Chris Kunitz is the only active NHL player with four Stanley Cups on his résumé. And he’s about to join another exclusive club.
On Thursday when he takes the ice against the New Jersey Devils, the 39-year-old winger will become the 25th active player to hit the 1,000-game mark and 335th player in league history to do so. In a classy gesture, the Blackhawks held Kunitz out of the lineup on Tuesday in Boston so the milestone would come in front of family members in Chicago, where his wife and her family grew up.
“It's something that's kind of been on the radar, but I knew coming here it wasn't something that I needed to say my career has been complete," Kunitz said. "That's obviously a really nice thing, and the team and organization has found a way to help me get into a game at home. It'll be a really big day for my family."
Hitting the 1,000-game mark isn't exactly a goal you set out to achieve when you start your hockey career, but one you grow to appreciate when you hit that plateau. Especially when you think back to the days where you wondered if you'd even have a career in hockey after going undrafted.
"I didn't actually think I'd have a career until you start playing in it," Kunitz said. "And once you're in it you just try and hang on as long as you can. I've been very fortunate the opportunities that I've had and teammates and people I've come across in my career."
Despite averaging only 9:27 of ice time this season and finding himself in and out of the lineup, Kunitz has been a first-class teammate and perfect mentor for some of the younger players, both on and off the ice.
“He's a great guy and a great teammate, and obviously brings leadership and experience," Jonathan Toews said. "We have a young team. A couple of veterans and a lot of young guys that are really developing and showing what they can do at this level and obviously showing there's a lot more to come down the road. I think a guy like [Kunitz], with his limited opportunity, he's played really well when he's gotten the chance.
"But aside from that, he adds that veteran presence and that leadership in the room. Plus, he's just a great person and a great guy to be around. You look at what he's meant to the championship teams he's been on in his career, you kind of realize what he brings to the table and what he means to a team in the locker room."
Having a veteran like that in the locker room is so important to building a winning and tight-knit culture. Nobody knows that more than Kunitz, who’s been on four different championship-winning teams. It's why the Blackhawks brought him in on a one-year deal this summer.
"He’s a great person, great teammate," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Obviously, his career has been fantastic and I think he’s been playing pretty well lately, giving us professional shifts. He does a lot of little things away from the puck. There’s a reason why he’s had so much success as a player, played on championship teams over and over again.
"He’s had a great career. His accomplishments speak for themselves. He’s been a terrific presence in the dressing room and he’s played pretty well, too. Big night for him."
While 1,000 games in the NHL is a big accomplishment, Kunitz downsized the individual achievement because the Blackhawks find themselves in the thick of a playoff race and he knows the importance of Thursday's game. His focus is on doing anything he can to help the team come away with two points.
"It's really nice that it's happened," Kunitz said. "I'm sure in a few years I'll think of it maybe a little different, but I still think of it as just going out and helping the team win tonight."