Former Penguins winger Chris Kunitz, ‘the ultimate teammate,’ announces retirement
Chris Kunitz, a key component of three Stanley Cup teams for the Pittsburgh Penguins, announced his retirement Tuesday at age 39.
Kunitz, who played for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, will stay with that organization as a player development adviser, working with young players on the NHL roster and on the club’s AHL affiliate in Rockford.
In his retirement announcement, Kunitz thanked the four teams with which he spent most of his career — Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Chicago — and their owners, coaches, trainers and management. He saved his most poignant words for his former teammates.
“As a young player, you taught me to give my very best,” Kunitz said. “Your leadership helped mold me into the player I knew I could be. I was given the opportunity to play with the very best teams and the very best players, and I’m grateful for the laughs and the friendships that we shared together. Thank you for making my childhood dream come true.”
4 Stanley Cups.
3 in Pittsburgh.
2OT goal we'll never forget.
1 incredible career.
Congratulations on your retirement, Kuni! pic.twitter.com/55X4Xi8GIV
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) July 30, 2019
Kunitz forged an impressive legacy in his 15-year NHL career and will go down as one of the top players in Penguins history.
First and foremost, he will be known as a winner.
In addition to the three championships he won with the Penguins, he was a member of Anaheim’s Stanley Cup club in 2007. He’s the only NHL player to win four championships since the turn of the century.
He also won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
“Very fortunate is probably the first thing that comes to my mind, being able to play on some really good teams with some great players,” Kunitz said in 2017. “I feel extremely fortunate to be able to win but also make all those friends and be part of other peoples’ careers throughout your own career.”
Kunitz also will be known as an underdog who overcame numerous obstacles at the start of his pro career.
Undrafted out of Ferris State, Kunitz was waived by Anaheim in 2005. He was claimed by the Atlanta and played two games with the Thrashers before being waived again and reclaimed by the Ducks.
“You start thinking, ‘Is hockey for me? What am I supposed to do?’ ” Kunitz said in 2009. “I thought I had a good chance of making it with Anaheim. Then you go to another team, and they don’t want you, either. A lot of thoughts were going through my head.”
Kunitz persevered, and a trade to the Penguins in February 2009 sent his career to the next level.
He quickly became one of Sidney Crosby’s most effective linemates. The chemistry he showed playing alongside the Penguins captain helped him compile one of the most impressive stat lines in team history.
Kunitz recorded 169 goals and 388 points in 569 regular-season games in eight-plus seasons. He ranks ninth on the team’s all-time goal-scoring list.
Kunitz also recorded 23 goals and 76 points in 123 career playoff games. He ranks eighth on the team’s all-time playoff scoring list.
“He’s the ultimate teammate for a lot of different reasons: the way he treats people, the way he handles himself, the way he plays every single night,” Crosby said. “That’s no fluke that he’s won four Stanley Cups. A great person and a great teammate.”
try not to cry watching this Kunitz goal. pic.twitter.com/UYNM5E771a
— Tim (@timmshady) May 26, 2017
Kunitz’s final goal in a Penguins uniform was his most memorable.
He took a pass from Crosby and beat goalie Craig Anderson to net the winning goal in the second overtime of Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa.
“It meant a lot, never knowing if you were going to play in Pittsburgh again, to be able to carry your team on to going to the Stanley Cup Final,” Kunitz said. “Everybody has to have a moment at some point to help your team win, and for whatever reason, it just turned out I was having a good day that day.
“It wasn’t the best shot in the world, but it found its way in the net. I think when you look back at think about getting a pass from Sid to be able to move your team to the Stanley Cup Final, I think that’s something I’ll remember forever.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .