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NCAA PRO-file with Chris Kunitz

by Bob Snow
Forty-nine teams have appeared in the NCAA tournament since 1948.

Nine of them got there just once.

Put the 2002-03 Ferris State Bulldogs at the top of college hockey's most memorable one-hit wonders. Under coach Bob Daniels, Ferris State went 30-9-1.

The Penguins' Chris Kunitz was the major cog in that big run in Big Rapids, Mich., six years ago.

"His ability to not only score goals, but to score goals at crucial times, was the key to our success," Daniels said of Kunitz, "The impact of Chris continues to this day where many potential recruits are aware of the fact that he played at Ferris State."

Kunitz led the Bulldogs to their only CCHA regular-season championship. That season he set the single-season school scoring record, was named CCHA Player of the Year, and was one of the three Hobey Baker Award finalists.

"It was one of the schools that showed the most interest," Kunitz said of his decision to attend Ferris State. "Seemed like a good fit after my second year of juniors. I knew they were losing a lot of seniors and that would give me a good chance to play."

Kunitz had 29 points during his freshman and sophomore seasons, and then had 38 during his junior season.

He more than doubled that his senior season with a scorching 34-45-79, second in the nation to Colorado College's and Hobey Baker winner Peter Sejna's 82 points.

"We had a good group of seniors into 2002-03," Kunitz said. "Maybe not a lot of guys with a lot of points but playing key minutes. And in the locker room, it bonded everybody together. That unity is what made us so good.

"I had a couple of good linemates in Jeff Legue and Derek Nesbitt."

The trio put up an amazing 182 points. 

"For whatever reason," Kunitz said of his offensive proclivities, "the game slowed down; everything made sense and the puck was going where I wanted. Things took off and guys didn't worry about individual things. That made us all better while having some fun."

Think fun, and one might ask what constituted such in a Ferris day off.

"Not much," he laughed. "A lot was just hanging out. But summers we played in softball leagues and tubing down the river. It was mostly meeting a lot of good people."

Including his future wife, Maureen; they married last summer.

"It was a big following that year," said Kunitz of the 2002-03 season. "The more TV and newspaper coverage, the more people knew about Ferris State. They were saying, 'Maybe this is a big hockey school.'"

Nothing was bigger than the final three games of the season -- the CCHA tournament championship against Michigan and two NCAA regional games against WCHA powerhouses North Dakota and eventual 2003 national champion Minnesota.

"The (5-3) loss to Michigan was bitter, just because we played so well at (Joe Louis Arena)," said Kunitz. "I remember being behind and trying to keep up. I think we tied it fairly late. But you look at those programs and they have depth. That's what they're built for.

"We won against North Dakota fairly handily (5-2) with a great game from our goaltender, Mike Brown. I think he stopped 50-something shots.

"Against Minnesota I played really well the first half then got hurt the second half. I try to forget that (7-4 loss), even though I had 2 goals and an assist, I think. But they were a powerhouse (led by Thomas Vanek)."

How do all those college events rank for Kunitz?

"We had a good group of seniors into 2002-03. Maybe not a lot of guys with a lot of points but playing key minutes. And in the locker room, it bonded everybody together. That unity is what made us so good."
-- Chris Kunitz

"The best thing was winning with your team," said Kunitz a week after being traded by Anaheim to Pittsburgh with Eric Tangradi for Ryan Whitney. "To bring the CCHA championship to Ferris was never done before; that would be far and above No. 1.

"I thank Bob Daniels for giving me a shot to go to college and get an education. It's been a great friendship as an alumni; still talk to him. He'll call and say 'Good luck' in big games."

A week after Kunitz's final college game, Daniels offered his prized forward a first "good luck" -- when the Ducks signed him to a free-agent contract April 1, 2003.

After the 2003-04 season with the AHL Cincinnati Ducks and then the lockout, Kunitz put up three solid seasons in 2005-06 with 19-22-41 in 67 games, 25-35-60 in 81 games in 2006-07, and 21-29-50 in 82 games last season.

Kunitz's 2008-09 season reads 16-19-35 in 62 games with Anaheim and 6-6-12 in 11 games as the Penguins' season-ending surge continues.

Ten years after his 1997 graduation from Riffel High in Regina, Sask., Kunitz brought the Stanley Cup back to his roots.

"Biggest day they'd ever seen," said Kunitz about his hometown celebration hosting Lord Stanley. "We connected the event to fundraising for cancer."

Kunitz attributes his overall successes to roots and connections.

"My parents were a big influence, just taking me to games and not putting too much pressure on you," he said. "Always supporting you, just giving you direction to be successful in life. They did a great job in all of that."

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