Back From the Brink – Why Craig Cunningham Deserves the Hunt Award

Photo Credit –

 In March, Zack Fisch invited me, along with other members of the media, to participate in this year’s AHL All-Star Voting. It was a tremendous honor. As I sat down to try to figure out who was worthy of being placed on our collective ballot, I quickly realized that there was one problem – we do not see the Western Conference teams outside of ratings, stats, and the All-Star game. However, there was one award, The Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award, that grabbed my immediate attention, as it would for anyone, regardless of geographical location.

The award is given annually to the player who exhibits sportsmanship, determination, and dedication to hockey. Each team nominates a player and then submits a paragraph as to why they feel their player is deserving of the honor. Going through them alphabetically by team (because we have to vote for three players in order of preference), it’s easy to see why hockey just might be the best sport there is. Guys who have, against all odds, earned pro contracts, guys who have been the catalyst for their teams, guys who have devoted countless hours to their communities, and guys who just aren’t ready to quit the sport they love.

It wasn’t until I got to the final page, though, that I truly understood just how great this sport is. You see, on page five, totally out-of-order alphabetically, under Tucson’s paragraph on Cunningham’s remarkable road to recovery, there was a paragraph in italics that noted that the Manitoba Moose, “in lieu of submitting their own nomination” was proud to also nominate Cunningham. Manitoba was in town for that game, the one where Cunningham collapsed before the puck drop. What a magnanimous gesture.


It’s not that other guys aren’t worthy, but on that day, hockey stopped being the end-all, be-all. So many things went right for Cunningham on a day when the most important thing, his life, almost went terribly wrong. It’s well documented that the first responders, who were there for the pregame ceremony we all watch so many times, raced onto the ice and started CPR. Then came the news that part of his left leg had to be amputated on Christmas Eve due to circulation issues. But just this week, he returned to the ice. Yes, four months later, he laced up the skates – CBC-Radio Canada’s article is here.

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Photo Credit – KNXV ABC15 News

It’s nothing against the other teams and their respective nominees, but this guy is just too remarkable NOT to win this award. If his name is not on the top line of every ballot except Tucson’s, it will be shocking (teams are not permitted to vote for their own players).

As we  worked through the ballot, selecting our picks for the 2016-2017 All-Star teams, it became clear that while we were in agreement most of the time (a guy here or guys flipped position wise there), there are so many deserving players and really not enough lines on the ballots. Winners of these awards truly are blessed, because the media members from other teams are the ones who select them. What an honor.

It really didn’t take long. I’m not sure what I expected, but we knocked out our 2016-2017 All-Star Team (3 goalies, 6 defensemen, 3 left-wingers, 3 centers, and 3 right-wingers), the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award ballot (outstanding goaltender), the Eddie Shore Award (outstanding defenseman), Les Cunningham Award (most valuable player), Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award (outstanding head coach), the All-Rookie Team (1 goalie, 2 defensemen, and 3 forwards) and the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award (outstanding rookie) ballots rather quickly while the DVCHC All-Star game was being played on Giant Center ice.

It was a memorable experience, especially since it was my first and I found I agreed on most of the choices with Don Scott, our veteran of such voting. I marked down who we ended up selecting and can’t wait until the awards are announced to see how we did – once a teacher, always a teacher, but I’m pretty sure that Hunt Award should already have a name on it – Craig Cunningham #CunnyCan.

By Julie Beidler

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