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Craig Cunningham excited to make a difference, stay involved with hockey

Former Arizona Coyotes player and Tucson Roadrunners captain Craig Cunningham has kept himself busy in retirement.

The 27-year-old Cunningham may have lost his leg and his professional hockey career — but he could have lost his life.

After he fell on the ice and suffered sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) last November, Cunningham’s life was saved by cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Zain Khalpey.

In light of what he went through, Cunningham said Thursday in an interview on NHL Network, he decided to work with Dr. Khalpey to change the screening process associated with sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

“We’re not only doing it for athletes and the NHL, we would like to do for kids of all ages,” Cunningham said. “You hear stories, there is 12 and 13-year-old kids having cardiac arrest and they’re not sure why. The doctor has some cutting edge technology that we are trying to get approved.”

Cunningham said he and his doctor are in the preliminary phase because of “loopholes and legalities” that need to be addressed.

“I’ve been put in this situation where, like it or not, I kind of have been in the spotlight over this whole situation and it is something I feel is my duty to give back to everyone that helped me get to where I am now,” Cunningham said.

In addition to this venture, Cunningham is in his first season as a pro scout with the Coyotes.

Last year, Cunningham was in training camp trying to make the Coyotes. After a quick turnaround, Cunningham said he is adjusting.

“There’s no question, Nasher (NHL Network’s Tyson Nash) you would know, anytime you are retired you miss playing more than anything,” Cunningham said. “The game of hockey is such an incredible sport, and it gives us a ton of opportunities in a lot of different ways. I am just very thankful to stay in the game. Obviously starting out as a pro scout, but there are a lot of opportunities in the game of hockey. That is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Cunningham also talked about winning the Ace Bailey Award of Courage and meeting NHL legend Mario Lemieux at the NHL Alumni Awards Gala with his mom by his side. 

On meeting Lemieux: “Just a legend of the game. He was kind of the era of guys that I grew up watching. It was just amazing to see a guy that big and that smooth on the ice, and to have the opportunity to meet him was incredible.”

On having his mom there: “It was special. I wouldn’t have wanted to go without her. When you go through a traumatic situation like this, the first people that you lean on are your family. Without family, sometimes there is a dead end and no way out, and you need someone in your corner and my mom has always been the one for me.”

On his health: “My heart is good. There have been no issues with that. They didn’t find anything wrong with it. Everything looks good. It is improving every month. I’ve had four procedures on it now and my last one was during training camp, the 18th of September. I am actually about to go down and see my (doctor) again, and hopefully that is it, I am out of the surgery room and back to normal life. I am just really looking forward to being able to walk again. It has almost been a whole year of being restricted to a lot of mobility.”

On having his jersey retired: “I’ve always tried to fly under the radar throughout my life so far. The whole state of Arizona, the whole Coyotes organization, the whole Roadrunners organization, has been absolutely incredible to me and my family throughout this whole situation. I have always dreamed I would get my jersey retired, obviously for different reasons but it is a special night and I can’t think everyone enough.”

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