Cunningham makes NHL debut

Warfield’s Craig Cunningham made his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins Tuesday night in a 2-0 shut out victory over the Calgary Flames.

Warfield’s Craig Cunningham made his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins Tuesday night in a 2-0 shut out victory over the Calgary Flames, but as an emergency call up he was promptly sent back to Providence on Wednesday.

Cunningham joined the Bruins for Monday’s practice in Wilmington, Mass. from their American Hockey League affiliate in Providence, where Cunningham has netted at least 20 goals in each of the last two seasons, and has scored nine goals and added five assists in 27 games this year.

Boston has been plagued by injury, illness, and recent suspensions, and it was uncertain whether first-line forward Jerome Iginla would suit up Tuesday. Iginla skipped practice Monday from a dislocated finger suffered against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday in a fight with Ryan Kesler.

As it turns out, Iginla was indeed in the line up and he assisted on both Zdeno Chara’s power-play goals to lift the Bruins to their sixth win in a row at home.

But rather than sitting out, Cunningham also played in his first NHL game.

“I was a little nervous my first shift,” Cunningham said on the Bruins blog. “The pace is a little quicker than in the American League but after my first shift I thought I settled in.”

The 23-year-old played eight minutes and 16 seconds through three periods and registered four shots-on-goal skating on a line with Greg Campbell and Jordan Caron.

“First game jitters and I think you could see it in that first shift but he settled down and gave us what we wanted from him,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said, following Cunningham’s debut. “A real good effort.”

The former Beaver Valley Nitehawk joins Ryan Spooner, Matt Fraser, and Nick Johnson as Providence Bruins forwards who have been recalled by the big club in the last two weeks, a stretch where the Bruins have five wins and one loss in six games.

The transition is made as easy as possible for call-ups like Cunningham who see the same strategy employed at both levels of professional hockey.

“The coaching staff down there really prides themselves in the same system up top and it makes it a lot easier,” said Cunningham.

His teammates also make it easy as well, and right now, Cunningham had plenty of support to fall back on, amidst his brief stay with the big club.

“They said you’re here for a reason and just go out and play your game, it’s just another game, it happens. I had a tough time believing it was just another game but they were great,” he added.

Cunningham may be headed back to the AHL for the time being, but chances are, he’s going there knowing he has what it takes to someday make the jump.

“You want to make sure you’re your best every night and you never know when they’re there watching or where there’s going to be an opportunity up top.”