MONTREAL - When Brendan Gallagher watched the recently released Instagram clip of his good buddy Craig Cunningham skating in Southern California, he couldn't help but smile.
Like the rest of the hockey world, the Canadiens' assistant captain has cheered Cunningham on during his extraordinary recovery effort.
On November 19, 2016, a 26-year-old Cunningham collapsed and went into sudden cardiac arrest prior to a game in Tuscon, AZ. His heart stopped for 83 minutes, but the combined efforts of local first responders and medical personnel ultimately saved his life.
Just over a month later, part of Cunningham's left leg was amputated due to circulatory issues related to the cardiac arrest.
And he's been valiantly battling his way back ever since.
"I know he's been working really hard at that and that means a lot for him, getting on the ice and skating. It's pretty cool to see him out there," said Gallagher, who was a teammate of Cunningham's for three seasons with the WHL's Vancouver Giants. "It's also pretty cool to see all the comments from people that maybe didn't get the chance to know him. That's pretty much who he is, works hard at everything he does."
The Instagram footage shows Cunningham sporting a remarkable prosthetic, skating around with ease and looking smooth on his edges.
Gallagher isn't at all surprised to see the progress the former NHLer has made over the last two-plus years.
"People that know Cunner, he calls it 'The All Heart Foundation.' That's really what he was as a hockey player. He had as much heart as anyone on the ice. He competed, he grinded, he worked for everything he got. Even his story before turning pro, he scored zero goals as a 16-year-old and then he ended up being our leading scorer when he left the Western Hockey League," explained Gallagher. "He had to work his tail off for everything he had, and he goes through what he goes through with the heart attack and losing his leg. The only thing he really knows what to do is to work hard at it and he's working himself into a position here where he's inspiring a lot of people."
One of those people Cunningham has personally affected is Gallagher himself.
"He's a big part of who I am as a person and as a hockey player as well. He helped me out a lot. He's a pretty special person to know," praised Gallagher, who sees Cunningham during the offseason back home in British Columbia. "There aren't a lot of people that would be able to handle what he's done and handle it so well, so it definitely puts a smile on your face when you're able to see stuff like that."
The fact that they're longtime friends doesn't mean that the Canadiens' No. 11 isn't going to chirp Cunningham at every opportunity.
In fact, Gallagher singled out one area of concern in Cunningham's skill set.
"He tried to skate backwards in the video. That was about as good as he could skate backwards when he played the game, too," joked Gallagher, alluding to Cunningham's self-deprecating comment at the end of the clip. "A lot of guys are letting him know that, but he looks good out there."
All kidding aside, though, Gallagher is thrilled to see Cunningham continue to persevere and prevail.
"It puts a lot of things in perspective. He played enough NHL games, but he was right there knocking on the door to potentially play a lot more," said Gallagher, referencing Cunningham's 63 appearances with Boston and Arizona combined. "To have your life change like that, as quickly as it did, he's taken every opportunity he's gotten from it. He's still working within the game. He's looking at different ways to stay involved and there's different options for him. I think he's still trying to figure out which option will be best for him going forward, but he's staying in the game [as a pro scout with the Coyotes] and it's good to see."
To learn more about The All Heart Foundation, which promotes smart screening to prevent sudden cardiac arrest, click here.