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CLEVELAND – Cleveland’s Lake Erie Monsters are proud to announce that Ryan Craig has been named the team’s winner of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year Award for his outstanding contributions to the Northeast Ohio community during the 2015-16 season.

In his role as the Monsters’ team captain, Craig served as the leader of his team both on and off the ice, specifically through his passionate support of numerous Monsters community relations initiatives, including the “Craig’s Kids” Program, supporting local families in need. Working alongside the Monsters’ ‘Charities of the Month,’ Craig and the Monsters treated several families to a Monsters game at The Q, $40 in food and beverage credits, a spot in the Monsters’ “Cave Crew” (a high-five tunnel leading to the ice on game-nights) and a personal locker room tour from Ryan following each game.

In addition, Craig led the charge in mobilizing his teammates to visit local hospitals, including Cleveland Metro Health Hospital, to provide toys and gifts to children undergoing treatment. The team visited youngsters within the burn unit, the pediatric cancer wing and the pediatric intensive care unit. Many of these children spent the holidays within the hospital and the team’s visit was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Craig was also an integral part of the Monsters’ “adoption” of several children in need at Cleveland’s West Side Community House. Through this initiative, children from some of the most underserved areas of the city were able to receive gifts from Monsters players during the holiday season. Led by Craig, every single Monsters player purchased clothing and toys specifically for each child, helping to ensure that every child received something they needed and wanted for the holidays.

Additionally, Craig was a driving force behind the biggest highlight of the Monsters’ Community efforts this season, as the team partnered with the Cleveland Chapter of “A Special Wish” Foundation to make four-year old Robert Gibson’s wish to become a “Monster for a day” come true. The young Monsters fan has endured 14 surgeries, a kidney transplant and many trips in and out of the hospital due to stage-four Kidney disease, and wished to become an official Monsters Hockey Player for a day.

When the idea was presented to Craig and his teammates, Craig became an integral part in planning for the little boy’s big day and took the lead on the many activities needed to make Robert’s wish come true. After surprising Robert at a local Dick’s Sporting Goods store the night before the game to gear up for his pro hockey debut, Craig was a constant companion for Gibson through an unforgettable experience. Robert had his very own locker right next to the captain and, in addition to participating in morning skate, Robert signed an AHL/NHL contract at a full press conference, led the Monsters onto the ice for pre-game introductions at The Q and spent some time in the locker room after the game. The praise from the family to Ryan was incredible, and the relationship the two hockey players fostered will no doubt help this little boy endure the various treatments he will continue to face at his young age.

Craig is now one of 30 finalists for the AHL’s 2015-16 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, honoring the overall IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year. The league award is named after the former Hershey Bears forward and AHL All-Star who died in 1997 following a 16-month battle with leukemia. The winner of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award will be announced by the AHL later this month.

Next up for the Monsters, it’s a Friday road clash vs. the Chicago Wolves with full coverage, live from Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL, underway at 8:00 pm on ESPN 850 WKNR and the Monsters Hockey Network.

Matt Medley is co-editor at NEO Sports Insiders, covers the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Indians and high school sports in Northeast Ohio. Follow @MedleyHoops on Twitter for live updates from games.

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