MEMOIRS OF A GRINDER
(Photo Credit: Marissa Baecker)
I’m not sure where to begin. I guess I will start by saying this has been one of, if not the most fun piece to put together for Canes Domain since we started last April. I had the pleasure of catching up with a good friend and ex Cane Craig Orfino on Thursday evening via Skype. The end result was a lengthy podcast (our first ever) and a partially complete transcription of said-interview. I chose not to transcribe the entire thing because it would take too long and be far too long to read.
You can find the podcast inside the article, and for those who prefer to read, you can read my edited-down version of the many questions I asked as well.
The transcribed content is probably less than 1/4 of what we actually talked about so I highly encourage you to find the time to listen to the podcast in it’s entirety. For those of you who can’t, enjoy the read! It was a pleasure to do this and I hope you enjoy the content.
As always, if you like it, please share, comment and/or give us a follow on Twitter.
Without further ado, I give you, Craig Orfino: Memoirs of a Grinder.
(Photo Credit: Marissa Baecker)
I’m joined by Craig Orfino. It’s so great to have you. Thanks for doing this.
Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here. Its been a long time since I’ve been interviewed so I’m pumped up.
This should be fun, and to be honest, this isn’t random. This is not our first time meeting. We’re friends. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while and since the team has already clinched the playoffs, I thought i would be kind of fitting to talk to a guy who played on the team the last two times they made it.
Before we dive into the hockey talk though, I want to do a lightning round. Ready?
I am more than ready
Batman or Iron Man?
Favorite TV Show?
Favorite NHL team?
The Edmonton Spoilers
Best WHL rink to play in?
The Enmax Centre
Worst WHL rink to play in
Favorite Sport other than hockey…?
Last movie you saw in the theater?
Most listened to album on your phone in the past month?
Any Kings of Leon album
Beer or Whiskey?
Old Craig whiskey…. new Craig beer
If you could play for any NBA team?
The Chicago Bulls so I could play with my man Rose…I have a Rose jersey
Xbox or Playstation?
I used to be 360 but now I’m all about PS4
And finally, beer pong, beersbee, or Can Jam?
Can Jam cause I’ve never lost.
Wooooo! That’s a first successful lightning round. Now lets talk hockey. I guess I thought it would be cool to start and look back at your first season where the team went all the way to the finals. At what point did you know the team was good enough to go that far? As far as you coming onto that team in your first year… you’re a pretty emotional guy… were you nervous? Did it take you a while to get comfortable and find a role?
Yea. For sure. For me I came out of my second year of Midget AAA as a 1st line PP lots of points guy so I knew heading into Lethbridge that’s probably what I wouldn’t be doing. We had so much talent there with guys like Boychuck, King, Fadden, Scieviour, so I was nervous as to what role I was going to be put into. I was a bigger guy so I knew I probably would be playing more of a physical role.
I’d never fought before going into my first main camp and I remember going into camp that Dyck (the coach at the time) said that if I wanted to make the team I would need to drop the gloves in preseason… so right away I kinda knew that… okay… I mean I’m not gonna be a goal scorer, I’m not gonna be playing on the top two lines so it’s something I would kinda have to get accustom to doing.
I remember dropping my gloves against a tough guy in Kootenay in the preseason and I was so scared I don’t remember a single bit of it. I got a lucky punch in and I fell and almost concussed my self… but that was kind of my first experience going into the Western Hockey League.
It was just so much different than what I thought. Growing up I was the goal scoring point guy and then you go to a team with so much skill and you realize how different it is. There are so many good players out there and you really have to develop yourself into a certain type of player if you want to stay at that caliber of hockey…. so that’s kinda what I did and I had allot of fun doing it.
It’s funny you say you didn’t feel you chipped in too much on the offensive side of things… but in that 07-08 run, you DID tally 6 points. So as a guy who didn’t score a ton of goals or get a ton of points in the regular season, what what it like to get those points you did on the run to the finals? Any stand out moments in that first run?
Yea. There was a joke going around the team that I was the Fernando Pisani of that years playoffs because when the Oilers went on their run that’s exactly what he did. I think the biggest standout moment for me was game six at home vs Brandon. I got the game winner to move the Hurricanes past the 1st round in so many years. The puck popped out, I turned, shot, had no idea what I was doing and it was probably the hardest shot of my life…. top left corner.
