On Saturday November 19th, Tucson Roadrunners captain Craig Cunningham collapsed during pregame warmups, was given chest compressions on the ice, then transported to Banner-UMC Hospital.
The team postponed their midweek home games in light of the situation as the players continued to recover emotionally.
“I think it was (needed),” right wing Eric Selleck said after Saturday’s game of the decision to postpone those games. “It’s going to make it a little tougher down the stretch because we’re going to make them all up, but we needed this week just to get back to ourselves.”
“Obviously it’s a tough week, but we’re all pros and we handled it the best we could, and we’re looking to move forward and moving ahead,” continued Selleck.
“There was all kinds of emotions,” head coach Mark Lamb said about how his week went. “You have your own emotions, but then you’re dealing with the team. There was a lot of sitting back and watching, talking to a lot of the veterans, and just making sure everything was alright, and I think they showed it.”
Cunningham and Selleck have been playing together in the Arizona Coyotes system for two years now, so this week was especially tough on the veteran right winger.
“He’s one of my best friends in hockey, so we’re praying for him, and that’s it,” Selleck said. “I’ve been there a couple times and saw his family and saw him, so yeah (deep sigh), it’s a tough week, but like I said, we’re gonna get through this.”
“I’m sure they’re like best friends,” coach Lamb added about the two players’ relationship. “Selleck is just like Cunny, they were having great years, and I think it reflects on what type of people they are and what type of leaders they are. I’m happy for it because the young guys, and even myself, they can look to them as great leaders.”
The team had a couple of practices in their week off, including a very light-hearted one on Wednesday.
“Even for practice, you can kind of get out there and forget about it for an hour or two and then do our job,” Selleck said of having that bit of respite from the situation. “We needed to have a little bit of fun and we needed to have a few smiles, so it was an important day, and the guys had a good time which was nice to see.”
“That’s your comfort part,” Lamb added. “When you’re a hockey player, the rink is your comfort zone, it’s kind of like your house, or your big bedroom, or whatever you want to call it. That’s where everyone was comfortable.”
“Then after that it’s the ice,” coach continued. “That’s where you have all your fun. This is where all your dreams are thought of is on the rink, and it was very important to get back on the ice and have some fun with it.”
So a week later, the Roadrunners finally returned to the Tucson Convention Center ice against the Stockton Heat.
Prior to, and during the game, the team had a get well card for all fans to sign.
The team also had a moment of silence prior to the National Anthem for their captain, who according to this report, has yet to regain consciousness since the incident. Team sources say that’s a medical decision that has been made by the doctors to allow Cunningham to recover more smoothly.
But the players said it was pretty much business as usual before the game.
“We were about the same as always,” Selleck stated. “We were battling and we were ready to play.”
“It was pretty regular,” left wing Brendan Perlini added. “The guys were pretty focused and ready to go. I don’t think it was too much different before everything happened.”
“It’s a really tight group,” coach Lamb also said about the team’s mental status heading into Saturday’s game. “I’ve seen it not just this last week, I’ve seen it before that. I’ve seen the team gel; that’s how we’ve come back in a lot of games. It shows a lot of character.”
“There was a little bit of an unknown with how we were going to react and come out and play tonight, but that was answered pretty quick in a positive way,” continued Lamb. “It didn’t surprise me, but I was happy for the guys. I was just behind the bench saying ‘good for you guys’. That’s what it’s all about. We’re back, having fun, and playing hockey.”
“I was really happy with how these guys responded.”
To no one’s surprise, Perlini, who has been the team’s leading goal scorer all year, put Tucson on the board first with a power play goal at the 11:23 mark of the first period.
“I liked how we did come out in the first period,” coach Lamb explained. “I liked our first couple power plays. There was a lot of things I liked, but there was a some rust in our game. That has a lot to do with the time off, and a lot to do with different lines with the call-ups and the injuries and stuff.”
“People were playing different roles and stuff, and I think for the most part, it was a good experience for them.”
Perlini would add a second to put the Roadrunners up 2-0 early in the second period.
“I felt we had a strangle on the game there up two nothing,” said Selleck. “I just think that once we get our stick in their throat there, we just gotta keep going.”
“I think the guys were going pretty well,” Perlini tacked on. “We just gotta get more pucks on net and create more traffic around there.”
That was Perlini’s 10th goal in 12 games, which is now tied for the league lead.
“When I look at how Perlini is developing, and when you’re lucky enough to play with (Chris) Mueller and Cunningham for the first part and get you off to that start, now it creates a lot of confidence,” Lamb said of Perlini’s productive season to this point. “You can see him getting better every day.”
Stockton eventually tied the game at two in the third period, and with 1:58 remaining in regulation, Linden Vey put home a point-blank rebound to give the Heat the lead and eventually the victory.
It was only Tucson’s second regulation loss of the season, and they are now 3-1-0 against Stockton this year.
“A couple of costly mistakes out there cost us the game,” Perlini said. “But there were a lot of positives, and just fix those bad plays there and we should be good.”
“We just kind of got caught out of position, but that stuff happens though,” he continued. “It’s a fast game, and you’re going to get those nights where stuff like that happens.”
“They just got a couple bounces there, couple 3-on-2s that found the back of the net,” Selleck added. “We’ve got ‘em again tomorrow, so hopefully it’s a better outcome.”
The two teams meet again on Sunday in the TCC at 4:05 PM MT.
“We’ll just clean up some parts of our game,” coach Lamb said of Sunday’s gameplan. “It’s always good to take some time off after the game and think about the game. We’ll hit the tape, look at it, make some adjustments, and get ready to play tomorrow.”
Marek Langhamer will start in net for the Roadrunners over Adin Hill, who played on Saturday.