Giving back: Jr. Gulls thriving under Carlyle’s guidance
Hockey is in his blood, and Craig Carlyle never envisioned himself doing anything else.
While his dreams morphed from playing in the NHL to serving as a player agent and to coaching, the happy accident has turned out to have benefited not only him, but the San Diego Jr. Gulls organization.
Now in his first full season as the Jr. Gulls’ hockey director, Carlyle – a self-described people person – wakes up every morning looking forward to going to the rink and feels fortunate that he’s able to make a living doing something he loves. In addition to overseeing the entire Jr. Gulls program, he coaches the Bantam AA and Squirt BB teams, runs learn-to-skate programs and handles just about every other duty imaginable at Ice-Plex Escondido.
“I love San Diego and love the Jr. Gulls,” Carlyle said. “Most of the time, I’m the biggest kid out on the ice. Hockey has given me and my family everything that we have, and I thought it was a great opportunity for me to give back in a different capacity.”
Carlyle is the son of Anaheim Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. The elder Carlyle played 18 years in the NHL before embarking on an equally successful coaching career with Winnipeg, Washington and Anaheim, where he secured his first head coaching job in the NHL and won the Stanley Cup in 2007. He took the reins of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2012-15, and returned to the Ducks’ top job earlier this year.
Craig Carlyle’s position with the Jr. Gulls may not be as prominent, but that doesn’t mean he loves hockey any less or puts anything but his best effort into his coaching duties. A Winnipeg native, he was a defenseman at NCAA Division III Brockport State University (SUNYAC) from 2005-08 and after graduation, jumped right into coaching, first with Maksymum Hockey in upstate New York, followed by two seasons in the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL).
He relocated to San Diego in 2011 to coach the San Diego Gulls (now the Sabers) in the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) and he hasn’t looked back. He later joined the Jr. Gulls as a coach with various teams, taught some private lessons and assisted with adult hockey.
Carlyle has built a strong network of contacts in hockey going back to his playing days, and knows that his role as hockey director with the Jr. Gulls brings with it some serious responsibility. His approach is a relatively simple one, rooted in two basic tenets.
“Honesty and integrity are the two biggest things for me,” Carlyle said. “The hockey community is a small one, and if you’re dishonest and lack integrity, you won’t get very far. Aside from those two things, I’m a big believer in learning through fun. Most of us aren’t going to make it to the NHL, but if a kid can get into a great college because of hockey, or can meet great people through the game, I want to develop the players who have a true love for the game that lasts a lifetime.”
Carlyle said he and his father have always talked hockey regularly, and even though their jobs in the game are quite different, there are elements that translate, and he is constantly learning from his dad.
“He’s getting the finished product, and I’m working with kids to further their development, but we talk a lot about how we treat our players,” Carlyle said. “It’s different than it was when he grew up, and even than when I grew up. The game is the same, regardless if it’s eight- and nine-year-olds playing or pros. I was surprised when I first started working with kids that you can really break things down, and they’re not too complicated. Kids are sponges, and it’s really fun to see them learn the game.”
— Greg Ball