I had scored 1 goal that entire season so to get that goal just kinda made me realize… holy smokes… I can still score goals and I just scored the series clinching goal! No one in the world would have thought I would be the guy to get it. That was a super proud moment for me and it was something that I think got my playoffs going and gave me the confidence to pop a couple more throughout each series.
As amazing as that run was, it didn’t end the way I think anyone really wanted it too. Looking back on that, you swept Calgary and then ran into a pretty impressive Spokane team. What, in your mind, was the difference maker there? Was it the long wait? What did you do over that time??
I think the biggest thing that allot of people said, and I truly believe what it was is we walked over Calgary like they were a midget AA team, which gave us SO much confidence. We had a 12 or 13 day break I believe… so we took a couple days off… had one team gathering… I think there was just waaaaay to much confidence going into that series. We’d played Spokane once and we beat them easily and we knew that they were on this huge grind against Tri-City. We thought they would be totally tired out – nothing left – coming into our series.
It was the complete opposite of what we thought. They just kinda kept that momentum rolling and we got caught flat footed those first two games…and just couldn’t come back. I think sweeping Calgary was one of the worst things we could have ever done. We were way to over confident and we just had way to much rest going into that final series. We just lost our “edge” so you say. We were already talking about the Memorial Cup…
Credit Spokane though right? They pretty much ran the table after sweeping you guys…
They were hot. Their goal scorers were scoring. They got the bounces to a degree too. I remember game three back in Lethbridge… we hit about three posts in the first overtime and then they scored a cheap goal to take game three. After that game we’re down 3-0…. we just felt as if it honestly wasn’t meant to be right now. We had so many chances to win that game. That was our one shot to get back in the series and – it just – nothing was kinda going our way.
It was tough. I remember I balled like a baby after we lost game four. It’s something… ya… it was such an intense month. You work so hard to get into that place and you’re so close it… and then you lose it in that way. It was tough. We had allot of criers in that dressing room.
On a more positive note, did you fully comprehend just how influential that team was. I really got the feeling as a guy who was going to the games at the time that the city just had Hurricane fever. What was that like as a player over those few weeks where the Hurricanes were the toast of the town.
Yeah. I was hoping I would get to talk about how amazing the fans were throughout that run. I remember, I lived on the other side of Mayor Magrath … on the North side – and when I would head to Enmax I would have to drive down the entire stretch of road. I think every single billboard of every single business had something to do about the Hurricanes. Supporting us in some way.
I remember a group of us players went to Subway after a practice in our series with Brandon and we walked in with our Hurricanes jackets on – typical hockey guys – whatever – the guys at Subway were like, “are you guys the Hurricanes??”… and we were like, “Ya!”. They gave us free subs.
I remember I fought in game one in Lethbridge – I actually beat up a guy for once in my life – and I’ve never heard the fans THAT loud or electric towards a junior hockey team. It felt like you were playing in the NHL. It was…. one of the coolest things you could feel as a teenager playing a sport that you love to play.
Could you talk about Ben Wright and what he was like as a captain?
Ben Wright…. he uh…. I remember the first time I saw him – I was 16 years old – and he looked like my dads friend. He was fully bearded at 18… just looked like a man. I was like… “this guy must be a coach or something.” Then he started strapping on his equipment and I was like, oh my goodness I am terrified.
But he is really everything a captain should be. That was Ben Wright. He was a complete leader on the ice. He would fight anyone – do anything for a teammate – block any shot – he led by example. Also, in the room he didn’t let anything slide. He treated all guys well. He demanded respect and it was given to him because you could do nothing but respect the guy. He was just an all around good team guy.
He could have allot of fun when he wanted to, but when it was business he really got in the zone and made sure we were ready to go. I’d have to say he was one of the best captains I ever played for in my entire hockey career.
(Photo Credit: Marissa Baecker)
Talk about Mike Wuchterl and what he meant to that club as well.
We got him back from Vancouver. He won the Mem Cup with them the year before and he was an awesome dressing room guy. He kept guys positive. Would absolutely lay out a guy – almost kill him – when the team needed it. He always played physical, but would somehow just ignite the biggest hits ever at the PERFECT time in a game. If we were down by a goal or we generally needed something to get us going, Wuchs would fly about 4 million miles an hour down the ice and literally just take off the head of a 6’4” 230 pound defenseman like butter… and that just him in a nutshell.
