BostonBruins.com — Through the eyes of many teammates, Craig Cunningham has seen what it takes to make it through the AHL ranks of Providence, up I-95 to 93, and to the TD Garden.
No toll is required, but there is a certain price to pay — a hockey commitment — in order to earn the right to wear Black & Gold in Boston.
Cunningham, 22, understands that commitment and is working hard to amplify the skill set that brought him to the pro game from juniors, all while incorporating the Bruins edict of being "hard to play against."
"It’s pretty tough to be a top six forward in the NHL," Cunningham told bostonbruinsTV after practicing Wednesday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Rhode Island.
However Cunningham added that the ability to score, and be "a pain in the side of a lot of guys" that goes a long way in getting yourself recognized.
Still, as Cunningham while is looking to refine his role, he said its important that the other elements of his game not lag behind.
As such, Craig scored in the P-Bruins opening weekend on a tip-in when he drove hard to the net with his stick on the ice.
It was that play, and that effort, that Providence Head Coach Bruce Cassidy referenced when talking about Cunningham.
"He goes to the net well, both his goals this year have been center lane drive," Cassidy said. "We try to tell some of our guys that aren’t 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds that they have to be tenacious on pucks, and second and third effort, because they might not win that battle the first time.
"[Cunningham] has bought into that. He recognizes that’s something he needs to do."
Cassidy and the P-Bruins are focused on both developing players, and winning AHL games. But Cassidy praised Cunningham’s ability to work with the coaches, and said it will put the forward on the fast track in terms of his progression.
"He’s got a good nose for the net, he’s got a good release, he works on it every day, but he also recognizes that it’s another level in the NHL," Cassidy said. "I like his path right now, and that’s a good attitude to have.
"If those guys know every day they’ve got to get better in practice, and they’re not just using it to punch the clock, I really believe they’re going to get ahead faster than the guy beside them if he’s just going out there...not really competing hard, every time, in practice."
Cunningham was in the middle of the action during the P-Bruins two wins this past weekend, when he scored a crucial goal to tie up the contest in the first period of Saturday’s tilt against Springfield, before Providence went on to win 3-1.
But a humble Cunningham was quick to credit the team’s approach to its recent success.
"If you look, our forecheck is a lot better," Cunningham said. "We’re hunting pucks, we’re recovering pucks, and we’re getting them to the net.
"Both goals that I’ve got have kind of just been around the net, been a bounce, and there they are."