If you’ve been following the development of Kings prospects over the last few seasons, you’re likely already aware of several ‘big names’ – guys like Tyler Toffoli, Derek Forbort, Jake Muzzin and so on. Yet, if you keep up with MayorsManor, you’ve also been introduced to one of the more colorful characters to come along in quite some time.
Ray Kaunisto is a 6-foot-4 forward who went undrafted while playing four years of college hockey at Northern Michigan University. After posting 32 points and 78 penalty minutes in 40 games his senior year, Dean Lombardi signed him to a two-year development deal. However, it’s doubtful LA’s headmaster truly knew what he was getting off the ice.
During his rookie season in Manchester, Kaunisto became a bit of a cult figure - largely due to his outrageous personality on twitter. As a Yooper (somebody hailing from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), he introduced the masses to a whole new vernacular and outlook on life. Then, last summer he made several appearances on MayorsManor – including providing us with his bucket list and calling out his wife as ‘a lost cause.’
Unfortunately, his run with the Monarchs recently came to an end when their parent club didn’t sign him to a new deal. We’ll get into that a little bit more in a second article, where he’ll talk about what’s next in his career. But, for now, let’s reflect on his time in what’s affectionately become known as ManchVegas…
“I guess you could say it was pretty much the same, I didn’t improve too much,” said Kaunisto, when asked about his stats line from this past season. “I went from 14 points to 22 points and that’s kind of a small gain for a guy that’s supposed to be a goal scorer. So, I guess it’s taking a little bit more time than expected for me to adjust to the pro level. That’s what I’m working towards though and hopefully it gets me to where I’m supposed to be.”
He doesn’t have any hard feelings about how things came to a close though and he’s maintained a strong relationship with several of the players he called teammates for the last two years in Manchester.
“I still talk to a lot of the guys,” he shared. “It’s usually not about hockey though. We were just a tight group, there’s a bunch of really good guys there. I’ve spoken with Andrew Campbell quite a bit. Plus, I was roommates with Linden Vey and Robbie Czarnik. So, we’re pretty close. I love all the boys out there.”
That admiration extends to Kings rookie Jordan Nolan as well, another player he’s kept in close contact with. In fact, they just played golf together earlier this week.
“We’re both from the Soo area,” said Kaunisto. “I was really happy to see how things turned out for him. I think it’s awesome, he’s a great guy. He deserves everything he has and I’m excited for him to get the Cup for a day and have his party over in Garden River.”
Putting friendship aside, was there a little bit of, ‘Hey, that could of been me?’
“Definitely. You look at it as I was in a position like him – a third or fourth line, hard-nosed grinder type guy. He got his chance though and hopefully someday I’ll get one like that.”
His bond with Nolan supersedes any of those thoughts though. Not to mention the fact that Yoopers like to party.
“Yeah, I think I’m going to go over there and make an appearance,” he said, in reference to Nolan’s upcoming celebration. “He has it on a Monday (August 20), so I’ll probably go hang out with him,” he said with a big laugh.
Like anything in life, he can reflect back and find high and low points from his time in Manchester.
“My worst memory is probably being beat up in a fight,” Kaunisto quickly blurted out. “It’s not always fun getting dummied out there in front of a bunch of fans…If I could gain 50 pounds, it wouldn’t be so bad, but Matt Pelech gave it to me pretty good.”
He wasn’t nearly as specific when trying to identify a happier memory.
“Wow, we had a lot of good times together. All the guys out there, like I said, we were a tight group. Going on the road, on the bus, get-togethers at each other’s houses, there were many, many good times.”
We’ll close out with a favorite among MayorsManor readers, a quick game of word association…
Brandon Kozun – little
Martin Jones – big
Jake Muzzin – skilled
Dwight King – tough
Jordan Nolan – really tough
Slava Voynov – flashy
Stefan Legein – top cheese
Robbie Czarnik – hard worker
Thomas Hickey – head fakes
Andrei Loktionov – hands
Andy Andreoff – gritty
Rich Clune – beauty
For part-two of this conversation click here. Kaunisto talks about the contract side of things – including what options he is and isn’t looking at right now. Plus, we’ll get to the bottom of the real question, why did he cancel his twitter account?