The Arizona Coyotes’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, Tucson Roadrunners, honoured Craig Cunningham on Friday.
In a pre-game ceremony of the Roadrunners vs Iowa Wild match, the Tucson organization sent to the rafters the #14 jersey of its first captain in team history.
“The jersey retirement is a great honour but I think it’s not just for me – (it’s for) my doctors and it shines a little light on my family and for everyone who supported me through this situation,” Cunningham said in an interview before the ceremony.
Cunningham suffered a career-ending injury when he went into cardiac arrest prior to a game against the Manitoba Moose last November. The traumatic end to his professional hockey career and multiple surgeries later resulted in Cunningham having part of his lower leg amputated. Yet, the Trail native has handled the adversity the same way he played hockey, with hard work, determination, and class.
“Obviously my number’s going up in my name, but there’s a ton of people who are going to be here that made it happen.”
After being drafted by the Boston Bruins in the fourth round of the 2010 NHL Draft, Cunningham played four years with the Bruins organization and AHL affiliate Providence before being claimed on waivers in 2015 by Arizona. The former Beaver Valley Nitehawk played in 13 games for the Roadrunners in 2016, formerly the Springfield Falcons, and is now a scout for the Coyotes’ organization. The transition has been dramatic and difficult, but has afforded the 27 year old a new challenge.
“Yeah I mean obviously it’s changed. You kind of have to look at the game in a different way, you know before I was out there competing against those guys and trying to get the call-up, and now I’m out there watching and saying which guys do I like, which guys do I want on my team.”
Tucson General Manager Steve Sullivan presented Cunningham with a customized plaque, which included the puck from the team’s first-ever goal which Cunningham scored on Oct. 14, 2016, a custom engraved Tissot watch, and the #14 banner, which was raised to Tucson Arena’s rafters. He dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off and had all players from both teams shake his hand, including former Coyotes captain Shane Doan and current Roadrunner Nick Merkley.
“Everyone goes through different challenges and every time you think you have it bad, there’s someone else who has it worse,” added Cunningham. “I’ve actually met a lot of families who have survived cardiac arrest, and also met a lot of families whose kids didn’t survive, and that really brings it into perspective of how lucky I am to be here.”
Cunningham played in 63 NHL games with the Bruins and Coyotes scoring three goals and eight points. In 319 AHL games the 27-year-old forward scored 101 goals and 203 points with the Bruins, Falcons, and Roadrunners.