Craig Cunningham has waited his entire life to get his NHL shot, and he played like it on Tuesday night for the Boston Bruins.
The energy forward debuted in the B’s 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night and didn’t look out of place while skating around with Gregory Campbell and Jordan Caron in a fourth-line role. He made the most of his chances with four shots on net in 8:16 of ice time, and has learned how to play both bottom-six and top six-roles while skating the last two years in the AHL with the Providence Bruins.
The best compliment one could give Cunningham, wearing No. 61 in his first game with the Bruins as Matt Fraser was scratched from the lineup, was that he didn’t look a bit out of place after getting rid of the butterflies. He has enough offensive ability to get his shot off at the NHL level, and has improved his skating enough to keep up with the faster pace while also not being one to shy away from the physical element despite a stature that’s more Marchand than McQuaid.
“It was nice to get the first one out of the way. I was a little nervous my first shift,” said Cunningham, who's listed at 5-foot-10, 184 pounds. “The pace is a little quicker than in the American League but after my first shift I thought I settled in.
“I think there are a lot of guys getting opportunities right now and they don’t come around everyday. You don’t want to look back on your opportunity and think, ‘Why didn’t I do enough, I didn’t do enough.’ So all those guys that are here right now are just living day to day, and hopefully playing well enough to stay up.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien called it a “real good effort” from Cunningham after some early jitters, and the fourth-round pick in the 2010 clearly is just living the dream playing alongside his Vancouver buddy Milan Lucic, and one of his boyhood heroes in Jarome Iginla.
“It’s unbelievable. I said earlier today, I’ve been watching [Jarome] Iginla play since I was ten years old,” said Cunningham. “He’s been a guy that I’ve always really looked up to, and it’s been great being in the room with all these guys. Everyone makes you feel welcome and it’s a real family here.”
Cunningham is officially part of the family after suiting up, and getting his first NHL game under his belt in a winning effort Tuesday night.