Cunningham named new Jr. Reign Carlsbad program director
Every once in a while, the stars align just right in life.
For Matt Cunningham, it happened when his wife landed a good job in the San Diego suburb of Carlsbad and less than a year later, he was hired to run the Ontario Jr. Reign’s program there.
The manager of USA Hockey’s coaching education program for the last eight years, Cunningham jumped at the chance to take a position that seemed tailor-made for him, and the decision was even easier because he’d be able to put an end to long-distance relationship with his wife and relocate from Colorado Springs.
“I immediately started a dialogue with (Jr. Reign president) Ben Frank when I thought it was a possibility that my wife and I might move West, and it wasn’t too long before they had a position open up,” Cunningham explained. “Having been involved in the coaching education program and the American Development Model (ADM), I saw how the Jr. Reign were doing the things we were teaching better than anyone else. I feel very fortunate to be able to stay in the game with an organization like this.”
Frank said the feeling was mutual. He knew from his initial conversations with Cunningham that the Jr. Reign would be adding someone to their staff that was a perfect fit.
“I like a lot of things about Matt,” Frank said. “His background and experience are top notch. He played hockey at a high level and he has also coached and worked in hockey at high levels. Sometimes when you’re looking for coaches, you come across people who may have played at a high level, but don’t have the knowledge base in things like sports science and how to develop players in different age groups through the ADM model. You’re not going to find someone with more knowledge than Matt, and that’s huge for us. From Day 1, he brings that knowledge and experience to our organization.”
Cunningham grew up playing hockey in the Phoenix area. A 6-foot-4 defenseman, he skated for the Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan before playing collegiately at Minnesota State University in the late 1990s. He then played professionally with Lubbock and Amarillo in the Western Professional Hockey League and the Central Hockey League.
Prior to being hired by the Jr. Reign, he had worked for USA Hockey since 2009.
Frank said Cunningham’s knowledge and passion for not only the game, but for developing youth hockey players the right way, was obvious when they first met at a USA Hockey Congress a few years ago. They stayed in touch and shared ideas regularly, and then when the program director position opened in Carlsbad, the two began to discuss a formal relationship that would bring Cunningham to Southern California.
“It was something he was excited about, and it made a lot of sense for both him and the program,” Frank said. “It was a new challenge for him and he was eager to join a program that aligned with his values. I really feel like Matt, along with the rest of our leadership group, can take our program to the next level.”
Cunningham made it clear from the start of the interview process that he wanted to continue working with USA Hockey on some of their player development camps and coaching education, and Frank was all for it because it would keep his new hire involved in all the latest developments in the coaching world.
“He’s a great role model,” Frank said. “He’s a curious guy who wants to learn and get better every day. He’s doing those things on his own because this is his passion. We want our kids to always be aiming to learn and improve, but we have to ensure that our leadership has the same attitude, and Matt really embodies that approach.”
— Greg Ball
(Dec. 22, 2017)