As the 2017 Expansion Draft gets closer for the Vegas Golden Knights, the team continues to shore up its hockey operations staff. Within days of naming Memorial Cup winning coach Rocky Thompson as the head coach of their American Hockey League affiliate, the Golden Knights have added two more pieces to their coaching puzzle.
Joining head coach Gerard Gallant are Mike Kelly and Ryan Craig. Both have incredibly different backgrounds — Kelly brings more than 20 years of coaching to the table, while Craig was an active player as recently as last season and has no coaching experience. It hasn’t been announced what roles Kelly and Craig will play within the Golden Knights’ coaching structure, so general manager George McPhee and Gallant are likely not done making additions to their bench.
Mike Kelly – “The Veteran”
Kelly has five years under his belt as an assistant coach in the National Hockey League and is very familiar with Gallant. The two worked together with the Florida Panthers from 2014-17 and the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 2010-12. During their time with the Panthers, Gallant and Kelly led the team to a 120-91-35 record and a first place finish in the Atlantic Division during the 2015-16 season. They were both fired by the Panthers in November 2016.
With the Sea Dogs, the pair enjoyed incredible success, including the 2011 Memorial Cup, two QMJHL championships, three league finals and three first place finishes.
I am very excited to be working with Mike again, Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun. We enjoyed success in both Florida and Saint John and I am eager to bring that success to the Golden Knights. Mike is a great guy with a wealth of hockey knowledge, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision to bring him to Las Vegas.
The 57-year-old Kelly started his coaching career as an assistant with the AHL’s Prince Edward Island Senators in 1993-94. He’s also served as a head coach in the Ontario Hockey League with the Windsor Spitfires and the North Bay Centennials, the Western Hockey League with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
It was with the Wheat Kings that Kelly worked with Golden Knights assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon. McCrimmon, who was GM of the Wheaties at the time, actually fired Kelly as head coach in March 2004. Internationally, Kelly was an assistant coach for Canada at the 2001 and 2002 World Junior Hockey Championships and, as head coach, lead Canada to gold at the World U18 Championships in 2003.
The Oakville, Ontario native got his first break in the NHL as an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks in 2006 and served in that role for two seasons before joining the Sea Dogs. Kelly was named Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union Coach of the Year in 1997-98 with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds and QMJHL General Manager of the Year in 2010-11 with the Sea Dogs.
Ryan Craig – “The Rookie”
If Mike Kelly is the veteran ‘ying’ to Gerard Gallant, then Ryan Craig is the rookie ‘yang’ to the Golden Knights head coach. Craig is 35-years-old and has no previous coaching experience. He wrapped up a 14-year career as a pro with the announcement of his hiring by the Golden Knights.
I am proud to add Ryan as an assistant coach, said Vegas Golden Knights Head Coach Gerard Gallant in a team issued news release. He is well-respected in the hockey community and has been a tremendous leader throughout his playing career, both on and off the ice. I am confident that the leadership characteristics he exuded as a player will translate well behind the bench in his new role as an assistant coach.
Craig ends his career with 198 NHL games under his belt, but he hadn’t played a full season in the NHL since 2008-09 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a veteran of 711 AHL games, including the last seven as captain of his team. He was also the captain during his final two seasons of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, which are owned by Golden Knights assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
During his AHL career, Craig served as captain for the Springfield Falcons, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Cleveland (formerly Lake Erie) Monsters. Craig played a big role in the Monsters’ AHL championship in 2016, finishing with three goals and 13 points in 17 playoff games.
Craig, who is from Abbotsford, BC, was named Humanitarian of the Year in both the Canadian Hockey League and the WHL in 2003.