He’d fought so much before that he didn’t fight much in Lethbridge. He was a wildman, but a super nice, caring guy to boot. I love Wuchs. I have allot of good stories but I can’t/won’t share them all.
Well why don’t we talk about your post hockey career to slowly put a bow on things? You decided to hang’em up. Talk about that decision. Did you at any point consider pursuing CIS hockey? Were you just kind of “done” with the game?
I lost interest in hockey… or not hockey itself… but all the other stuff that goes into it. I was in contact with the U of L coach quite a bit and they wanted me to play. I went back and forth allot but I really just kinda figured and realized that I had played my hockey. I had allot of fun doing it but it was time to move on and have a new centre focus in my life.
I wanted to focus on my education and my career. I had fun playing hockey but I knew I wasn’t going to do it forever and I think it was an appropriate time to do it. To move on to different things that were of equal or greater importance in my life. It was tough, and I missed it some days. But in the end I’m really glad I hung up the skates when I did because I really got to experience a different type of life.
How was university and what do you do now? How do you spend your time?
University of Lethbridge was something I’ll never forget. When my kids get older I’m gonna send them there. It is the best place, I think, in Canada to go to university. To get a real university experience. That’s all I’ll say about university. Amazing place – U of L.
Now? I graduated last year. I moved back home to St. Albert. I got married in the summer to the love of my life. I have a beautiful 3 1/2 year old step son. We’re expecting another kid in May – a little boy. Hopefully he’l have a better scoring touch then I do… I guess we’l find out when he gets older.
I’m teaching at a school in St. Albert. It’s the career I love. I enjoy it every day. I have so much fun with the kids. I’m really content and happy where my life is at right now. I talk about this with my parents all the time – jr. hockey has given me so much after I stopped playing. Allot of my job opportunities throughout university and now… the people I’ve met through jr. hockey… jr. hockey in a way has set up my life for after hockey. It’s kinda tough to explain but it’s a good thing to have in your back pocket I guess.
It’s helped me out allot and I think I am where I am today because I decided to dedicate allot of years to hockey. My wifes parents billet Tigers in Medicine Hat. They watched me play before I met her. We met kinda because she knew I had played hockey… hockey’s done so many things for me in my life.
I’m super happy. I have a loving family, a great job, and life is good.
Is there any way people can get a hold of you or anything you want to bring attention to?
As a teacher I’m not really on social media. But there is one big thing in my life. My dad is battling ALS right now. It’s a tough battle to watch him go through. It’s a disease that really takes away your life slowly. It’s tough to see my best buddy go through that. I just want everyone… if you can… I’m not saying you have to donate, but go to the ALS walk website (link’s below), look for team Orfino. If you want to chip in or if you are in the Edmonton area if anyone in Edmonton listens to this… join the walk. They are all over Alberta. It’s something I want to do for my dad.
He is a fighter. We have allot of faith that he can beat this somehow… and with more support and awareness that a cure can come. That’s the main thing that I’m trying to spread for everyone. Before my dad was diagnosed I had no idea what this disease was. As he’s battled… you realize how horrible of a disease it is.
Just pray for Johnny… that’s what I will ask of anyone listening (or reading) to this. Say a little prayer for Jonny “O”. Lets help him and others beat this disease.
Any final thoughts or things to want to say to this years Hurricanes team?
Ya. I want to conclude with wishing the Hurricanes the best luck in the playoffs. Just remember… give’r game one. Not every hockey player gets to experience playoffs. It’s amazing. I wish them the best of luck.
I wanna say – all Lethbridge fans – support the team. It helps soooo much. It’l get them a couple greasy wins throughout this hard battle. Good luck to the boys. Fans jump on board. Let’s see them go all the way this year. That would be absolutely amazing.
Like I said in the interview, I have included the links to Craig’s ALS fundraising right here! I think it would be sensational if the Hurricanes community of fans and supporters could chip in for Craig and Jonny O. You are under no obligation, but any donations you can make would make a world of difference.
I hope you enjoyed the interview. If you did, please share. If you didn’t, don’t share. But DO share this link regardless.
Team Orfino Fund Raising <—– CLICK HERE