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Professional Spotlight: Craig Cunningham

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - In two seasons with the Providence Bruins, forward Craig Cunningham has never missed a game. The ironman is the only P-Bruin to skate in all 56 games this season, and the only P-B to appear in all 76 games in his first AHL season in 2011-12.

The B's 2010 fourth rounder was known for his durability during his junior career as well, throughout five seasons with the Vancouver Giants (a half a season with the Portland Winterhawks), where he won the Memorial Cup in 2007, with current Bruin Milan Lucic as his captain.

The left wing, who has focused on upping his battle level since being drafted, may attribute the streak to luck, but his durability is certainly a key factor for Providence moving forward.

"Obviously, I’ve been lucky so far. A lot about staying healthy and being able to play every night is about what you do in the summers, and what you do away from the rink, and the way we warmup," said Cunnnigham, on his ironman status.

"I try to play hard in all the dirty areas. I’ve been lucky, very lucky not to have any nagging injuries or big time injuries. Hopefully, I can keep that streak alive."

Giving himself the opportunity to dress in every game, Cunningham has put up steady offensive numbers through his first two seasons in Providence, recording 36 points in 2011-12 off 20 goals and 16 assists in 76 games. Through 20 less games this season, the Trail, British Columbia native has already put up 17 goals and 12 assists for 29 points.

The scoring didn't come as easy in the beginning of the campaign for Cunningham, but his first professional hat trick on Sunday in a 7-1 rout of the Portland Pirates, may give he and his P-Bruins a little extra confidence, especially as the sit atop the Atlantic Division with 71 points.

"It was exciting," said Cunningham. "I think our team has been playing real well lately. I think when everyone around is playing so well, guys are starting to get breaks around the net. Sunday was lucky enough to be my night."

"I kind of slide in a secondary role," said the winger, on his contributions to the B's pipeline. "I think we have our high end skill guys, then we’ve got a lot of support troops on our team."

"Everyone’s been playing their role, and that’s why we’ve been successful," he added, sounding a lot like the players in the big club's dressing room.

Since being drafted by the Bruins 97th overall in 2010, after not being selected in his first draft-eligible year in 2009, the 5-foot-10 winger has been working with the B's staff to improve his game.

"I think the biggest thing for me, personally, is being able to win battles and playing against big, strong defenseman," he said, on what he's been working on. "I’m not the biggest guy."

"I think playing with the pace, sometimes when I’m not slowing the game down or I’m not playing quick, I play slower and it’s not successful for me. Those are the two biggest things, and I’m trying to focus on those things this year. When they tell you to do something, you do it, and it works."

And for Cunningham, having the access in Boston and Providence to take his game to another level has been quite the ride for the 22-year-old.

"They’re an Original Six team. They’re one of the most highly respected teams currently in the NHL. You kind of just watch the way they play and the mentality," he said.

"The guys that they have on their team, it’s all about defense-first, team-first mentality. I think this year it’s really rubbed off on us down here. You watch the success that they have and we kind of play the same system."

Seeing the trickle-down effect from Boston, down I-95, Cunningham is determined to help take the P-B's back to the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008-09.

"Last year, we were learning a little bit, trying to figure out their system. I think this year we’ve done a good job. I think if it works at the NHL level, it should work down here. A lot of guys like Bergeron and Chara, you just watch the way they compete every night. It’s nice to see and be able to follow up on."

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