After nearly two decades in the Hamilton Bulldogs broadcast booth, Craig Freifeld is hanging up the mike.
Er … Al Craig.
“Back in the day, I mean way back in the day, broadcasters didn’t use their real names,” said the longtime colour commentator. “Sometimes even good names they would change or they would spell them weird.”
Craig, 66, started his career in broadcasting in 1970 as Craig Albert, a mix of his first and middle names. The alias took him through eight years and four cities — Pembroke, St. John’s, Timmins and Charlottetown.
When he arrived at CHML in 1978, though, it became clear it wouldn’t fly.
“Bob Hooper, my old boss, put out a memo, when there was still written memos, and it said, ‘I’m afraid to report that Craig Albert has decided not to join us. However, we will have a fellow named Al Craig,’” he said.
“I don’t know if it was because of Perc Allan (the legendary former Tiger-Cats voice) or, you know, being the sports director and Craig Albert was a little weak.”
Fast forward 18 years. That’s when — just like Allan and the Tabbies — the name Al Craig started to become synonymous with Bulldogs hockey.
It was 1996 and the Edmonton Oilers had moved their AHL affiliate to Hamilton from Cape Breton. CHML grabbed the broadcast rights and tapped Craig to call the games — something he hadn’t done in, well, a while.
“The team ended up going all the way to the Calder Cup final,” he said. “I wasn’t quite ready for that. I hadn’t done hockey since 1977, maybe. I used to do junior hockey in P.E.I., but didn’t do any then until the Bulldogs came to town.
“It was a long time.”
That run, along with those that followed, was also memorable. Obviously, he said, 2007 stands out.
“They weren’t supposed to win, but they did anyway,” he said of the Calder Cup-winning squad. “That was great.”
Still, what stands out most for Craig is neither the championship seasons nor, more recently, the stinkers. It’s the players.
“We had so many great players that came through Hamilton, scads of them that played at least a game in the National Hockey League,” he said. “It was a great pleasure to see those guys perform.”
Now, though, it’s time to move on. In fact, the 66-year-old stayed longer than he intended.
“I always had sort of a pact with Derek Wills that when he left, I would leave,” said Craig, who took over as colour commentator once Wills came on the scene in 2001. But when Wills took a play-by-play job in Calgary last season, then-president Stephen Ostaszewicz convinced the Toronto native to stick around for one more year.
Matt Holmes was the beneficiary.
“He’s a constant professional,” he said of Craig. “He made that transition pretty comfortable for me.”
Holmes, the team’s newest voice, has now turned his attention to filling the hole left by Craig, who plans to keep his other part-time gig as sports information officer at Mohawk College. The Bulldogs, he said, have received almost 50 applications so far, and hope to have someone in place for the kickoff of the team’s inaugural OHL season this September.
“We’re looking for a smart hockey guy who knows his way around the microphone,” he said, “somebody who has their finger on the pulse of junior hockey.”
Read more at Hamilton Spectator where this story was originally published.