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Craig praises evolution of U.S. hockey

1980 Olympian cites development of Gostisbehere, Matthews for growth of game in States

by Pat Pickens @Pat_Pickens / NHL.com Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The 2015-16 NHL season set an unprecedented standard for hockey in the United States, especially in nontraditional markets.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane became the first American-born player to win the Art Ross Trophy. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) emerged as a Calder Trophy finalist. Scottsdale, Ariz., native Auston Matthews is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters for the 2016 NHL Draft. The Tampa Bay Lightning are in the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight year.

When Jim Craig was a goaltender for the United States national team at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, most American players were from Minnesota or Massachusetts. Craig has since noticed hockey's movement south.

"I think there's been an evolution, which has been great," Craig said. "I'm not surprised that a kid out of Arizona or Florida does well because ... they have to get the best together, have to play in better tournaments and make more sacrifices, and there's a lot of ex-players who are moving to these areas who enjoy it.

"You see how well Tampa's done. It used to be you go to the Lightning game, and it would be someone who wanted to see their Original Six team. But now they have a fan base, which is awesome."

The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team can take some credit for helping that growth. Craig made 36 saves in the "Miracle on Ice" game, when the U.S. upset the Soviet Union en route to defeating Finland for the gold medal.

"There were Americans before us who had made it to the National Hockey League who inspired us," Craig said. "I think our team did a good job of inspiring a whole different group of people; people who never knew what a hockey game was."

Craig is auctioning off 17 items from those games, including his game-worn goalie gear, mask, jerseys and medal, which were on display at Rubenstein Communications at Worldwide Plaza on Tuesday. The auction is being run through the online auction house Lelands and will run until June 17.

"It was memorable, but not for me or my family or my coaches, but really for Americans," Craig said of winning gold. "We hope that somebody who gets this and buys this stuff will be able to have it where all Americans can continue to enjoy it."

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