Hockey at Royal Oak High School has hit some rough ice in the past few years, with new coaches the past two seasons. But just before former Athletic Director Brian Gordon accepted the AD position in Novi, he hired Craig Ward to lead the Raven hockey team - again.
The name may sound familiar to Royal Oak residents, as Ward previously coached the high school and worked in the Mighty Mite system for years before starting a family took him to West Bloomfield. He says he's glad to be back home.
“I’ve been coaching for over 20 years,” Ward said. “I’ve coached for Caesar’s and Belle Tire and went to several state championships and national championships.”
In 2000, Ward actually coached ROHS for three years and was in the process of building a winning foundation.
“My last year here we took them to the regional finals,” he said. “I left on good terms. I was starting a family and had moved to West Bloomfield and the commute was just too much.”
Before coaching, his own hockey career included plenty of action at Trenton High School and various Triple A teams. It's experience Ward will call on to build a future winner in Royal Oak. The 40-year old coach is not concerned with the team's past problems.
“I’m focused on three things – discipline, teamwork and dedication,” he said. “And then I adapt our systems to the team. There’s a lot of young players on this team.”
Formal workouts have not begun but the team is working on skills in pre-season practice. When the ice opens up for Ward he’ll be preaching a simple system.
“Defense wins games. You’ve got to have a good defense. I think the game is simple – you get it out of your zone and into their zone and you score. But there’s things to accomplish that, and we’ve got to teach that,” he said. “I like the ‘read and react.’ We’re going to focus 70 percent of our time on our skills but we are also going to learn the game.”
Though not necessarily on the ice.
“You can learn the game in a parking lot, you can learn the game in a classroom – we’re going to learn the game the way it should be played and that’s north and south not east and west.”
Tryouts for the team are on Oct. 29, and according to www.maxpreps.com, the team’s first game is at Shrine on Nov. 16.