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Craig Cunningham skates again, drops puck in Arizona

Former Coyotes player who nearly died in November returns to ice

by Jerry Brown / NHL.com Correspondent

Coyotes honor Cunningham

MIN@ARI: Craig Cunningham drops the ceremonial puck

Craig Cunningham, who collapsed prior to a Tucson Roadrunners game earlier this season, drops the puck at the Coyotes' season finale

  • 03:22 •

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Eight days ago, Craig Cunningham made his return to the ice with the help of his Tucson Roadrunners teammates. Saturday morning, he was on the ice for the fourth time. And he was doing crossover strides.

"I'm not as fast as I used to be," the 26-year-old said. "It's kind of hard to skate without an ankle, but they have made the correct adjustments. Hockey has been my whole life since I was 3 years old, and to say that I miss it every single minute of every day is an understatement."

Cunningham collapsed on the ice before a Roadrunners game in the American Hockey League on Nov. 19 with acute cardiac arrest caused by a condition known as ventricular fibrillation. Emergency personnel kept him alive with 85 minutes of CPR. Cunningham had to have part of his left leg amputated on Christmas Eve.

But tell him he can't do something and watch him go.

Tweet from @goldencanuck: Craig Cunningham on the ice at Gila River Arena today. Amazing. Inspiring. pic.twitter.com/8PL5bSegsH

Cunningham was back at Gila River Arena on Saturday, where he dropped the ceremonial first puck before the Arizona Coyotes played the Minnesota Wild, receiving an outpouring of love from his former teammates and a standing ovation from fans.

"It's been a long journey," Cunningham said. "I hoped I would be walking into this building with my (hockey) bag. But I realize that I'm lucky to be here. Between Tucson and Phoenix fans and the whole hockey world, the support I've gotten has just been incredible.

"It's been an indescribable couple of months. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, it's been tough. I used to think the season got long and was a bit of a grind, but it can't compare to everyday life. It feels so long ago that I was in a hospital bed with 10 different IVs in me trying to reach for my phone and not being able to."

Doctors said his recovery is at a great pace and is coming along smoothly. He was 160 pounds when he left the hospital and is now at 185. He's back in the gym, and now back on the ice.

"[Doctors] still don't know what caused the accident or what happened," he said. "I've probably had about a thousand blood tests."

After two months in the hospital, a stint in a rehab facility and weeks in outpatient rehab, his independence is returning and he's hopeful a job with the Coyotes organization is on the horizon.

"I'd like to start [scouting] back in Calgary," Cunningham said. "I know the area and I'd like to help the organization that has been so incredible to me."

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