Kunitz joins Crosby on Canadian Olympic hockey team

| Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, 11:45 a.m.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — For once, Sidney Crosby wasn't sure how to read the play.

He received a phone call from Team Canada officials to learn the obvious, that he had made the Olympic roster. Crosby also was told that his linemate, left wing Chris Kunitz, had made the team.

“I wasn't sure if I should text him or if he already knew,” Crosby said. “He was across the hallway from me.”

It was fitting, then, that Kunitz already knew, since so many seem to believe Crosby always delivers tap-ins for Kunitz.

Kunitz, as benign a personality that one could locate in the Penguins' locker room, has become a polarizing figure in his native country because many Canadians are convinced that his spectacular statistics in recent season are a direct result of playing on the same line as Crosby.

His teammates, however, are quick to note that Kunitz is an outstanding player. This became a theme with Kunitz, as general manager Steve Yzerman made it clear that Kunitz is on Team Canada on his own accord.

“Yes,” Yzerman said, “he plays with Sidney Crosby. He's been a great contributor to that line and his team. The question a lot of people have asked is, has Chris Kunitz been helped by Sidney Crosby? They help each other. On his own, does he belong on this team? Our answer is yes.”

The inclusion on one of the most star-studded rosters in all of sports left Kunitz with an emotional look in his eye Tuesday morning.

At 34, Kunitz never has played in the Olympics and has limited international experience.

He played college hockey at Ferris State and wasn't drafted by an NHL team, instead signing as an undrafted free agent with Anaheim in 2003.

Kunitz essentially worked his way into the NHL, and eventually worked his way onto Crosby's left wing.

He doesn't figure to be removed from it anytime soon, and it seems likely that Crosby will play with Kunitz in Sochi.

Team Canada officials didn't ask Crosby if he would prefer to play with Kunitz, even though it is widely known the two possess a strong chemistry.

“I'm really happy,” Crosby said. “He's worked hard. He's done a lot of things to earn the right to play on the team. When you're able to share those experiences with teammates, especially at this level, it's important. Especially as a teammate and a linemate, I'm happy for him.”

Kunitz looked relieved Tuesday. When he learned of the good news, he immediately called home.

“I called my wife and kids to tell them first,” he said. “It was a special moment.”

Kunitz had remained quiet about the Olympics, smiling when the topic was addressed.

While making it clear that he strongly desired an opportunity to play for Team Canada, Kunitz dodged the debate around his participation.

He did acknowledge that the topic has been on his mind for some time.

“I definitely spent many hours thinking about it and talking with my wife about it,” Kunitz said.

Now, Kunitz can stop focusing on whether he belongs on the Olympic team.

He is officially a part of Team Canada, and can focus on something he's never done before: Packing for Sochi.

“It's an incredible honor for myself and my family,” Kunitz said.

Kunitz mentioned Crosby and the chemistry they share many times. He credited Crosby with displaying a work ethic that has “made me better.”

It's safe to say Kunitz made his own way onto Team Canada. And he was a step ahead of the guy who always sees the play before it happens.

“He deserves this,” Crosby said.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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