Question Chris Kunitz if you must, but the folks at Ferris State know exactly what kind of impact the Canadian Olympian can have. And the two Stanley Cup rings don't hurt, either.
There will always be questions when it comes to Canada's Olympic hockey roster and Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz took more than his fair share of flak when the Sochi squad was named. But ask folks at Ferris State University in Michigan and they'll tell you all about the strong winger's value.
"Even to this day we're reaping the rewards of having Chris in our program" said longtime Bulldogs coach Bob Daniels. "We weren't a destination for hockey back then."
Kunitz, who already has two Stanley Cups to his name thanks to his time in Anaheim in 2007 and with the Penguins two seasons later, was discovered back in Saskatchewan by the father of Ferris State associate coach Drew Famulak and built himself up as a member of the Bulldogs from 1999-2003. He found his game as a junior, then thrashed the CCHA as a senior, leading the conference with 35 goals and 79 points in 42 games while earning conference player of the year honors in the process.
The Bulldogs won their first-ever CCHA regular season title that season and made a respectable showing in the national Frozen Four tournament, eventually bowing out to a Minnesota squad featuring Thomas Vanek and Paul Martin. And despite being a smaller school, Ferris State has iced some excellent teams since Kunitz departed, making it all the way to the national championship game in 2012 and ranking fourth in the nation right now.
Kunitz is still the biggest name to come out of the program, but Zach Redmond (Winnipeg) and Chad Billins (Calgary) are getting their young NHL careers on track, while current goaltender C.J. Motte is getting interest as a free agent thanks to his performances this season and last.
"He was making a name for himself," said one NHL scout. "He's a prospect."
According to Daniels, Ferris State gives players a chance to develop on a longer curve – the school isn't bringing in the phenoms that you might see at Boston College or Minnesota – and Kunitz fit into that category.
"Just developing for four years…getting bigger, stronger and faster," Kunitz said. "For some of us late bloomers, it was a lot easier to gain muscle mass and be stronger coming into the pros."
Now Kunitz is a powerful NHL force, patrolling the wing for Sidney Crosby and bringing a wealth of pressure-packed experience to Sochi. This may be his first time contesting a gold medal, but with two NHL rings and a competitive mentality, Kunitz won't be afraid out there; he'll be a Bulldog, as always.
An alternate version of this article appeared in the Feb. 10 edition of The Hockey News magazine.