Alaska Senior Cody Kunyk Leading the Way in New WCHA
by Jen Dobias/CHN Reporter
Cody Kunyk has always been able to take over a game. Now, he’s developed a flair for late-game heroics to go with it.
Take his play in the second game of the Governor’s Cup against Alaska-Anchorage on Dec. 7. After spotting the Seawolves a 4-2 lead through two periods of play, Kunyk's Alaska Nanooks faced a 2-0 deficit to their bitter rivals.
Marcus Basara drew Alaska within one, and Kunyk took over from there. First came his highlight-reel assist. The senior faked out one defenseman, forcing his partner and UAA goaltender Rob Gunderson to commit to him. All he had to do was thread a backhand pass to a wide open Colton Beck, who scored into the empty net.
“If you watch the video, you’ll see what I mean by him being able to take over the game when he wants to,” Beck said. “He just has an ability to slow the game down and take it over at any given time.”
Then, Kunyk capped the comeback on a tic-tac-toe play with less than three minutes remaining, burying a Basara pass top shelf from in front.
Kunyk has been an offensive threat throughout his collegiate career. He led Alaska in scoring for two of the past three seasons and became the 30th Nanook to join the 100-point club on Nov. 22. But this year he’s taken his game to another level.
With 11 goals in 18 games, Kunyk is second in the new-look WCHA going into the break. He’s on pace to eclipse his previous career high of 15 goals, set during his sophomore year when he earned CCHA All-Conference Second Team honors. Adding to that total eight assists, he is tied for second in the league in points.
“I see myself more as a playmaker,” Kunyk said. “I know that my stats kind of are the opposite right now. I like to shoot the puck and thankfully the puck’s been going in this year.”
And the puck’s been going in at key moments.
“When the game’s on the line, that’s a good sign of what a player’s made of,” Alaska head coach Dallas Ferguson said. “He’s had the ability this season on more than one occasion to step his game up to get the tie or to get the win for the team.”
After scoring four game-winning goals in the past three seasons combined, Kunyk has three this year and is tied for third in the nation in this category. Two of his goals tied a game, and two pulled Alaska within one goal of evening the score.
“We’ve kind of put ourselves in situations like that this season, being down a couple goals or just one goal,” Kunyk said. “I guess I’m one of the guys that the team looks to late in the game to get something done. Luckily, it’s been working this season.”
Against non-conference foe Mercyhurst on Oct. 25, the Nanooks found themselves down by three goals at just past the halfway mark of the game. J.D. Peterson cut the Lakers’ lead to 4-2 late in the second frame, and Alaska’s first line completed the comeback in the third.
After assisting on both of Becks’s goals to knot the game at four, Kunyk took a feed from Beck in front and sent a blistering one-timer past Mercyhurst goaltender Jimmy Sarjeant to seal the 5-4 win with less than two minutes remaining.
“Obviously, we don’t want to rely on clutch goals at the end of every game, but when we do we’re happy to have him on the ice,” Beck said.
Kunyk had one of his best games of the young season against WCHA-leading Ferris State on Nov. 23. Even though the Bulldogs won, 4-3, he notched two goals and an assist in the first 10 minutes of the second period to help erase a 3-0 Ferris State lead.
“After the first period, I challenged our team, and when you challenge your team you want your leaders to take it to heart the most,” Ferguson said. “If we’re going to look to guys to step up in key situations you want your leaders, your best player, to do that, and Cody has.”
The Nanooks have gotten off to a rocky start in their first season in the WCHA. Overall, they are 7-8-3, but they posted a 4-7-1 record in league play and enter the break tied with Northern Michigan for eighth place.
“Our record isn’t what we need it to be or want it to be,” Kunyk said. “The new teams that we have played, we haven’t really matched up well against. But everybody’s going to come back with a strong mind after the Christmas break to keep moving forward.”
The Nanooks did close out the first half on a high note, battling third-place Bemidji State to a 3-3 tie Friday before defeating the Beavers in resounding fashion, 5-1, Saturday. Kunyk was held without a goal in the series, but Ferguson said that he played some of his best hockey.
“His play in all three zones definitely influenced the game,” Ferguson said. “He’s not always going to score. That’s just a given. But you have to find other ways to add value to the game and to your team’s success, and that’s what he did this weekend.”
For the Nanooks to climb in the WCHA standings in the second half, they’ll need Kunyk to maintain his strong start, whether that means he’s scoring clutch goals, making the players around him better or being a consistent presence on the ice.
“Credit Cody, he’s come into his senior season wanting to make it his best season as a Nanook,” Ferguson said. “He had a good solid first half. Hopefully he can continue to build on that the second half. If he does that I know our team’s going to have success.”