Warfield native Craig Cunningham has put in his time at the minor league level, and the former Vancouver Giant will once again look for a permanent position on the Boston Bruins roster in their upcoming training camp.
Cunningham has been the ironman of the American Hockey League over the past three seasons, missing just two games over that 228-match span. If he’s consigned to play for the Providence Bruins again this year, he will likely break the record, needing to suit up 53 more times to overtake current record-holder Jay Henderson, who laced them up for the baby Bruins on 278 occasions.
Cunningham, however, has proven his ability as much as his durability. He led the team in goals scored last year, 25, the exact same number he scored the previous season and was rewarded with a two-game stint with the NHL Bruins on Dec. 17 and again in the final match of the regular season.
“Once you play and get sent back down, it makes you that hungrier. The life is night and day, pretty much. It’s the life that I want. Everything’s different,” Cunningham told the Vancouver Sun last week while playing in the Giant’s annual golf tournament.
However, despite his good numbers and endurance, the competition will be fierce. Providence coach Bruce Cassidy said that he believes that Cunningham may still be behind a number of other Bruins on the depth chart, including Ryan Spooner, Alex Khokhlachev, Justin Florek and Matt Fraser.
However, one advantage Cunningham has over the competition is that he shoots right, and following the departure of right wingers Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton jumping to the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers, respectively, there may be space for the 23-year-old on the parent club. But it also may take one more season in Providence.
“He’s good in every area of the game and to be in the NHL, to earn your job, you maybe have to have a particular strength in one area to sort of solidify that spot for yourself,” Cassidy told CSSNE following the July development camp, “He’s missing a little bit of that.”
Despite Cassidy’s evaluation, Cunningham is determined to play in the NHL. He has been training in Kelowna with many current NHLers such as former Beaver Valley Nitehawk Cody Franson, Nashville Predator’s Shea Weber, and former Montreal Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges, and says it is the best shape he has been in as a pro.
“You need to go to camp in the best shape possible and see where you fit in and what role you can play,” said Cunningham, who is five-foot-10, 185 pounds. “It’s always nice to know that there’s an opportunity. It pushes you that much more throughout your summer.”
The Bruins camp begins on Sept. 19 in Willmington, Mass.