– With 41 games under his belt in Providence, Craig Cunningham
is well into his first professional season in Black & Gold.
However, like any first year player, Cunningham is dealing with the new realities that come with progressing from junior hockey to the AHL.
“I didn‟t realize how tough the league really is and how tight it is," said Cunningham , selected by the Boston Bruins as a 97th pick overall in the 2010 NHL entry draft. "It takes a bit of time to adjust, but slowly I am adjusting and trying to get better each day.”
The British Columbia native spent his junior career with the Vancouver Giants and Portland Winterhawks in the WHL before becoming a P-Bruin in September.
Cunningham certainly made his mark in Vancouver. As a captain for the Giants, Cunningham was first on the team in scoring, and 6th in the league during the 2009-10 season.
After being traded to Portland last season, Cunningham quickly became a fan favorite, receiving the nickname “The Hamster.”
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound player earned the nickname because of his feisty spirit and leadership qualities on the ice, but his stature probably fueled the moniker as well.
Noting his size, Cunningham said he‟s worked hard to make improvements to his game.
“The biggest thing for me is being small and trying to get quicker everyday and trying to keep the same strength I have [in order to] be able to play against bigger guys,” he said.
Thus far, that hasn't been an issue for Cunningham, and he has contributed seven goals and added seven assists for a total of 14 points in his rookie AHL season. But the 21-year-old says his first season with Providence continues to be a learning experience.
“I think obviously it‟s a new learning curve when I‟m a junior and it‟s your first year pro,” said Cunningham. “It‟s been a lot of fun so far and I‟m just trying to keep my eyes open every day and learn from the older guys. Those guys are really going to benefit you”
Another mentor for Cunningham has become former junior teammate, Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic
. They were both on the Giants in the 2006-07 Memorial Cup championship season.
“He‟s only 23 years old and he‟s already won a Memorial Cup and a Stanley Cup and he‟s established himself as a very good NHLer," said Cunningham. "I think being able to be around him and work out with him and just to see how far he‟s come since juniors - it‟s just cool to see.”
Also cool was when Lucic lent a helping hand when Cunningham was stranded in New England after missing his flight home for the Holidays.
“I kind of just called him and said, 'Hey, I can‟t get home' and he welcomed me into his place with open arms,” Cunningham said. “I spent 4 days in Boston there with him.
"It was my first Christmas away from home, but it was nice to able to spend it with a guy that I knew growing up and I knew for a long time.”
Being able to watch Lucic grow into what he has become today drives the Providence player to someday achieve that same thing in his own career.
“It makes you want to push yourself and turn and, hopefully, one day be in his position,” he said. ---Elisabeth Flynn