Chris Kunitz just finished another amazing chapter in his inspiring story: winning a gold medal after being named to his first-ever Canadian Olympic team at age 34.
This wasn’t even a dream come true for the undrafted forward, who wasn’t even scouted to play junior hockey and was waived twice in the first month of his first full NHL season, because, well, he never even dreamed it was a possibility.
“I don’t think I ever grew up thinking that was possible,” Kunitz said Wednesday. “To play for Team Canada in the Olympics and win a gold medal, especially this late in your career when I’ve been in the league for two of them that I watched and one in college where at the age of 22, some people were already playing in the Olympics. So it’s one of those things that I was very fortunate to play a good year and a half of hockey that persuaded some of the people to put me on that team. And it ultimately turned out great because we won a gold medal.”
Kunitz said there were so many emotions that go with the feeling of winning gold.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “Huge accomplishment for the whole team. The way we played and kept playing and getting better every game and every period, it was a lot of fun to be a part of. But I feel a great sense of pride just being Canadian and being able to win a gold medal and make everyone back home proud.
“To be able to hear your national anthem and stand arm and arm with guys you played the tournament with and a couple guys I’ve played with in the past, it’s a special moment to be able to share that with somebody after all the pressure everyone (was) putting on Team Canada. There were probably four or five teams that could have won it if they got hot or won a certain game or had a different outcome one game. They could have just gone on a roll and kept going. So it’s a huge accomplishment for our whole team to be able to go out and win.”
Kunitz played on a line with Penguins teammate Sidney Crosby for the majority of the tournament, with the two of them scoring big goals in their 3-0 win over Sweden in the Gold Medal Game. And while Kunitz said the focus was obviously on the team, the individual accomplishment of contributing at such an important moment was certainly sweet.
“Personally, just to add one and to feel the reward of being able to score in the Olympics – we had a lot of chances throughout the whole tournament but it’s nice to finally put one on the board for yourself,” he said. “But the ultimate goal there was to win a gold medal, and that’s everyone’s mindset going into it.”
Winning with his friend and linemate Crosby made the whole experience that much more special.
“It was a lot of fun,” Kunitz smiled. “Just being able to accomplish for him another one, but to go there and have the ultimate goal of winning, to be able to share it and kind of embrace each other, it’s a lot of fun. I’m sure it’ll mean a lot more down the road. But I know how proud my parents are, my family is, so it’s something that makes us all very, very proud.”
Kunitz is, as coach Dan Bylsma said before the Olympic break, “a really good story, to be honest – a guy comes out of nowhere a long time ago and keeps going, keeps playing well, has played great, and I think rightfully so, earned a spot on that team." So he tried to make sure he kept perspective and enjoyed the experience as best he could while over in Sochi.
“I tried to remind myself that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to be able to go and be part of the big team of Team Canada and meet some of the other athletes,” he said.
Now that it’s over, Kunitz is ready to skate alongside Crosby in Pittsburgh while they try to add another color of hardware to their collection: Lord Stanley’s silver Cup.
“Put that kind of behind us now,” he said. “(Now) it’s just adjusting and getting back to our systems, relearning to be on the ice in certain areas where you can be responsible and they’re going to expect you to be and play. Playing another system for two weeks, you forget about some of the things here. But hopefully running through the reps today and tomorrow, we’re ready for the game.”