Head Coach Lorne Molleken. “His efforts have been real consistent and we’ve used him in all situations.”
Molleken gave his players two weeks off after their playoff defeat before summoning them back to Saskatoon, where they’ll open the Memorial Cup tournament May 17 against the winner of the Ontario Hockey League final, which is being contested between the Barrie Colts and London Knights.
“For me, I went home and had to keep in shape so I went to the gym a lot and just totally forgot about hockey,” said Craig. “I didn’t even look at scores or anything like that, I just kept my mind away from it and you notice it when you get back. I was really refreshed.
“As much as people don’t want to admit it, we play a long season and sometimes some guys get a little homesick. I think that two weeks really helped some of those guys.”
The Blades will play the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s champion on May 19 and the WHL champion on May 22, with the national championship game scheduled for May 26.

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