Roadrunners to retire jersey of captain who collapsed on ice

Roadrunners to retire jersey of captain who collapsed on ice

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The image most Tucsonans remember of Craig Cunningham is the view of him lying prone on the Tucson Convention Center ice.

The images Craig Cunningham has in his memory are the joyous, but short time he played for the Roadrunners as the team's captain.

"I was hardly here. I played 13 games and maybe only 6 or 7 of them were at home here," Cunningham said.

But the image of Craig Cunningham people see now is of a hockey player not able to take the ice the way he once did. He's now the hockey player forced to watch the game he loves, and lived for more than 20 years, from a distance.

"I mean, I love to watch hockey. I even loved to watch when I played. So it's been good. It doesn't feel like a real job, which is fun. I think that's the kind of job you want," he told Tucson News Now, talking about his new job as a pro hockey scout.

Cunningham got the job in May 2017 working for the Arizona Coyotes, the Roadrunners NHL parent club. It's a job he accepted after he knew his playing career was over.

Hockey is all he's ever known since he was 4 or 5 years old, Cunningham explained.

When asked what 10-year-old Craig would say to now-27-year-old Craig about being a scout, Cunningham said he would've hoped he'd still be playing.

"It's been a whirlwind, coming up on almost a year now (since the collapse). Still fighting to get back healthy. Never thought my career would end at the tender age of 26. I always envisioned playing as long as my body would hold up. Obviously my body didn't hold up as long as I hoped, and I had to move on."

Rather than moving on, Cunningham moved in.

He said he bought his first-ever home in southern Arizona, and travels about 10-12 days a month with his job, watching teams and players throughout the country.

Southern Arizonans have rolled out the welcome mat - even for a player who only played about half a dozen games on the home ice.

"It's hard to describe, but everywhere I go people are super supportive and not in a rude or nosy way," he said. "They really make me feel here at home. The support from people that I don't even know in the state has been incredible. Obviously, my doctors are here, and my medical team. I'm very, very comfortable being around them and in their care. It's a great place."

Craig admits he's growing tired of the publicity and media attention, but knows it gives him an opportunity to raise awareness for what he and others are going through.

"I think it's been good because it's raised a lot of awareness about cardiac events and people that are living with disabilities and amputations don't always get put in the spotlight," he explained. "I'm working out with my doctors and trying to raise awareness and raise cardiac screening. Sometimes it's a pain in the butt getting in front of the camera and talking all the time, but people listen."

Yet, in a place where his horrific collapse is still a lasting image for family, fans, and friends, the Roadrunners will still honor the short time they had with their former captain.

"Everyone dreams of making the NHL and getting your jersey retired somewhere because you scored 1,000 goals or something like that. Obviously, it's pretty crazy circumstances and just to kind of think back on everything that's happened over the last year, I am pretty proud that I was able to get through this situation. It's humbling and definitely honoring for them to do that for me."

He's just glad he's here to see it.

MOBILE USERS: Download our app on your Apple and Android devices.

Copyright 2017 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.