GLENDALE -- Craig Cunningham officially began his new career on Wednesday when the Coyotes announced they'd signed him to a two-year contract as a Pro Scout.
"Craig was a smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game," Coyotes General Manager John Chayka said as part of the announcement. "We're confident that he will bring those same qualities to the Coyotes in his new role and that he will be an invaluable asset to our organization."
Cunningham, 26, suffered a major cardiac arrest before a game with the Tucson Roadrunners last Nov. 19. The American Hockey League team's captain collapsed during warm-ups and emergency medical personnel worked feverishly to save his life. He spent the next few months in a Tucson hospital, where doctors eventually removed the lower portion of his left leg.
"It's been brutal," Cunningham said of his recovery. "It's been an incredibly tough challenge. Basic tasks that you never thought would be hard have become hard for me. It's been a difficult experience but things are really moving along for me now. I'm up and running and walking and working out, getting back to feeling like myself."
The Coyotes have hired Cunningham to scout Pacific Division teams in the NHL and AHL, and to help develop young players within the organization. Recently, he attended Hockey Operations Department meetings to get a sense of his new role.
"It's going to be a bit of a learning process for me to start," Cunningham said. "I think everyone kind of has their own philosophy for ways of doing things, and you kind of have to figure it out yourself as you go … I think I'm ready for it. I've been around pro hockey now for six years playing, and I think you learn a lot about, while you're playing, how the business side of it works. I'm excited about the opportunity ahead. It's a great way for me to stay involved in hockey, and it's something else for me to strive and push forward for."
Cunningham is grateful to the Coyotes for this opportunity. He first joined the team in 2015 when they claimed him off waivers from the Boston Bruins. He played 29 games for the Coyotes at the NHL level, and 63 NHL games overall.
"Laying in that hospital bed a couple months back, (I didn't) really know what the future held for me, what I was going to do," Cunningham said. "The Coyotes presented this opportunity and it gives me a chance to stay in the game of hockey … It's obviously not exactly what I had hoped to be doing at this time, but things happen in life. I think this is the next step for me, and I'm hoping that I can bring a lot to the table and try to help improve the organization as much as I can."
Cunningham appears to be approaching his new gig with the same drive that helped him reach team captain status in the AHL last season.
"Any time you do something you want to give it everything that you have," Cunningham said. "It's my new job and it's my new career, my new future. I think your heart and soul, you really want to put it into your job and love the task at hand. I haven't experienced it yet but I'm hoping I'll love it and have a great passion for it and provide some helpful insight."
Coyotes fans last saw Cunningham on April 8 when they gave him a standing ovation after he dropped the ceremonial first puck for the season finale vs Minnesota at Gila River Arena.
"That was great," Cunningham said. "I can't stress enough the amount of support that I've got, not only from the Coyotes, but from the fans and people of Arizona. They've done an amazing amount of things for me to get to this point. It was great to get out there (with Coyotes captain Shane Doan and former Coyotes center Martin Hanzal) and walk out in front of the crowd. It was a very humbling experience to get that amount of support and I'm forever grateful for the people of Arizona and the Coyotes organization for everything they've done for me."