Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State University men's ice hockey program has its first-ever Olympic Gold Medal Champion as Bulldog alum Chris Kunitz of the National Hockey League's (NHL) Pittsburgh Penguins helped lead Canada to victory in the gold medal game on Sunday (Feb. 23) in Sochi, Russia.
Kunitz not only won gold, but also sealed the victory with a goal of his own as Canada claimed the gold medal for the second-straight Winter Olympic Games with a 3-0 victory over Sweden, which came on the heels of an exciting 1-0 triumph over the United States in the semifinals on Friday.
The former Bulldog standout found a puck in the high slot and snapped a shot that eluded goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It was Kunitz's first goal of the Olympics and gave Canada a 3-0 lead halfway through the third period that pretty much sealed the gold for Canada. Earlier in the game, Kunitz was boarded head-first into the boards and was bleeding profusely. Of course, he didn't miss a shift and exacted his revenge in the final frame.
Along with Kunitz, his Penguins' teammate Sidney Crosby also tallied an unassisted goal in the win during the second period with Jonathan Toews notching the game's first goal, and eventual game-winner, in the opening period.
During the Winter Olympics, Kunitz played in six games and finished with goal and a +2 plus/minus rating with eight totals shots in helping lead Team Canada to gold. The Winter Olympics opened on Feb. 8 in Sochi at the Bolshoy Ice Dome and Shayba Arena with a total of 14 countries competing for Olympic Gold. The Canadian team was guided by current Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock.
"Wow, what a great honor it was for Chris Kunitz to even play in the Olympics and it was well-deserved," said head coach Bob Daniels. "The depth of talent that Canada had to choose from was amazing and to think that one of our former players was on that team and helped them win the gold is tremendous. It couldn't have happened to what I consider a more humble individual. We certainly root for all our former players, but with his personality and the way he stays engaged with our university says so much and we're proud of what he's accomplished."
Canada did not trail at any point in the final or over the course of the entire tournament and finished as the first undefeated gold medallist since the Soviet Union in 1984 in Sarajevo, beating Norway, Austria, Finland, Latvia, the United States and Sweden along the way.
Kunitz was among two current members of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins to compete on the Olympic team along with linemate Crosby, whose Golden Goal at the 2010 Vancounver Games powered Canada to the gold medal in the final against the United States. Previously, Kunitz was a member of Canada's squad that won a silver medal at the 2008 World Championships.
With the Penguins, Kunitz has tallied 55 points on 27 goals and 28 assists in 58 outings to date this campaign. He also has six game-winning goals and 12 power-play markers on the year while establishing a +25 plus/minus efficiency rating. He's currently 10th in the NHL in goal scoring this season along with second in power-play goals and sixth in plus/minus rating.
A year ago, Kunitz claimed NHL First-Team All-Star recognition for the first time in his professional career at the end of the 2012-13 campaign. Although he didn't establish any career highs due to the abbreviated season, Kunitz enjoyed perhaps his best season in '12-13, leading the team in goals (22) and power-play goals (t-9), while placing second in points (52), rating (plus-30) and game-winning goals (t-5). He became the first player not named Crosby or Malkin to lead the team in goal scoring since Ryan Malone in 2003-04.
Kunitz, who agreed to a three-year contract extension in the offseason that will keep him in Pittsburgh through 2016-17, finished the regular season a year ago ranked in the top-10 in the NHL in goals, points, power-play goals, game-winning goals and rating a year ago. His 1.08 point-per-game average was the highest of his career. Last marked the fifth time – and second-straight season – that Kunitz had topped the 50-point mark and the sixth time he'd tallied 20 goals.
The 6-foot, 193-pound Kunitz became the first Penguins player since 2000 to score four goals in a single game when he accomplished the feat at Washington on Feb. 3 of last season. Later in the season he notched a career-best five points (3G-2A) against the NY Islanders
on March 10.
Kunitz, who hails from Regina, Saskatchewan, added 10 points (5G-5A) in 15 playoffs games last spring. He tallied the overtime game-winning goal – capping a two-goal, three-point performance – in Game 3 against the New York Islanders in Round 1.
A key member of the Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup championship squad, Kunitz was acquired by the Penguins from the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 26, 2009. He went on to register 14 points (1G-13A) in 24 playoff contests that year, helping the Penguins defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the Cup Final.
Previously, Kunitz established several career highs for the Penguins during the '11-12 season, scoring 26 goals, 35 points and 61 points to go with six power-play markers in 82 regular-season games.
Prior to joining the Penguins Kunitz played four-plus seasons with Anaheim and the Atlanta Thrashers between 2003-09. He was instrumental in helping the Ducks win the Stanley Cup in 2007, scoring six points (1G-5A) in 13 playoff games.
Originally signed by Anaheim as an undrafted free agent on April 1, 2003, Kunitz has appeared in 625 career NHL regular-season games with Pittsburgh, Anaheim and Atlanta, totaling 195 goals, 255 assists and 525 points. He has added 58 points (17G-41A) in 99 playoff games.
As a collegian at Ferris State, Kunitz excelled during his 2002-03 senior season by garnering American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) All-America First-Team honors and was among the final three 2003 finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as college hockey's top player. A two-time (2001-02 and 2002-03) CCHA First-Team pick, Kunitz became the first Bulldog skater to earn Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Player of the Year honors after leading the league in points, goals, assists, and plus/minus for the 2002-03
Kunitz concluded his stellar career ranking tied for sixth in career points (175), second in goals (99) and 18th in assists (76) in 152 contests. He played an integral role in leading the 2002-03 Bulldogs to a school-best 31-10-1 overall record, the school's first-ever CCHA Regular-Season Championship title and the program's first-ever NCAA Division I Championship Tournament appearance. Kunitz was also recognized as the male student-athlete recipient of the 2002-03 Bulldog of the Year Award, which is presented annually to the most outstanding Ferris State student-athlete.
Last season, Kunitz was chosen to the CCHA's All-Decade Team for his work as a collegian at Ferris State.
A number of former Bulldog hockey players have participated in international competition at various levels, including past Olympians Bob Nardella (Italy), Norm Krumpschmid (Austria) and Jason Blake (United States), but none had claimed gold until Kunitz this year with Canada. Nardella was on Team Italy in 1998 and 2006 while Krumpschmid played for Austria in '98 and Blake was a member of the United States team in 2006.