Minutes after the U.S. beat Finland for the gold medal, the Flames sold 500 tickets for the Colorado game. Atlantans just assumed Craig was on his way. When the Flames announced his signing, several thousand more tickets were snatched up. "We never even said he would play," says Fletcher. By the time Craig arrived in town, the game was sold out. "Without Craig, we'd have a crowd of about 7,000 for this game," said one team official. "The kid will be worth 8,000 seats." At an average of $8 per ticket. And, best of all, Craig would be in goal.
"There was some concern about playing him against Colorado," says Fletcher. "If a goalie starts against, say, Montreal and sees 40 shots, the feeling is that he's had a bit of work. But against a Colorado, he might see 20 shots, and if a few go in, he won't be excused, as he could be if he played Montreal. This was a real test."
Before flying south, Craig got in some skating at BU with his old coach, Jackie Parker. Then, armed with a sheepskin coat and four hockey sticks, he tried unsuccessfully to evade crowds at Logan as he left for Atlanta Thursday night. "How can all these people recognize me?" he said in a bewildered tone. Told that his face was constantly beamed into millions of homes during the Olympics, he responded, "Well, I haven't even seen the highlights yet."
When Craig got onto the plane for Atlanta, the passengers greeted him with another ovation. "I wish I could think of new things to say," he said as he settled into his seat. "I'm boring myself."
On Friday he skated with his new teammates for the first time, at a rink in suburban Atlanta. Looking fatigued and wearing his almost permanent five-o'clock shadow, Craig positioned himself in the cage while all the Flames lined up, four pucks apiece, to take target practice. "I was afraid they'd all shoot at once," Craig said.
But the drill was no more than a "Welcome to the NHL, Jimbo." He fended off shots with the quick kick seen so often during the Games and looked almost at ease on the ice. Except for the large turnout of spectators and the cameras that followed Craig's every move, it might have been any Atlanta practice.
Craig worried that the hoopla attending his arrival would cause resentment among the other Flames, most of whom are anonymous even in Atlanta, but he fit right in. "The attention for him is going to generate enthusiasm for us," says Defenseman Paul Reinhart, who bypassed the '80 Canadian Olympic team to sign with the Flames. "Anything that fills the building helps, and he can do that. Personally, I think it's just great for him."
Craig's biggest concern was the team goaltending situation: Atlanta already had a consistent tandem in Dan Bouchard, 29, and Pat Riggin, 20. Three goal-tenders are one too many, but the Flames won't wrestle with that problem until the off-season.
After practice, the other Flames quickly christened Craig "The Savior." Defenseman Brad Marsh quipped, "Wow, he must be good. He stopped me cold." Marsh then invited Craig to unwind over a few beers. But Craig had to stick to his barnstorming schedule and took a rain check. "He's under a lot of pressure," said Reinhart, "but I don't see that we'll have to adjust much to playing in front of him. Maybe we'll mess up once about where he's going to leave a puck after a save. But he'll work out. He's in good shape. And I hear he actually slept last night."
True. Craig had really slept, for the first night in a week, and though he was running on empty, he still fielded questions as deftly as he'd stopped pucks. At his midday press conference Friday, in the hall of a hotel with an ice rink, a six-piece Dixieland band swung from On, Wisconsin to Yankee Doodle. Shoppers lingered near a stage draped in red and blue, and a horde of reporters vied for "exclusive" interviews. Local sports-writers pumped Craig for in-depth analyses of what he thinks of playing in the NHL. "But I haven't played a game yet," he said. Everyone asked if he had a girl friend, mentioning an ABC profile that showed him with a girl. "That was last week," he said. Even a priest with a press pass got into the act, wondering aloud if Craig is Catholic—"because if you're not, my paper can't do this story." Fear not, Father, he is.