A franchise steeped in tradition is saying goodbye to one of its signature figures. In a Monday morning press release, the Knoxville Ice Bears announced they are not renewing the contract of head coach and three-time Presidents Cup winner Mike Craigen. Craigen was the first person to win SPHL championships – winning two as a player during the 2005-06 & 2007-08 seasons and a third as head coach in the 2014-15 season.
In the team’s press release, Ice Bears President and General Manager Mike Murray said, “I would like to personally thank Mikey for his commitment and professionalism over the past seven seasons for the Ice Bears organization and the community.” “Mikey has grown tremendously within his first professional coaching job over this time,” Murray continued, “he is one of the more dynamic people I have had the opportunity to know. I have the utmost respect for him as a person on and off the ice and we wish him great success in his future.”
Craigen joined the Ice Bears in his second professional season after the SEHL and WHA2 merged to form the SPHL in 2004. Craigen, playing with the WHA2’s Alabama Slammers, moved to Knoxville along with goaltender Jamie Ronayne – who would eventually become Craigen’s longtime assistant coach. Craigen played alongside Ice Bears legends Kevin Swider, Terry Dunbar, and K.J. Vorhees before assuming the bench as the team’s fourth head coach in the 2010-11 season.
As coach, the Ice Bears never had the kind of regular season success as the team had in its formative years under Jim Bermingham and Scott Hillman, but Craigen’s teams never missed postseason play, culminating in the team’s 2015 President’s Cup championship. Craigen had a 206-151-35 regular season record and won 16 of 31 playoff games and six of twelve playoff series.
The Ice Bears 2016-17 campaign began as one of great promise. The team returned the bulk of their roster from last season, returned goaltender Brian Billett, added veterans Kyle McNeil, Adam Stuart, and Berkley Scott. The team was strong in the first half of the season, going 17-6-3 by the midseason mark. Knoxville was unable to maintain their momentum late in the season, highlighted by events such as Jason Price‘s suspension for firing a puck into the Huntsville Havoc bench late in a 6-2 loss on March 11th and Billett’s car crash and DUI arrest in the early morning of April 3rd, and a decisive two-game sweep from the postseason at the hands of the Peoria Rivermen.
The SPHL has now lost two long-time coaches in a single off-season. The league lost 13-year coach Jerome Bechard when the Columbus Cottonmouths suspended operations, and the status of Fayetteville’s Jeff Bes remains uncertain. Regardless of the calamitous ending of his final season, the affable, approachable Craigen will be remembered for his dedication to the city of Knoxville and to the Ice Bears. Craigen was a welcome and engaging guest on our podcast, and we thank him for everything he’s done to develop players and people. We wish Mikey all the best in his future endeavors and hope his absence from the game is short-lived.