Friday night, the Roadrunners honored Craig Cunningham, the Roadrunners first captain in team history by retiring his #14 jersey number. Cunningham suffered a career-ending injury when he went into cardiac arrest prior to a game against the Manitoba Moose last November.
Cunningham Pre-game Interview
When speaking to Craig before the game, he said
“This has been the longest year of my life, no question about that. We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary and its crazy how much can change in a whole year. My life is so different than it used to be at this time last year; last year I was in the locker room, getting ready to go out on the ice, and here I am now”
When asked about what his thoughts were on getting his number retired Cunningham continued
“I think, you know obviously, you wish that your jersey is getting retired because you scored 100 goals, but you know I think it’s really given perspective for me outside of the game of hockey. You know, just how much power you can have as a human being and what you can do and so you know I think its kind of bittersweet that my jersey is going up at 27 [years old]”
“But its a great honor, I know I only played 13 games here but I said this yesterday that Tucson has really felt like home to me. I’ve been in a lot of cities in the last ten years of my life and this is the homiest place I’ve been”
Since his retirement, Craig has taken a job as a scout in the Coyotes Organization as a pro scout. With this new position in mind, I asked him what the biggest change in perspective for him has been in transitioning from being a player to a scout. He replied
“Yeah I mean obviously it’s changed, I see my buddies that are in the game, the guys I played with. And I think that you kind of have to look at the game in a different way, you know before I was out there competing against those guys and trying to get the call-up [to the NHL over them], and now I’m out there watching [the same guys], and saying which guys do I like, which guys do I want on my team. Last year it was which guys am I competing against, and now it’s which guys do I like, you know better than me, that I think can help us out”
His #14 banner was raised to the rafters before the game, after which he dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off and had all players from both teams shake his hand.
The first period was the visiting Iowa Wild’s best period. They largely controlled the pace of the game, creating many scoring chances off of odd-man rushes. The play of Tucson goaltender Marek Langhamer, the second star of the night, was superb in the opening period, stopping all 9 of the Wild’s shots.
Tied 0-0 at the start of the second period, the Roadrunners gradually started taking control of the game in the second. Both teams got time on the powerplay, with the Roadrunners failing to convert on two powerplays and the Wild failing to capitalize on their lone powerplay. Lane Pederson’s first goal as a Roadrunner would finally break the scoreless tie with just 2:30 remaining in the second, giving Tucson a 1-0 lead heading into the third.
The third period, was by far Tucson’s best period of the game as they scored three goals and outshot the Wild 9-8. Nick Merkley, the 30th overall selection in the 2015 draft would score two goals for the Roadrunners, giving them a commanding 3-0 lead 6:49 in. Down three, Iowa made one final push, pulling their goalie with more than four minutes remaining in the game.
This would allow Tucson’s Tyler Gaudet to seal the deal with an empty net goal, putting Tucson up 4-0. Just 42 seconds after Gaudet’s empty net goal, the Wild’s Colton Beck would spoil Langhamer’s shutout, leaving the final score at 4-1 Tucson on a special night for the entire Coyotes organization.
Langhamer, Merkley, Strome and Head Coach Mike Van Ryn’s postgame comments
The game was a bit of a disappointing night for Tucson goaltender Marek Langhamer in the sense that he was just 2:06 away from getting a shutout. When sharing his thoughts on the game and his performance Langhamer remarked
“I thought in the first period we didn’t play our best game, but I think we turned it around in the third period, which made it a little easier for me. But obviously we are happy with the two points. [The shutout] doesn’t really matter to me, all I really care about is [the win] and the two points.
Nick Merkley was also asked his general thoughts on the game and his two-goal performance.
“I think we are kind of rolling now, and kind of have a team identity right now. It’s nice to see that and hopefully, we can do it again tomorrow. (When talking about his linemates) Lawson [Crouse] and [Dylan] Strome did a really good job tonight and were having good talks and making good plays and I was really just lucky to be on their line tonight. I’m getting the offensive time out there and the opportunities I’m getting are huge and yeah its nice to have that be apart of my game”
When asked about his thoughts on the Craig Cunningham ceremony and the push it gave the Roadrunners, Merkley said
“It was a big ceremony for the team, and a lot of guys [on the current Roadrunners roster] got to play with him last year. I kind of knew him growing up. My parents were good friends with his parents, so it was a nice ceremony and I think we played with that emotion tonight”
Every since Dylan Strome was sent down by the Coyotes, he has made the most of his time here in Tucson, putting up 6 points in 5 games this season. When asked about what has really helped him thrive with the Roadrunners he said
“I’ve just been a little more confident, had a little more opportunity and had more chances to play. So I’m getting comfortable feeling the puck again and I’m having fun, you know it’s fun winning. We got a great group of guys down here, we work hard in practice and I think it shows in the games. We’re playing great defensive hockey. I mean knock on wood, we’ve only let in 4 or 5 goals in the 5 games I’ve played so we’re working hard and its showing out there”
When coach Mike Van Ryn was asked his thoughts on the win and the retirement ceremony he remarked
“I think the organization did a great job with the ceremony, it was nice to see such a great game and the honors tonight. So kudos to them, it was really good. I thought our first [period] wasn’t great, definitely way too many odd man rushes, in the second it got a little better and in the third [period] I feel like we played how we know we can. So you know I was happy, its tough to come off of [a long road trip] and come back and have a good performance. Stats go well in the visiting team’s favor after a long road trip, so I was proud of our guys that we got it going and hopefully we can follow it up tomorrow”
The Roadrunners look to improve to 5-1-1 when they play another game against the Wild tonight.