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Chemistry evident for longtime friends Kunin, Tkachuk

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Team Roenick forwards Luke Kunin and Matthew Tkachuk had a bit of an advantage during the 2015 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at First Niagara Center on Thursday: They've been teammates for a long time.

Kunin and Tkachuk each had three points, but Team Roenick lost to Team Plante 6-4 in the fourth annual All-American Prospects Game. After playing together for more than a decade, Kunin and Tkachuk had their chemistry figured out.

"We've, I think, for over 10 years played together, so that definitely made it easier," Kunin said. "The transition into the game wasn't too hard. … We always know where each other are and what we're going to do next, so it definitely made it a lot easier."

Kunin scored two goals, each assisted by Tkachuk, and Tkachuk had one goal, set up by Kunin. They also scored goals 10 seconds apart in the second period to give Team Roenick a 4-3 lead.

"We've played on the same line up until this year for about 13 years," Tkachuk said. "I know him and he knows me, and that was a good way to cap off our years of playing together tonight for sure. … He's a good player though."

Kunin and Tkachuk grew up playing hockey together in Missouri and most recently played together with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team. Tkachuk is the son of former NHL forward Keith Tkachuk. Team Roenick coach Jeremy Roenick, who played with Keith for four-and-a-half seasons with the Arizona Coyotes, was happy to have someone familiar to work with from behind the bench.

"If you watch him, he plays a lot how Keith played," Roenick said. "He's in front of the net a lot and really plants himself. He's not the fastest skater in the world, but because of his hockey sense he puts himself into really good positions so he can get away from not being the fastest player. He's really strong, and you can tell that if he's going to get mad he's going to show some bite and some grit, and that's just ingrained in his blood from his dad."

Tkachuk is an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list for the 2016 NHL Draft. He'll play for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League this season. After his strong performance alongside Tkachuk on Thursday in Buffalo, Kunin, who will be a freshman at the University of Wisconsin this season, should start earning more attention from NHL scouts.

"I feel like I did well," Kunin said. "I thought that I showed what I had and my speed. But I've just got to take it day by day and keep getting better because there [are] a lot of good players out there."

Speed and Kunin's history playing with Tkachuk were what got the attention of his coach.

"I knew that they had played together for a long time; that always makes it easy," Roenick said. "Kunin can absolutely fly, with great hands. You put together those two kinds of mixes with a really, really smart hockey player that moves the puck well with a speedy guy like that – that's just a no-brainer."

Even though Kunin scored twice, it was Tkachuk's offensive abilities that stood out. His second-period goal came when Kunin passed to him in the slot. Tkachuk's first shot was stopped by Team Plante goalie Ryan Edquist, but the rebound came right back to him, and he shot it past Edquist to tie the game 3-3.

"I pride myself on being a dominant force every shift and I don't want anybody to be able to stop me," Tkachuk said. "If that takes me going through them or going around them, I'll do whatever it takes."

Following the faceoff after the tying goal, Tkachuk sent Kunin in on a breakaway for his second goal of the game to put Team Roenick ahead.

"His hockey intelligence is what really stood out most to me," Roenick said. "He knew where to go. At that age you don't see kids too often when they get the puck to be looking around and know where they're going with the puck before they even get it. And [Tkachuk], he did that four or five times with perfect passes right on the tape that resulted in one goal and then could've resulted in three or four, so he's extremely impressive."

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