He did his undergraduate work on that topic at Princeton. He's getting some field experience with the Steelheads. That's a lineup he's had to make not once, but twice. Talk about some high-voltage effort.
"I try to work hard every day," Kushniruk said. "I've always been that way. That's the way I've always played hockey."
Kushniruk, 24, joined Idaho fresh out of Princeton, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. Eventually, he wants to put that to use in the area of renewable energy.
Before he headed that way, Kushniruk got an offer from Idaho coach Derek Laxdal to play with the Steelheads. But his pro career didn't rev up too fast -- he was an early healthy scratch and played just three games in October.
"I worked as hard as I could and hoped he would keep me in the lineup," Kushniruk said. "I talked to my parents about it. They said to keep at it, give him a reason to put you in the lineup."
Kushniruk is far from the most skilled player around but that path to the light played right to his strength. Laxdal was impressed with Kushniruk's effort from the start, describing him as owning one of the strongest motors in the ECHL.
That finally paid off with a regular spot in the lineup and Kushniruk thanked the coach with 11 goals and 12 assists in 63 games. But when Idaho opened its playoffs against Utah, Laxdal decided to go with a different look and initially kept Kushniruk in the stands.
"I wasn't angry," Kushniruk said. "Everybody on this team can play. I was just waiting for my chance to get into the lineup. I was happy to get in one game in the playoffs."
That break came in Game 4 of the Utah series, and Kushniruk responded with a shorthanded goal. It was enough of a hint that Laxdal decided he could use Kushniruk's bite against a tough Stockton squad in the National Conference finals. Kushniruk responded with another shorty and an assist in five games against the Thunder.
Now with Idaho set to meet Cincinnati in the Kelly Cup finals, Kushniruk is waiting to see which side of the fence he'll fall on in terms of playing time.
"I'm always expecting to play. If I don't, I adjust myself to that," he said. "I just have to see what coach wants and go from there. I couldn't hope for a better season so far. It's been a good one. It could be a great one if we win the finals."
Cyclones already winners -- Regardless of how Cincinnati fares against Idaho in the finals, the Cyclones have already gone down as an all-time ECHL winner.
Cincinnati became the first team in the 22-year history of the league to win a seven-game series after trailing 0-3 when it crafted that comeback against Reading in the American Conference finals. The Cyclones capped that drama with a 1-0 Game 7 win on May 12.
"It's a little surreal," coach Chuck Weber told Cincinnati.com. "I'm not sure when I'll be able to think about it -- maybe after the playoffs."
It was just the second time in league history that a team had even forced a seventh game after trailing by three games. The Cyclones pulled that off against Atlantic City in the 2003 Northern Conference Finals before losing the deciding contest.
Only five teams in professional hockey history have come back to win a seven-game series after trailing 3-0. It has happened twice in the NHL: Toronto defeated Detroit in the 1942 Stanley Cup finals and the New York Islanders defeated Pittsburgh in the 1975 Stanley Cup quarterfinals.
Two teams have come back from three-game deficits in the AHL: Rochester defeated Cleveland in the 1960 Calder Cup semis and Adirondack edged Hershey in the 1989 Southern Division finals.
In the IHL, Orlando beat Detroit in the 1999 Eastern Conference finals.
The Cyclones will be looking for their second Kelly Cup title after capturing the championship in 2008. Idaho attempts to join South Carolina as the only three-time Kelly Cup winner following championships in 2004 and 2007.
Sage advice from a sage -- Bakersfield coach Marty Raymond has one sure barometer that tells him he's been around quite awhile.
"It's pretty sad when all the guys around the league call you for advice. I think it's an age thing," said Raymond, 45. "Most of the guys out west talk to each other frequently. We pick each other's brains. Sometimes you don't have all the answers. Part of being a better coach is realizing you don't have all the answers."
"I'm always expecting to play. If I don't, I adjust myself to that. I just have to see what coach wants and go from there. I couldn't hope for a better season so far. It's been a good one. It could be a great one if we win the finals." -- Brandan Kushniruk
It would be his seventh full season as the team's head coach, and he's taken Bakersfield to the playoffs in each of the previous six years. His career record in Bakersfield is 224-173-52 in 449 games. Among ECHL coaches, only Jeff Pyle (Gwinnett) has a longer tenure with his club, and Raymond ranks 15th in ECHL history in games coached (449) and 17th in wins (224).
"There's pressure here. They want to win," Raymond said. "I think overall it's a good place to be. It's a blue-collar community. They work hard, they expect you to work hard."
Like most ECHL coaching contracts, Raymond has an out clause for an AHL deal. That could be more than a passing possibility in Raymond's case because parent club Anaheim is looking for a pair of coaches for its new AHL affiliate in Syracuse.
"It's a long time to be (in the ECHL) I want to move up, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my family for it," he said. "I have to be comfortable. It has to be the right situation."
Around the ECHL -- The ECHL is well represented at the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships that began last week in Germany. The league counts 24 current and former players and former ECHL player and coach Scott Gordon, who is the head coach of the United States team, among the participants. There are former ECHL players on 12 of the 16 teams, led by Latvia with four players and Italy with three players. ... Idaho signed Kurtis Mucha to an amateur tryout agreement for Game 6 of the series to replace Richard Bachman, who was recalled to Texas. Mucha's first appearance with the Steelheads came in the final weekend of the 2009 regular season, when he arrived just minutes before the game against the Phoenix Roadrunners. After taking a few moments to put his gear on, he replaced emergency backup goaltender Andy Pate in net and -- with virtually no time to stretch or warm up -- stopped 25 of 28 shots... Cincinnati is 7-0 when scoring first in the postseason. ... Stockton's 6-3 loss to Idaho in Game 5 of the National Conference finals on May 8 was only the Thunder's fourth loss in their last 14 lifetime playoff games at home. ... That series reached six games, the longest National Conference final since 2006.