The Super Yooper returns to Ontario tonight

Former Kings prospect Ray Kaunisto is back in Southern California tonight with the Colorado Eagles, and they’ll be taking on the Ontario Reign.  It’s not where he planned on playing this season, but things seem to be working out OK for the former college hockey forward.

Originally signed by Dean Lombardi as a free agent following his senior year at Northern Michigan in 2010, Kaunisto spent the next two seasons in Manchester – where he earned the reputation of being a big chirper and one of those guys that always had a joke ready to lighten the mood.

That also earned him many interviews here on MayorsManor and he even penned an article for us once – Ray Kaunisto’s Bucket List (a must read).

Lombardi and crew didn’t resign him this past summer though, so he inked a deal with the AHL’s Ice Caps.  But before he knew it, he was shipped off to the ECHL.

“When I went to training camp there were a lot of guys at St. Johns, and guys under NHL contract,” he began to explain. “So, I found myself in Colorado a couple weeks later. I was a little disappointed at first, but I got there and it was such a great setup, and a great organization. So I’m happy to be here.”

He’s a big hunter, fisher and lover of all things outdoors, so Colorado would seem like a good fit.

“Yeah, it’s been awesome. It’s sunny all the time and nice out there. It doesn’t snow too much where we are, but you go up in the mountains and you get to see all the animals, and the elk, and the mountains and stuff like that.”

In 43 games with the Eagles he’s posted 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) and racked up 95 penalty minutes – because, yes, if you run your mouth on the ice, you’re likely to get into a fight or two.

This will be his third stop in Ontario this season. However, t’s only his second game vs. the Reign, as a few weeks back he had to sit out due to a suspension from the game prior in Bakersfield.

Not that long ago, it looked like he might find his way back to the AHL again.

“They had a few guys that were hurt, so I got called up for a couple weeks,” said Kaunisto. “And then after Christmas break they sent me back down.”

Through it all, he’s kept that down-to-earth, easy going Northern Michigan sensibility about himself.

“I knew it was a two-way deal, ECHL and AHL. So you know there’s always that chance that you’re going to end up getting sent down, and I got sent down. But hey, that’s alright, you know?”

A string bean of a guy, standing 6-foot-4, but weighing only 185 lbs, he doesn’t look much different than when we used to catch up with him at various Kings’ camps.

“I don’t think I’ve grown any,” he said. “But definitely haven’t gained any weight either.”

Yet, one thing has changed, his approach to playing hockey. Being in the AHL he felt like his NHL dreams were pretty close. Now in the ECHL, he’s had to readjust his thinking a bit.

“It’s just mental, said the 26-year old. “You want to be in the AHL, and trying to get better and work your way up into line-ups. It’s just adjusting to the lifestyle too because it’s a different kind of lifestyle. You just have to make it work with what you have.”

A cut in pay, shipped off to a lower rung of professional hockey, nothing deters Kaunisto.

“I’ll probably be one of those lifers. I don’t know what else I would do. In pro hockey there’s always ups and downs. You’re going to be up sometimes; you’re going to be down sometimes. And you know you have to make the best of what you’re doing. At the end of the day, I’m playing hockey for money. And I’m happy doing it. So having a lot of fun, making friends, and seeing new places.”

And still chirping too.

“I might, I don’t know yet,” said Kaunisto, when asked if he had anything special planned for Ontario’s Matt Clune, the younger brother of one his former teammates in Manchester. “I should’ve called Rich up and asked him for some good material to use. No, not really. Down here I’ll probably keep my mouth shut, and just go out and play.”

Yeah, sure.

But, what about that incredible bucket list – scratch anything off of it lately?

“I haven’t punched a bear in the face yet. I’m getting close to riding a bull though. There’s a little country bar out in Colorado and I’m hoping I can get on a bull there pretty soon.”

Yes, you read that right. He wants to punch a bear in the face.

“Oh yeah!” remarked Kaunisto. “When I was up in Whistler, B.C., there were bears walking all over the sidewalks, and I was hoping I could run up and catch one off guard when there were people around. I’m just hoping I can run faster than somebody.”

If his legs are as fast as his mouth, he should be fine.

RELATED CONTENT: Kaunisto’s reflections on Manchester and some Word Association

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