Former Muskie lands top post

Press “rewind” on the tape that is Craig Perry’s life and go all the way back to February of 1983.
Perry was coming off a successful three-year tenure as a goalie with the Muskie boys’ hockey team and didn’t want his playing days to end.
The University of Manitoba Bisons showed an interest in him and it seemed he was heading in that direction. But a trip to the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks in the passenger seat of Terry Ogden’s car changed those plans.
The coach for the Fighting Sioux back then was Fort Frances native Gino Gaspirini and though they were focusing on a young kid named Craig Simpson, whom they had flown in by jet from London but who later would sign with Michigan State before having a successful NHL career, UND still noticed Perry—sort of.
“Coach Gaspirini did something at that time that he told me about after—that I was the first kid he had ever offered a scholarship to that he himself had never personally seen,” Perry recalled of that fateful day 22 years ago.
“So I got a scholarship based on what Coach Ogden [who was a captain for UND along with Gaspirini in the late 1960s] told him about me,” he added.
Now fast forward to June, 2005, when the 40-year-old Perry accepted a position as an associate director of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL).
His duties will include making sure 480 member schools comply with the league’s rules and managing an array of state tournaments for both boys and girls.
So how did Perry land such a position? Maybe we’ve gone too far ahead on the tape. So let’s rewind a bit and skim through his playing career.
“I played in 4.3 games,” Perry said of his three years (1983-86) with the Fighting Sioux, which is a Division I program. “I got a third period in one game in mop-up duty.”
And while most would regard playing in less than five games in three years as something of a failure, there are others who see it as an accomplishment, which is how it should be seen.
So why did Perry stick with the team?
“It’’s all about being part of a team. They made a commitment to me with a [partial] scholarship and my commitment to them was to do everything I could every day in whatever role I was assigned.
“And if that meant I was to push two goalies in front of me, or if I was to position myself to get a start, or if I was the guy that was to help other guys with their studies, then that’s what I did,” added Perry, whose record was 3-1.
But that loss is the one he remembers most.
UND was in a weekend series against long-time rivals Minnesota and things weren’t going well for the Fighting Sioux at the old Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
The starting goalie got hit with the puck under the chin in the Friday night game the ’Sioux would lose 6-0. Then when the back-up goalie missed curfew, that’s when Perry, who was back in Grand Forks, got the call from Gaspirini at 1:30 a.m. on the Saturday telling him to get on a plane.
“I had to go in old Williams Arena having not played a game in over a year, and we ended up losing 6-1. They got 54 shots on me,” said Perry, who noted his team only managed 12 shots.
“But I have no regrets because I’ve got the one thing out of it that they can never take away from me and I use it every day, and that’s my education,” he stressed.
Perry graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, and has since earned degrees in English and Psychology in Secondary Education. He also has a Master’s of Science degree in Education, and currently is working on his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership.
Also aware enough to realize his playing career “was not going to go anywhere beyond college,” Perry started studying the game.
After graduation, he went to Grafton, N.D. for a year coaching their high school hockey team while teaching English, and another year at Fargo South before Gaspirini signed him on as assistant coach with UND.
That came in 1990 and Perry’s duties focused more on the recruiting aspect, but the team began taking a downward spiral and would have a losing season the following year (17-21-1)—the first in Gaspirini’s 16-year career at UND.
After two more losing seasons (12-25-1 and 11-23-4), the school decided to make a change and Gaspirini, now entering his ninth season as president of the United States Hockey League, was released.
Things looked bleak for Perry but his wife, Holly, who he married in 1992, noticed an advertisement in the Grand Forks newspaper for the position of athletic director for the Grand Forks Public Schools.
He applied—and he was accepted.
“At that point, I can honestly tell you this—I was always going to be a coach. I wasn’t meant to be an athletic director. I wasn’t meant to be in athletic administration.
“I was going to be a college coach for the rest of my career,” said Perry, who figured he would stick with the position for a couple of years until something in coaching presented itself.
But time went by and though Perry was offered coaching positions with a few junior teams and by the Western Professional League (which merged with the Central Hockey League in 2001), he rejected them, saying, “It just didn’t feel right.”
Or maybe it was because he was getting surprisingly comfortable with his administrative position?
“And before you knew it, 11 years under my belt” fulfilling a job that saw Perry be responsible for managing and organizing more than a dozen regional and state tournaments each year while overseeing 220 coaches and 80 teams at 18 schools.
“What I’ve really found is my passion for coaching has really changed to a passion to be able to work with coaches, who then can impact their athletes, and I couldn’t think of anything better to do than that,” noted Perry.
“He’s found his niche in life and its athletic administration, and he’s done very well with it,” said Ogden.
Perry also was the hockey operations manager for the world junior championships held last winter in Grand Forks and “wasn’t really looking to leave the Grand Forks area [about 50,000 population].”
But when he started receiving calls from members of the MSHSL, it was “something I had to look at.”
He accepted and his family, which includes Chase, nine, Chloe, eight, and Charley, three, already have sold their house and have bought another in the Twin Cities, which is where he will be heading by August.
Perry said he’s up for the challenge of a job that involves a much larger scope than his previous assignment, citing the boys’ state tournament as an example of “just how much bigger” it is.
The largest three-day event in North Dakota saw just over 29,000 people attend, but in Minnesota, they are sold out at 18,000 people for every session.
One of the reasons Perry is comfortable he will do well in the MSHSL is from “the strong foundation that has been laid” for him, which was first poured in Fort Frances and, of course, revolved around hockey.
“The running joke is that you’re born with skates in Fort Frances,” laughed Perry, who also played soccer and football, and has a cabin at Clearwater Lake where he still goes every summer.
“You went into the rink and saw the ’52 Allan Cup team,” he recalled. “I don’t know how many times I looked up to those pictures and memorized the names, whether is was Frank Eisenzoph or Harry Barefoot.
“And you hoped one day if you’d be worthy to have your picture be up on the wall,” added Perry, who also noted how much the late Darryl Webb, one of his coaches in minor hockey here who passed away last year, meant to him realizing his potential.
And it was with the Muskies from 1979-82 where he learned to “work hard—that was the ethic we were taught and if you can carry those values with you, then you’re going to have success.”