GLENDALE, Ariz. â€” Craig Cunningham skated across the Gila River Arena ice, quickly stickhandling as made a wide-arcing turn. He fired the puck against the sideboards and looked down at his skates, scissoring them forward and back to get a feel for the ice.
“I’m not as fast as used to be, but it went well,” Cunningham said before the Arizona Coyotes game against Minnesota on Saturday night. “It’s kind of hard to skate without an ankle, there’s a lot of things going on, but I made the correct adjustments and things seem to be going well.”
That Cunningham is skating at all is close to a miracle.
Just five months ago, the 26-year-old captain of the Tucson Roadrunners, the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, was fighting for his life after collapsing on the ice during pregame warm-ups.
Medical personnel performed CPR on Cunningham as his stunned teammates and opposing players looked on. The game was cancelled and Cunningham was raced to hospital, kept alive by 85 minutes of CPR and a series of advanced medical procedures to get his heart beating.
Cunningham had to have part of his left leg amputated and has gone through an arduous rehabilitation, but returned to Gila River Arena Saturday to be honoured and drop the ceremonial puck before the game.
“I hope I don’t fall; a little nervous,” Cunningham said.
He did just fine, receiving a loud ovation as he walked out to centre ice to drop the puck in front of Coyotes captain Shane Doan.
Cunningham skated on the Coyotes’ home ice earlier in the day, his fourth time since he first started skating with the Roadrunners for the first time eight days ago.
Cunningham has started working out again, putting on nearly 25 pounds since leaving the hospital while continuing to adjust to life without his lower left leg.
“Doctors told me everything coming along smoothly,” Cunningham said. “They still don’t know the cause of the accident, what happen; the test have been normal. I’m moving along at a good pace, but it feels long to me. Every day feels a little bit longer and I have more to do, but the doctors have been right in my back pocket all along to make sure everything goes smooth.”
Cunningham plans to head back to his hometown near Calgary and will likely take up the Coyotes’ offer to work for the organization, likely as a scout at first.
“I’d like to be the owner, but we’re not quite there yet,” Cunningham joked. “But to start, I’d like to go back to the Calgary area where I’m from and start scouting, help the organization from a different standpoint.”
John Marshall, The Associated Press