His pro career a wrap, Cunningham finds silver lining with new Coyotes job
Last Nov. 19 was a day Craig Cunningham will never forget – if he could remember it.
That night, the Tucson Roadrunners captain collapsed on the Tucson Convention Center ice during pregame warm-ups prior to an American Hockey League game against the Manitoba Moose. He was motionless and as it later turned out, near death as emergency personnel jumped into action and quickly transported him to two local hospitals for treatment.
In attendance were about 4,000 stunned fans, including Cunningham’s mother, Heather, who had flown in from British Columbia to watch her son play.
It was later diagnosed that Cunningham had suffered a heart attack. It took an experimental treatment to bring him back, but the miracle treatment was not without its complications and part of Cunningham’s left leg later had to be amputated because of an infection.
His hockey playing career over, Cunningham stayed positive and earlier this offseason, the 26-year-old signed a two-year contract to be a pro scout with the parent Arizona Coyotes.
“I think it was something that happened fairly quickly,” said Cunningham. “It’s been something that’s been in the back of our minds for a couple of months now. The end of the season came and the meetings started, and we decided that it was best to do it now. There’s a little bit of familiarity (with scouting), I’d say. I was up at the meetings [with the Coyotes in May, kind of learning the ropes and stuff like that. I think it’s going to be a bit of a learning process for me to start. I think everyone kind of has their own philosophy for ways of doing things, and you kind of have to figure it out yourself as you go.”
Cunningham said that he had a very eye-opening, yet comfortable experience at the Coyotes’ Hockey Development meetings.
“It was cool,” Cunningham said. “They went exactly as I figured they went when I was playing – a big conference room, talk about players and ways you can grow your organization and make it better. It was a cool experience.”
He’d obviously prefer to still be lacing up the skates, but Cunningham sees the scouting gig as his way to stay in the game.
“I always kind of wondered about what I would do when eventually, you know, everyone’s career comes to an end,” said Cunningham said. “You never know exactly what you’re going to do, especially for us Major Junior guys that didn’t go to college and don’t have degrees to fall back on. It’s obviously always a great way to stay employed in the organization and in the game.
“I think, basically, I’ll be scouting the Pacific Division, as well as the American League teams that go with the Pacific Division teams, and then I think a little bit here in Tucson with the young guys, and a little bit of player development as well.”
Does Cunningham’s age see him on the younger side of other scouts?
“I think so,” Cunningham said. “I have one buddy that’s scouting in Boston that’s the same age as me, but most guys are still playing at this age. I know most of the guys in the league and not only as players, but as people, too, and I think that goes a long way when you’re trying to scout guys and find the right mesh of players.”
Cunningham also has all the confidence in the world to perform his job to its fullest potential.
“I think I’m ready for it,” said Cunningham. “I’ve been around pro hockey now for six years playing, and I think you learn a lot about, while you’re playing, how the business side of it works. I’m excited about the opportunity ahead. It’s a great way for me to stay involved in hockey, and it’s something else for me to strive and push forward for.”
— Matt Mackinder