Craig Cunningham is eager to get started in his new role after signing a two-year contract as a professional scout with the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday.
"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my life with the Coyotes," Cunningham said. "I'm very grateful to [general manager] John Chayka, [coach] Dave Tippett, the Coyotes and [Tucson] organizations, and all of the great fans across Arizona for the incredible support I've received over the past year. I'm looking forward to helping the Coyotes, and I can't wait to get started in my new role."
Cunningham, 26, had a heart attack before a game with Tucson, the Coyotes' American Hockey League team, on Nov. 19. He needed advanced medical care, spent time on a ventilator and had the lower part of his left leg amputated. But he recovered enough to skate with a prosthetic leg and with help from teammates and therapists on March 31.
"It's been brutal," Cunningham said. "It's been an incredibly tough challenge, just basic tasks that you never thought would be hard have become hard for me. It's been definitely 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."
Cunningham, a fourth-round pick (No. 97) by the Boston Bruins in the 2010 NHL Draft, had eight points (three goals, five assists) in 63 games with the Bruins and Coyotes.
"I think 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. The Coyotes presented this opportunity and it gives me a chance to stay in the game of hockey and try and help as much as I can.
"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 will stay in Tucson for a few months but is expected to scout the Pacific Division and its AHL affiliates. He will also be involved in player development.
"We're thrilled to have Craig join our hockey operations department as a pro scout," Chayka said. "Craig was a smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game. 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. We look forward to Craig helping us in several areas and are excited that he is staying with the club."
Cunningham said he reached out to a friend from Providence, the Boston Bruins' AHL affiliate, for some advice but plans on using trial and error to get acclimated to his new position.
"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."
He recalled dropping the ceremonial puck at the Coyotes' regular-season finale against the Minnesota Wild on April 8 at Gila River Arena.
"It was great," Cunningham said. "I can't stress enough the amount of support that I've got, not only from the Coyotes, but the fans and people of Arizona have 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 Coyotes organization for everything they've done for me."