MARQUETTE, Mich. - He wears number 71 on his sweater for the Northern Michigan University hockey team. Ray Kaunisto is not that hard to pick out on the ice. His 6-foot-4 frame, plus with his skates strapped on gives him a couple of more inches, is a presence on the ice as he skates and hits. As his collegiate career is quickly coming to an end this U.P. native from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. is having a career season.
Two things a U.P. kids grows up with is hockey and being outdoors either fishing or hunting. Kaunisto is no exception. Plus a big advantage for Kaunisto playing for NMU is that his parents get to see him play. “It is close to home. I get to go fishing and hunting,” said Kaunisto. “Being outdoors, I like the U.P. The coaching staff at NMU I really like.”
Just like any other kid he began his hockey career on the frozen areas of the U.P. Kaunisto played for the Soo Indians in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) during the 2004-05 season. He was named to the NAHL all-rookie team after he recorded 40 points on 20 goals and 20 assists in 55 games. The following season (2005-06) he skated for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League (USHL) as he put up 19 points in 53 games on five goals and 14 assists.
Entering his collegiate career the word was this big kid could put up some numbers. His first season (2006-07) for the Wildcats he had three goals, but he was a regular in the lineup each night. His sophomore campaign (2007-08) was better when he recorded 13 points on eight goals and five assists. Last year during his junior season (2008-09) his points were a little higher at 14 on seven goals and seven assists. This year for his senior season he has exploded for a career-high 28 points entering the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Championships. Kaunisto has career numbers in goals (15) and assists (13). A little more than half of his points (15) have been scored since the calendar turned into 2010. Eight of his goals have been scored since the beginning of January.
“I see myself more of a power forward, a physical guy. I like to go to the net hard,” said Kaunisto. “I like to be sound defensively.” The question around Marquette was how Kaunisto was turning it on and scoring this season? According to Kaunisto this season he has found confidence and his off-season work has paid off in a big way. “I stepped up to the role of being a senior and one of the leaders on the team,” said Kaunisto. “I think that has helped me.”
Kaunisto’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by the man in charge, Walt Kyle the head coach of the NMU hockey team. “Ray is our most improved player this year. He has been a real soldier for our program through his entire career,” said Kyle. “He has worked every day, competed every day always been a great competitor. This year he has taken a step in his development and is a much better player with the puck. Ray is a much larger offensive threat for us. We are really proud to have him as part of our program.” The Wildcats will still have a Kaunisto on the roster for another couple of seasons as his younger brother, Kory, is currently a freshman on the team.
Even with his Wildcat career coming to an end. Kaunisto has left his own mark on the program with his physical play, hits, timely goals and assists.
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