It’s barely been two months since Tucson Roadrunners captain Craig Cunningham’s heart stopped on the Tucson Convention Center ice during pregame warmups, but a lot certainly has happened since then.
Cunningham, who underwent innovative, risky, life-saving procedures at Banner-University Medical Center to be “miraculously” alive at this point, made his way back to TCC on Saturday for the first time since the incident.
Before the game, he was taking in pregame warmups from where the Roadrunners take the ice, then made his way into the locker room for a little bit, even sitting in the locker that has remained vacant since that fateful night.
“We obviously didn’t know he was coming in, so it was pretty cool to see him in here,” right wing Christian Fischer said. “Anytime we see him, our spirits are pretty high. Just to see him smiling, give him a little tribute too, it’s just amazing to see this huge comeback from where he came from.”
“It brings up a lot of emotions for everyone,” right wing Stefan Fournier explained. “Everyone’s obviously seen Craig throughout the process, but for a lot of us it was great to just see him around the rink and get his smile and hear him laugh before the game. I thought it was awesome.”
“That was awesome,” added defenseman Jarred Tinordi. “I didn’t know he was coming in, but we’ve been seeing him lots and he seems to be doing a lot better. We were waiting on him to get out of that ICU, and once he did, I think his spirits lifted a bit.”
“That stall’s been empty ever since it happened,” Tinordi continued about seeing Cunningham sit in his locker. “To see him back sitting in there was awesome. It’s been such a journey, I can’t imagine what it’s been like for him or his family, but we couldn’t be happier to have him back.”
“It was great to see him there,” head coach Mark Lamb tacked on. “Just too bad we couldn’t start him.”
The Roadrunners captain then made his way to the top of section 224 with the team’s scratched players for the night, along with general manager Doug Soetaert, to take in the game.
It certainly gave the team a little extra pep in their step, jumping out to a 3-0 lead on the Texas Stars in the first period.
“It was good for our team,” left wing Hunter Fejes said afterwards. “Everyone was happy to see him in the locker room, and I think that’s why we had the great first period that we did. He’s our captain, and he’ll be our captain for the rest of the year.”
“We wanted to play well for him,” added Tinordi.
“We played a really good first period for him,” Lamb continued. “I think the guys were excited to see him. I know I was, and I know the coaching staff was. He told me he’s still fast, which is great. But yeah, I think it gave us some life.”
Cunningham was recognized during the second media timeout of the opening period, receiving a standing ovation from the Tucson fans.
He remained up there throughout the night, as he and his mom were greeted by fans throughout the rest of the game.
The Roadrunners went on to win the game 3-2, and extend their winning streak to three games.
They’ll have two more games this week to close out the five-game homestand. Tucson hosts the Ontario Reign on Monday and Wednesday starting at 7:05 PM MT. Ontario is currently leading the Pacific Division, and Tucson is tied for second, so it’s a couple of crucial games for this team.