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Kunin aims for training camp return

After sustaining torn ACL last March, forward hopes to earn a roster spot this fall in Minnesota

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

MADISON, Wisconsin -- It's not quite Herb Brooks and Mike Eruzione and the famous scene in the movie "Miracle," where Brooks, portrayed by Kurt Russell, tells his players to get on the goal line and skate.

Blue line, back. Red line, back. Far blue line, back. Far red line, back. 


It's not on that level, but for early August, it might as well be. Wild forward Luke Kunin is one of nine former or current players with Madison ties on the ice getting ready for the upcoming hockey season.

Everything is done tired, because that's how it's done in a game. 

So one group of five skates around LaBahn Arena for about 60 seconds while the others line up in the middle, executing quick backhand passes tape to tape.

Then the groups switch. 

More laps, and now it's forehand passes.

More laps, and now it's stickhandling.

LaBahn is located smack in the middle of Madison's two beautiful lakes, Menona and Mendota, and on this morning, a day at the beach sounds like a fantastic choice.

But there's no place Kunin would rather be than at the rink. It's been five months since his left ACL was shredded during a game against the Detroit Red Wings at Xcel Energy Center. It's been four months since the surgical procedure to repair it. 

Kunin is not 100 percent, but he's feeling better and better each day. On this day, in the bowels of the Kohl Center and sitting in the same exact locker he sat in as a Badger, Kunin removed his equipment and prepped to hit the weight room. 

Video: Luke Kunin delivers blankets to hospital patients

"Everything is right on track and so far, everything is really moving upward," Kunin said. "I like where everything is headed. You've gotta stay patient, obviously, you can't push it too much or you'll have some setbacks. But I have a lot of good people helping me out and in my corner, trying to get me back, so I've gotta stick with it."

The initial prognosis included a seven-month timeline to return, but much of that is dependent on the patient. 

Kunin sustained the injury on March 4, and the swelling was so that it took time for it to go down before surgery could take place. His procedure took place April 3, and in that month, Kunin was undergoing what doctors call "prehab," a process in which the patient does exercises to keep the area around the knee strong.

Ideally, it makes the post-op process smoother and faster. 

"It's supposed to help with recovery, healing and hopefully a less chance of reoccurring," Kunin said. "I felt good going into surgery. It went really well and after that, it's just starting the rehab process and getting the motion back."

Kunin was locked in a brace for several weeks while the knee healed. First he started walking, then began getting into his normal training routine. 

"I started that about the same time I normally would," Kunin said. "It's been mostly about building the strength and the stability and the balance. Now, it's getting back on the ice and getting these skating fundamentals back."

In the couple weeks since Kunin got back on the ice -- mid-to-late July -- he's been working with skating coaches and beginning his on-ice work to get back to where he was before the injury.

There are no coaches on the ice on this day, unless you count San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, who is barking orders at the eight other players on the ice surface.

Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators, as well as Nick Schmaltz of the Chicago Blackhawks are among the other NHLers on the ice with Kunin. 

"Joe does all the right things on and off the ice, and he's successful, so to be around him and guys like that, it's great," Kunin said. "It's fun to come back here in the summers and be back on the ice with these guys, learning things from them."

Madison is a town Kunin fell in love with during his two seasons at the University of Wisconsin. While he's spent a bulk of his summer in the Twin Cities rehabbing his knee this year, it's Madison where he plans on making his summer home in future years.

A native of Chesterfield, Missouri in the St. Louis suburbs, Kunin arrived on campus in 2015 after two years with the U.S. National Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

He played for two different coaches with the Badgers and was recruited by former North Star Mike Eaves, whom Wisconsin dismissed following Kunin's freshman season. The Badgers brought in another alum with plenty of NHL experience in Tony Granato to lead the program after that.

Kunin played just one season under Granato, but the former Colorado Avalanche head coach and longtime NHL assistant left a major mark on him. 

"He's been an unbelievable person for my hockey career," Kunin said. "He's an unbelievable person off the ice and is a great role model. He's been helping me a lot during this process, and he's always willing to go on the ice and do some skill work. It's great to have him in my corner."

With just over a month until training camp begins, Kunin said his goal is the same as it was last year; to break camp with the NHL club.

He feels he's on target physically to be a full participant once camp begins in mid-September. He's one of many players competing for one or two roster spots in Minnesota, and his 19 NHL games last year keep him plenty motivated to get back.

"I try not to look too far ahead, just take it week-by-week, keep getting stronger and more comfortable on the ice and just get that confidence back," Kunin said. "It was definitely nice to sort of check that off I guess, but it's not a goal of mine to just be up and down. I want to be there full time, I want to be there for a long time and be an impact player that's going to help the team win."

Video: Becoming Wild: Luke Kunin

Video: Luke Kunin delivers blankets to hospital patients


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