It doesn’t get much better than fulfilling a childhood dream.
And for Greater Trail hockey products Connor Jones and Craig Cunningham, both realized that dream on the same night as they each hoisted the Stanley Cup, celebrating the Las Vegas Knight’s victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Jones, a Montrose native, and Cunningham, from Trail, are both scouts in the Las Vegas organization and joined the Knights for the thrilling Stanley Cup winning game and celebration in Vegas on June 13.
“It was incredible experience to be invited to attend with our families,” Jones told the Times. “The atmosphere in that building was out of this world, such passionate fans and wow what a performance by the players.”
The Knights rolled over the Panthers winning the best of seven series 4-games-to-1, punctuated by the lopsided 9-3 final loss.
Florida, a team that struggled to make the playoffs, shocked the hockey world with a first round win over the President Cup winning Boston Bruins. The upstart Cats then beat out heavily favoured Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes to book their spot in the final.
But the Knights were also impressive throughout the playoff, beating Winnipeg Jets handily, and then dispatching the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars in six games. Vegas then reeled off 5-2 and 7-2 wins in the first two games of the finals, which set the tone for a split in Florida, and the first ever Stanley Cup triumph at home.
“I think the team (Knights) was confident with their style of game and the victories highlighted the complete buy in from every player,” said Jones. “Really awesome goaltending from (Adin) Hill too.”
Jones said he expected a tough series when the Knights faced the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars in the quarter and semifinals sending them to their second Cup appearance in seven years.
“To be honest I thought the series’ were very even and it could have gone seven in both. But of course as in all four series, the team just continued to play the same way throughout the playoffs,” said Jones. “They continued to build momentum and played some of their best hockey in the finals.”
Jones grew up playing minor hockey in Beaver Valley, and skated with the KIJHL B.V. Nitehawks in 2007 before joining the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL. He and twin brother Kellen helped the Vipers to two RBC Cup championships in 2009 and 2010, before taking their game to the NCAA Quinnipiac Bobcats, where they led the team to its first ever Frozen Four final.
Connor and Kellen spent five years playing in the American Hockey League. Connor also skated in the NHL with the New York Islanders in four games in 2017. The twins then played two seasons in Switzerland and Sweden before returning to North America to play their final pro season with the Fort Wayne Comets.
Connor, who has been with the Las Vegas organization for just over a year, is understandably proud to be part of a growing winning tradition.
“It’s a great place to work, especially with some fellow Kootenay guys like Craig and Bruno (Campese),” said Connor. “Really amazing to be part of a Cup winning team in my first year. High character people and exceptional leadership inside and out, and top to bottom.”
In 2005, at age 15, Cunningham skated for Beaver Valley Nitehawks and then made the jump to the WHL Vancouver Giants where he spent most of five years, before finishing the 2010-11 season in Portland with the Winterhawks.
Cunningham played professional hockey in the Boston Bruins and Arizona Coyotes organizations over the next six years, until a tragic and rare health condition cut short his career in 2016. Cunningham went into cardiac arrest during a Tucson Roadrunners pre-game skate, and as a result, was forced to have his lower left leg amputated.
Cunningham is now a professional scout with Las Vegas.
The Times tried contacting Craig, but had not heard back by press time. Congratulations to both Craig and Connor!