The Bruins played their first Thanksgiving night game on the road in Ottawa in almost 70 years on Thursday night and have been unusually busy in recent weeks with an unending glut of games thanks to a compacted NHL schedule.
Normally, this time of year would be harried and stressful with the NHL schedule and family obligations for the Bruins players and coaching staff. There would be little time for personal reflection or spare thoughts.
Still, the Bruins were uncharacteristically reflective, thoughtful and full of raw emotion this week after learning that former teammate Craig Cunningham had collapsed prior to an AHL game in Arizona last weekend. The 26-year-old former fourth-round pick of the Bruins in 2010 was in stable but critical condition when the Arizona Coyotes last updated his condition a couple of days ago. Little is known about what exactly befell the gritty forward.
Kevan Miller played several seasons with Cunningham in Providence and said the news leveled him when he realized just how serious things were for one of his favorite former teammates.
“He’s a good friend of mine and a good teammate that I played with, and somebody that you hate to see something like that happen to,” said Miller, who was understandably emotional talking about one of his good buddies a couple of days after his on-ice incident. “He’s in our thoughts and our prayers for sure right now. You really can’t say enough about him. It might sound cliché at this point, but the guy is top-to-bottom just a great, great person, a great player and a great human being. He’s a good guy and a good friend of mine, and I just hope he pulls through.”
What is known about the kind-hearted Cunningham is the positive impact brought to the table all of the time in his four seasons in the Bruins organization.
He was an affable, easy-going presence in the Bruins dressing room who knew exactly how lucky he was to be playing professional hockey and somebody with an almost gentle way about him despite the downright vicious world that the NHL can be on most nights. Milan Lucic said that Cunningham had always been that way going back to their brief time as junior hockey teammates with the Vancouver Giants. That bonded the two British Columbia natives into close friends that relished their brief time playing together in Boston.
Veteran Bruins forward Brad Marchand didn’t spent that much time actually playing with Cunningham in the NHL, but his friendship with Lucic meant he got to know “Cunny” very well in his time in the organization.
“Cunny is an incredible person. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the good fortune to play with,” said Marchand. “It’s terrible to see what’s happened with him, what he’s had to go through and what his family has had to go through. We’re always talking about him in the room and constantly thinking about him and praying for him. We really hope that he has a good recovery.”
On the ice, Cunningham was a hustling, grinding sort of player who maximized his potential on the way to playing 63 NHL games. He had settled into a veteran role as captain of the AHL Tucson Roadrunners. He is the kind of max-effort player Claude Julien always appreciates. That was the reason why he broke with the NHL team out of training camp 2014-15 while playing 32 games with the Black and Gold that season.
“If you read what’s been written about him, it’s everything that’s already been said: he’s a class act and you really couldn’t find a better individual as far as a teammate and a player,” said Julien. “As far as a coach, on the ice he was somebody that left everything out there. Just a quality, quality person, so there’s no doubt that everybody is a little sensitive to what’s happened to him right now.
“We’re all praying and wishing him well. He was a big part of this organization while he was in Providence, and he was one of our leaders there. When he was with us, I really liked his compete level and obviously Arizona thought the same way about him. It’s sad to hear what’s happened to him, and all we can is pray that he recovers and has a healthy life ahead of him.”
People from all around hockey have chimed in with warm memories of Cunningham as both a quality player and an excellent person who has left an overwhelmingly positive impression in his six-year pro career. Nowhere was that impression better or stronger than in New England, where hockey fans in Boston and Providence are hoping and praying a young man full of life and joy can make a recovery after a truly scary on-ice incident last weekend.