Craig Darby never thought he would see the day where a hockey team would retire his jersey number.
The Colonie native saw that day happen Saturday when Albany Academy retired his No. 17 jersey prior to the Cadets’ home game against Canterbury School.
It was definitely not something I planned on doing, but it’s something I’ll never forget, said Darby.
Albany Academy honored Darby not only for what he did during his career at the private school — a school-record 302 career points and a state title in 1991 — but also for what he did after he graduated. He played two seasons at Providence College before embarking on a 15-year professional career that included stops in the National Hockey League, American Hockey League and Europe.
During the short ceremony, Darby thanked the school and his coach, Dave Rider, as well as his parents for supporting himn throughout his formative years as a hockey player.
`They made some huge sacrifices,` Darby said of his parents. `The commitment of having children playing hockey is a full family commitment, both financially and in terms of time.`
Darby knows that commitment very well. Today, he’s coaching his son Kyle’s Saratoga Blue Knights bantam division team, and his daughter Cristina plays.
It wasn’t long ago that Darby was lacing up his skates, though. He bounced around Europe for several years after it became apparent to him that the NHL was no longer within his reach, and he retired only two years ago.
`The NHL window was closed, and [playing in Europe] was more about seeing other countries that I’d normally never get to see and playing hockey,` said Darby.
`I think he would have played hockey for a couple more years in Europe, but Kyle was entering middle school and we didn’t want to keep moving every couple of years,` said Carey Darby, Craig’s wife.
Darby began his pro career in 1993 with the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL affiliate in Fredericton, New Brunswick. After a successful AHL campaign, Darby got his first call-up to the NHL in 1994.
Soon after that, though, the bouncing around began. Darby was traded to the New York Islanders. Then, he signed with Philadelphia in 1996 before returning to the Montreal organization in 1999.
`It’s not the easiest [life],` said Darby. `Your ultimate goal is to play in the NHL, and you’ll do whatever it takes — even if you have to bounce around different teams to get a job.`
Darby had his longest stint in the NHL with the Canadiens at the turn of the millenium. He played 154 games in the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons, amassing 19 goals and 26 assists.
Darby found himself bouncing around again following the 2000-01 season. He spent the 2002-03 season mostly with Montreal’s AHL affiliate. Then he joined the New Jersey Devils organization in 2003, where he found himself suiting up for his old hometown as a member of the Albany River Rats. After a second stint with Philadelphia’s organization in 2004-05, Darby latched on to AHL teams in Springfield and Winnipeg before going to Europe in 2006.
All the while, Darby had his wife and children in tow.
`They came everywhere with me,` said Darby. `There was one year in the 15 years that they didn’t come with me, and I said that it would never happen again.`
`It was hard because we moved around every two years,` said Carey. `I had two children, and it was tough because we moved to places where I had no family. But he was following his dream.`
Darby’s two-year European tour included stops in Holland and Austria. And wherever he went, his teammates asked him about what it was like to be in the NHL.
`There were a lot of people who saw my stats and asked me about it,` said Darby. `They asked if they needed to get faster and stronger.`
Now, Darby can impart his experience on a new generation of hockey players while remaining in place. And he can also go to Albany Academy hockey games and see his jersey on the wall — one of only two numbers that Academy has retired.
`That’s why I’m so excited about this [honor]. This doesn’t happen every day,` said Darby.“
Associate editor/sports editor