Craig McCallum has been to the dark side and back and he is happy to be where he is today.
The former Prince Albert Raider forward is entering his third year with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and while in Prince Albert recently he had an opportunity to reflect on his career, culture and future.
Raised on the Canoe Lake First Nation, the 23-year-old McCallum was a late-bloomer when it comes to hockey as he was about 10 years old before he first hit the ice. A couple of years later he moved to Meadow Lake to play the game at a competitive level and from there he went to Beardy’s to play Midget AAA hockey with the Blackhawks where he was the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League’s co-MVP during the 2006-07 season.
McCallum’s rise in the hockey world was quick, but he also found out how quick one can crash.
“I was living a very different lifestyle,” says McCallum of a summer six years ago. “It was a low point in my life. I had just been released by Lethbridge (Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League) and I had just graduated. That summer I made some bad decisions.”
While at home that summer, McCallum started drinking and partying and one evening he found himself lost and without any help from friends. He says that he made a pact with himself that if he got through this one particular night he would turn things around and he did.
“I don’t want to say I struggle with it (alcohol), but I could see it was going to be a problem,” explains McCallum.
The gifted forward hasn’t had a drink in six years and since that time he has excelled at every level of hockey he has competed at.
McCallum spent two seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL and was voted as the fan favourite and shared the team lead in scoring during his rookie season. McCallum then finished his junior career with the Raiders and as a 20-year-old led the team in scoring with 27 goals and 45 assists during the 2009-10 campaign.
McCallum then moved on to the U of S where he was the male rookie of the year in his freshman season and last year helped the club win the Canada West championship.
“It’s better hockey than I expected,” says McCallum. “I scored the first goal of the year (in his rookie season) and I thought it was going to be easy. I didn’t score again until January.”
“It’s a really underrated league,” adds McCallum, who is in the school of education and working towards getting his teaching certificate.
With McCallum’s success and turnaround in life’s choices he has become a role model, not just for aboriginal people, but everyone, and he is fine with that responsibility.
“The last six years I have been making the right choices for me,” says McCallum. “I want it to be a positive thing for everyone to hear my story. You have a choice! Hopefully someone will hear my story and it will help them.”
McCallum gives a lot of credit to the King family in Meadow Lake for where he is today. McCallum moved in with them when he left Canoe Lake to play hockey and he became close friends with Dwight, who last year was a member of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. Dwight’s brother DJ also played in the NHL with St. Louis and Washington and McCallum says being with that family inspired him to be the best he could be.
“I learned a lot living with that family,” says McCallum. “That family has done it right. They devoted so much time to their four kids and helped them succeed.”
During the summer, McCallum spent time with the King brothers working at a hockey school in Meadow Lake and on Aug. 15 he got to spend the day with the Stanley Cup when Dwight had his turn with the Holy Grail and shared it with his home community.
Now McCallum is focusing on the upcoming season and coming off a 10-goal, six-assist season last year, he realizes that he will be looked upon for more offence and leadership when training camp opens next week.
McCallum is also looking forward to playing for the national championship in his final two years with the Huskies as the CIS Final Four Tournament will be held in Saskatoon in 2013 and 2014 and the Huskies are guaranteed a spot as the host team.
“It’s really exciting to know you have two shots to win nationals,” says McCallum, who will be joined this year on the Huskies by his former Raider teammate Brandon Herrod. “I’m excited for what lies ahead.”
The road doesn’t always straighten out, but for McCallum the curves are behind him.