By Dave Leaderhouse
The NHL’s Stanley Cup final begins on Monday and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League will have two alumni playing a prominent role in determining the outcome.
Pittsburgh Penguin forward Chris Kunitz will be seeking his fourth Stanley Cup title in the last 10 years while Brad Meier has been selected as one of four referees to be calling the games in the championship final.
Kunitz has had a brilliant career since first joining the Melville Millionaires at the start of the 1997-98 season. As an 18-year-old he tallied 30 goals and added 27 assists in 60 games, but the following season he exploded for 57 goals and 32 helpers in 63 tilts.
For his efforts, Kunitz was offered a scholarship to Ferris State University where he enjoyed four great years culminated by a senior campaign that saw him being selected as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award when he amassed 79 points in just 42 games.
In a quote posted on the College Hockey Inc. website, Kunitz had this to say about his college days: “Getting the college degree was something that was highly sought after for me. Falling in love once you get there with the school, and my friends, and eventually meeting my wife at school was kind of a turning of the tides, becoming an adult. It was such a blessing to be able to go to college.”
The Regina product has since played in 813 regular-season NHL games scoring 241 goals and adding 310 assists while in the playoffs he has added another 81 points in 141 games including a three-point effort last Thursday in helping the Penguins eliminate the Ottawa Senators in the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference final.
Kunitz, who was an undrafted free agent when he signed his initial professional contract with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in April of 2003, first got his name on Lord Stanley’s mug in 2007 while playing for Anaheim and then two years later he enjoyed the experience once again, this time as a member of the Penguins.
The gifted forward, who also has won world championship silver with Canada in 2008 and Olympic gold in 2014, was also part of Pittsburgh’s Cup run last year and the 37-year-old will try and win his fourth ring when the Penguins open up the final against the Nashville Predators on Monday.
For Meier, the experience of being in the Stanley Cup final is something new.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, but raised in Saskatoon, Meier has officiated at every level and in almost every situation, but he has never been asked to work in the NHL’s championship final – until now.
Meier cut his teeth in the Saskatoon minor hockey system before spending 12 years in the SJHL in the 1980’s and ‘90s. He then moved up to the Western Hockey League for three years before turning pro and since 1999 he has worked in 1,151 regular-season games in addition to numerous playoff matches.
The 49-year-old Meier, who was inducted into the SJHL Hall of Fame in 2014, has been called on to work in other elite events including the 1998 and 2014 Winter Olympics, the 1995 and ’98 world junior tournaments and the 2000 Calder Cup final, but this will be his first shot at the Stanley Cup final.
The SJHL is so extremely proud of both of these graduates and wish them every success in the next couple of weeks as the trail to the Holy Grail of hockey comes to an end.