Crunch Counting on Kunyk for Offense

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Realizing it was his last chance, Cody Kunyk made a case for a contract.

Looking to continue his career past the collegiate level, Kunyk registered more than a point per game in his senior season at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Kunyk earned a deal in March, but now the 24-year-old is the oldest rookie on the Syracuse Crunch roster and is out to prove himself again.

"My last year was definitely my best year," Kunyk said. "Being an older guy, I had to play with a chip on my shoulder. I knew that there wasn't going to be a tomorrow. I had to make my own path. I gave it everything I had every game, and I was fortunate enough to sign a contract."

"I think it adds a little more grit to my game," he added. "I feel like I have a little bit more to prove since I'm an older guy."

Kunyk registered 22 goals and 21 assists over 37 games with the Nanooks his senior season, and finished his collegiate career with 133 points in 148 games. The Sherwood Park, Alberta native led the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in scoring last season and was named the conference player of the year.

Kunyk has spent his first three games with Syracuse on a scoring line, and recorded a pair of assists. Crunch coach Rob Zettler can see why the 5-11, 200-pounder had so much success in college.

"He's got maybe the best shot on the team," Zettler said. "We just need to find a way for him to get it off more."

It's not all about the offense for Kunyk. Improving in his own zone has also become a priority.

"I want to carry over the offensive stuff that I was doing in college, but I know I have to focus more on the defensive zone -- tying up with guys and playing more man-on-man with the guys down low and getting stronger in the defensive zone," he said.

Kunyk was re-signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in July. After his collegiate career ended, the sought-after free agent signed with the team in March and began practicing with the club.

For Kunyk, he chose the Lightning based on his experience at a previous development camp.

"I had a blast with all these guys and the other guys that were there," Kunyk said. "Just meeting the whole organization was amazing for me. In my heart I knew I always wanted to be a part of the Lightning."

Kunyk made his NHL debut in the Lightning's regular season finale. Acclimated with the speed through all the work with his teammates during nearly a month of practices, Kunyk finished with a pair of shots in 10:12 of ice time, as Tampa Bay topped Washington, 1-0, in the shootout April 13.

"The first couple shifts I was a bit shaky, but it didn't take long for me to settle down and just play my game," Kunyk said.

With his brother and father there to watch at the Verizon Center, Kunyk still vividly remembers the feeling of getting the news and suiting up for his first NHL game.

"It was one of the best feelings ever when (Lightning coach Jon) Cooper told me that they were going to play me in the last game," Kunyk said. "It wasn't a nothing game. It was a game we needed to win to clinch home ice for playoffs, and that just added to it."

Kunyk's father, Gerald, played in the Canadian Football League in the 1970s. Although Cody never really had dreams of playing football, his dad has been supportive in his pursuit of making it to the NHL.

"He's been there and knows what it takes and the right things to do to prepare and stuff like that," Kunyk said. "He's been my idol, and he's been a big help with my progression to get where I am."

With his career just getting started, Kunyk is doing his best to translate his collegiate success to the pro game.

"I'm not really focused in on the points, but it's always a plus when that happens," Kunyk said. "I'm just trying to settle in, try to find my professional game, and carry over everything from college that I learned into this game."