British Columbia

Craig Cunningham back on the ice with prosthetic leg months after pre-game collapse

Former Giants captain Craig Cunningham says he won't be playing hockey anymore and is adapting to his new reality after a cardiac arrest and infection that led to an amputation.

Former Vancouver Giants captain says recovery was 'miraculous'

Craig Cunningham skated for the first time in five months on March 31 with a little support from former teammate Conor Garland from the Tucson Roadrunners. (Chris Hook/Tucson Roadrunners)

A former captain of the Vancouver Giants is back on the ice for the first time in five months after going into full cardiac arrest before a game. 

Craig Cunningham had to have his left leg amputated after he collapsed just before a November home game. 

On Friday, he donned a prosthetic leg for a morning skate aided by physical therapists and former teammates from the American Hockey League's Tucson Roadrunners.

"I forgot how hard it was to skate," he said with a chuckle.  "I was happy to get back out there but also, [it was] a little bit of a dagger — remembering how I used to skate to how I feel now."

Craig Cunningham laced up for the first time wearing his prosthetic leg after suffering a medical emergency on the ice in November 2016. (Chris Hook/Tucson Roadrunners)

Quick thinking medical professionals are credited with the dramatic rescue that saved the 26-year old's life.

He says he initially struggled with short term memory loss, but has worked hard to recover.

"I actually came out with a pretty miraculous recovery ... I might even be smarter now than I used to be," he joked.

Cunningham says doctors still don't know what caused his heart to suddenly fail.

Adapting to new reality

About a month into his hospital stay, doctors told him they needed to amputate his leg to prevent an infection from spreading into his bloodstream and affecting his heart.

Cunningham, 26, says he feels he's only about a quarter of the way to feeling normal again.

"It's been hard," he said about adapting to his new reality.

"Just remembering that if you wake up in the middle of the night having to go to the bathroom, that you do only have one leg and you can't just step out of bed."

The Trail, B.C. native says an outpouring of support from the hockey community, including his former NHL clubs the Arizona Coyotes and Boston Bruins, have helped him through his roller-coaster of emotions. 

Craig Cunningham, pictured at Arizona Coyotes training camp, says he struggled with memory loss and mental focus after his cardiac arrest. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Last Saturday, his team honoured him with #CunnyDid game night where he dropped the ceremonial puck.

He brought along his mom, a single-mother who raised him after his father died when he was still in grade school

"You have turned a horrific nightmare into an incredible journey that we will continue to travel," she told the arena filled with fans.

Job offer from Arizona Coyotes

Despite the challenges, Cunningham says he is pushing through and Friday's skate was another step forward.

He plans on taking a scouting job with the Arizona Coyotes next year, which he sees as an opportunity for him to stay in hockey.

As for whether he'll ever play again in some form, he says as much as he misses the game, right now it's a decisive "no."

"I don't really feel like I'm a men's league kind of player," he said, preferring to explore the coaching and player development side of hockey.

"I guess we'll see, you don't really know what the future's going to hold for me."