July 14, 2011

Cunningham, McKelvie sign deals with B’s

By Kirk Luedeke

The Boston Bruins announced Thursday that forward Craig Cunningham and defenseman Zach McKelvie (pictured right) agreed to terms.

Cunningham singed a three-year entry level contract with Boston a little more than a year after the team took a flyer on him as an overage player in the WHL. McKelvie, 26, signed a one-year, two-way pact.

Cunningham, 20, is a native of Trail, B.C. and was acquired by Boston with the 97th overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He signed with the Bruins after exhausting his junior eligibility this past season split between the Vancouver Giants and Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. A source told New England Hockey Journal that Cunningham signed a standard two-way ELC valued at approximately $650,000 per season if he plays in the NHL.

“It’s only been two years for him, but he’s improved his strength, he’s improved in all his testing,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said via conference call. “He went back and he played as an overage in the Western League, and he did well with a real good team, Portland, and he’s just a guy, he has a real, complete game.”

Cunningham began the season as the captain of the Vancouver Giants, but was approached by the team in late December and asked if he would be willing to accept a trade elsewhere.

“I was very happy in Vancouver and it was the only place I had played (in the WHL),” Cunningham told New England Hockey Journal during development camp last week. “They asked me if I would be willing to go to Portland. It was tough to leave, but at the same time, Portland had a great team and I had an opportunity to compete for a WHL championship, so it all worked out pretty well.”

Cunningham finished the year with 27 goals and 87 points in 71 WHL games with the Giants and Winterhawks, where he centered a line with Sven Bartschi and Ty Rattie. In 21 postseason games, Cunningham scored seven markers and 21 points.

“You know, [Cunningham] has to get a little bit stronger, although that’s improved, a little bit quicker,” Chiarelli said. “But I guess it’s fitting we sign him at the same time we sign Adam [McQuaid], he looks like he’s a kid who’s willing to learn, willing to put the time in. I expect him to improve once he gets into that full-time professional mode, and again, an all-around player with some offense, some defense, a solid kid.”

McKelvie has an interesting backstory. Two years ago, the Bruins signed him as a free agent after he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Believing he was free and clear to pursue pro hockey without serving on active duty, a change in Department of Defense policy canceled plans the team and player had for him to be in Providence of the AHL and he eventually reported to Fort Benning, Ga. for infantry officer training.

“We’ve been informed that everything should be in order for him to compete with us,” Chiarelli said. “His military obligations have been fulfilled. We’ve been informed that that’s the case. He’s, basically, he’s been fulfilling his military obligations these last two years and he’s still relatively young and we want to give him an opportunity to play so we’ve signed him to a one-year deal.”

McKelvie, who most recently served as a training company executive officer at Fort Benning, had a third shoulder surgery since 2009 done late last year. Reportedly cleared to resume his playing career, the injury precluded him from being assigned to the 4th brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division in Fort Stewart, Ga. McKelvie will now likely seek a reserve unit in Rhode Island or Massachusetts where he can serve while simultaneously playing pro with Providence.

McKelvie has not played competitive hockey since the 2008-09 season when he was a senior with the Army Black Knights. He’ll have a steep learning curve ahead of him, but did win fastest skater at the 2009 Frozen Four skills competition, so he should be mobile enough to help offset the kind of rust and timing issues ahead.