PHOENIX — Several months ago, Craig Cunningham was lying in his hospital bed, staring at the ceiling, unsure what the future had in store. Now, months removed from his collapse on the ice that ultimately resulted in the loss of a portion of his leg, Cunningham stares down a new challenge, as his dream to work in the NHL comes to fruition in a way he least expected.
On May 24, Cunningham joined the Arizona Coyotes as a pro scout.
It is far from the job he hoped to have in the NHL, but it is an opportunity he won’t take for granted.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to stay in the game and be involved in the National Hockey League,” Cunningham said in a conference call. “It’s an opportunity to, you know, not improve the organization through playing and being around the young guys, but to help bring in guys and players that are going to help us win.”
Perhaps the biggest reason the Coyotes saw fit to bring Cunningham on staff as a pro scout is his experience playing the game and his willingness to face challenges.
“Craig is a very special young man,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka wrote via email. “He’s smart, a hard worker and he has an incredible passion for the game. We’re confident that he will bring those same qualities to his new role as a pro scout for the Coyotes.”
On Nov. 19, the Roadrunners captain collapsed on the ice due to cardiac complications and was rushed to the hospital where a life-saving procedure was performed. He later had to have a portion of his leg amputated.
Due to the medical constraints of his condition, Cunningham will be based out of Tucson, at least for the next few months. While details are still being worked out, in Cunningham’s new role, he will be responsible for scouting the Pacific Division teams as well as their American Hockey League affiliates. He also will be helping the team’s player development efforts.
Cunningham’s role will allow him to have a hand in directly affecting the future of the organization. The trust the Coyotes have in him means a lot.
“I think from day one since I’ve come to the organization, I’ve always, whether it be in Phoenix or Springfield or Tucson, I’ve always felt valued by the organization,” Cunningham said. “Obviously (coach Dave) Tippett and John Chayka and the rest of the staff have been tremendous in helping me get through a tough time in my life and have been very supportive. I’m excited that they trust me to come in and do a job for them.”
During the last few months, even mundane tasks like those required to take care of himself, have tested him. Since his collapse, things have been “brutal and an incredibly tough challenge,” he said.
No matter how difficult, Cunningham said he finds a way to push on. His perseverance and determined attitude are benefits the Coyotes know he’ll bring.
“He’s also faced a tremendous amount of adversity and his recovery has been nothing short of remarkable” Chayka said. “He’s the type of person we want working with our young prospects. His story, drive and dedication to the game are inspirational. He will be a valuable addition to our organization.”
His relatability might be his biggest asset. He is proof that a good work ethic and mindset can make an impact.
“It’s always nice to have someone that has been in the organization and been in the game and kind of been in a situation where you’re in the minors and you’re working your butt off to try to get to the NHL and sometimes things are hard,” Cunningham said. “You’re asking yourself, ‘Why is this guy getting called up before me, why is that guy getting called up?’
“I’ve been through that for six years in my career and I can come in and help the young guys and give them another ear to talk to. Basically, just tell them the truth (about) your experiences and how it works and just to stay patient because you never know when you’re going to get that call.”
Cunningham has faced more challenges in the past few months than many face in a lifetime. He has not let any of his pain or troubles affect his outlook on life and his new reality.
“I think any time that you do something, you want to give it everything you have and it’s my new job, it’s my new career, my new future,” Cunningham said. “I think my heart and soul you really want to be able to put into your job and love the task at hand.”
Challenges, at this point, are nothing new to Cunningham. He takes them in stride and overcomes them to the best of his abilities. He keeps his head up and focuses on the task at hand.
His new reality and his way of finally making it to the NHL is going to be a challenge for Cunningham.
But it is one that he is excited for and will embrace.
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