Perspective was a word often used when members of the Reign were asked to speak about Craig Cunningham.
Both Paul Bissonnette and Brett Sutter had trained with the Roadrunners captain in the summer. T.J. Hensick doesn’t know Cunningham well but said he’s “played against him quite a bit.”
The news of Cunningham collapsing on the ice prior to Saturday’s game against Manitoba has devastated the hockey community and is hitting home with everyone involved in the sport.
When the news started to unfold last weekend many of the Reign players were getting together for a dinner.
“We just saw something about the game being delayed and then cancelled,” Sutter recalled. “Right away we started texting people that we knew on that team and trying to get details. … We were all together when we found out.”
“Obviously it’s tragic and extremely heartbreaking to hear the news,” Hensick said. “[I’m] pretty good friends with Chris Mueller, who’s on Tucson, so I texted him right away just to see he could give some updates. At the time that I texted him there wasn’t much to give other than he had collapsed on the ice and they were waiting to hear test results at the hospital. Obviously you never want to hear that happen to anyone. It’s a scary moment.
“You can think back to other guys that have had situations [like that]. I’m from Michigan so I remember the Jiri Fischer incident in Detroit. Luckily, I think in the NHL and the American Hockey League do a tremendous job of having medical attention availability ASAP whenever anything happens like that. Reading an article yesterday about him and his mom being at the game and learning that his father had passed, I think they said 20 years ago, it’s been obviously very hard on their family. All we can do is wish and put him in our prayers and hope that he fights through this. It’s terrible. The hockey world is a pretty small community, so you try and stick together as much as you can and I think every team, whether it’s American League, NHL, East Coast League, is just pulling for him and hoping we hear some good news soon.”
The support from the hockey community has been swift. Players like Milan Lucic have tweeted out words of encouragement and the Roadrunners have developed the hashtag #CunnyCan. Even as an opponent, Cunningham’s connections to the Reign are proof of the sport’s tight bonds across all barriers.
“I skated with him before training camp this year and I think even the summer before. I just talked to him a little bit. Obviously he was a super nice guy, fairly quiet until you got to know him. I keep in touch with a lot of guys from Phoenix and they have wonderful things to say about him as well,” said Bissonnette, who played most of his NHL career with the Coyotes. “If you looked at Twitter, every guy who’s played with him came out and said something. … Doesn’t have to be the nicest guy, if it happens to anyone it’s devastating, but when someone has that big of an impact on his team and people he’s hanging around with, obviously it hits home.”
Hensick called Cunningham “one of the hardest working guys on the ice,” a leader who does the little things right. The Roadrunners are in their first season and Cunningham was voted team captain by his peers.
“He seems like he’s having a great time out there, too,” Hensick said. “I assume you put all those variables together and that equals a really good guy in the locker room. The fact that the whole team went to the hospital to make sure he was all right, that shows a lot about where he stands in their minds and their hearts.”
For Sutter, he got to know Cunningham just briefly this past offseason but called him “a great guy, a great kid.”
“Played with a lot of guys who have played with him and they just talked about the kind of person he is and the kind of competitor and teammate he is,” Sutter said. “We’re all pulling for him. He’s weighing heavy on everyone’s minds right now. Just hope the best.”
The latest reports have Cunningham in critical, but stable condition. The Roadrunners’ scheduled games for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week against San Diego have been postponed by the AHL as the team copes.
Details are slim on Cunningham’s condition and what caused him to collapse, but those slim facts instill fear and they’ve made their way into the Ontario dressing room.
“It’s big news. It’s scary news. It’s something that we’ve talked to the trainers about here,” Hensick said. “We want to know more details, if there’s something that may have triggered it. If it’s something that we can prevent. It’s a scary incident obviously. From what we’ve heard he was in great shape, no previous stuff, which is even more scary. Makes it so unexpected. It’s a huge topic in the locker room when you hear something of that magnitude and that bad of news it’s tough not to talk about it. Each day we come in and hope somebody heard something that’s positive.”
Added Bissonnette: “I don’t know if it’s relative to just the fact how much strain we put our bodies through or if it’s inherited, but it’s one of those scary things where it puts everything in perspective. Things like that happen every once in a while and you think, ‘man, that could be anyone. That could be one of our teammates.'”
But more so than anything else the concern is for Cunningham, and Cunningham alone.
“This goes beyond hockey. This is life,” head coach Mike Stothers said. “I don’t know him at all but certainly feel for him and his family and what they’re going through. Don’t even know a lot of the details but it shakes you. He’s 26 years old, he’s a well-conditioned athlete. … It just goes to show you and puts it in perspective how precious life is. Don’t take anything for granted.
“We hope he has a full recovery and is able to move on but right now the uncertainty of it all puts everybody a little concerned and on edge.”