In the world of women’s hockey it’s all too easy to overlook players without ties to their national teams. It’s even easier to overlook forwards who play unselfish hockey and excel in the defensive zone and on special teams. Buffalo Beauts forward Kourtney Kunichika is one of those players.
Kunichika is the only player on the 2017-18 Buffalo Beauts roster that played with the team during its inaugural season. But in all three of her seasons in Buffalo, Kunichika has been somewhat overshadowed by teammates with flashier styles and bigger names. As a result, Kunichika has spent her first two years and change in the NWHL playing outside of the spotlight.
Kunichika may not have a letter on the front of her jersey, but she has been one of the best players in the Beauts’ brief history. In 38 career NWHL regular season games she has piled up 32 points. Even more impressive is the fact that 27 of those points have been primary. That ratio is clear evidence that Kunichika knows how to generate scoring chances and that she’s been doing it since her first game as a Beaut.
Kourtney Kunichika was once again a difference-maker for the Beauts. She has a primary point in all 3 games she's played in this season.— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) November 19, 2017
One reason Kunichika may not get as much praise as she deserves is the drop in her production last season. After scoring nine goals in her first season she scored just two goals in 2016-17. So, why the drop in her goal scoring? Kunichika shot the puck a lot less frequently last year; her average shots per game dropped from 2.38 to 1.52 SOG/GP. It appears that Kunichika started passing the puck more often in her second season while also embracing a more defensive role. It’s also no secret that the Beauts were dependent on the power play to create most of their offense last season. And the targets on the power play were Megan Bozek and Corinne Buie.
Any Beauts fans will tell you just how valuable Kunichika has been to Buffalo’s special teams play. She’s finished second on the Beauts in power play points in her first two seasons, largely thanks to her ability to move the puck. Whenever the Beauts score a power play goal, there’s a very good chance that Kunicha is one of the two players who touched the puck before the goal scorer. She’s a creative, patient playmaker who knows how to pass through traffic and deceive defenders.
Despite being one of the NWHL’s best faceoff women in the league’s first two seasons, it looks like Kunichika has shifted over to the wing this year. After missing the first game of the season, she’s played regularly with Maddie Elia and Hayley Scamurra. Thus far the trio has been one of the most exceptional lines of the new season. And Kunichika, who has a primary point at even strength in three consecutive games, has been the driving force behind the trio.
As good as Kunichika is with the puck on her stick, she may be even better at battling for it in the corners. The California native has a relentless motor that has helped to define what Beauts hockey is all about for over two years. While playing that tenacious brand of hockey, Kunichika has taken just six minor penalties in 45 regular season and playoff games.
Kunichika has worn a lot of hats for the Beauts since the team’s inaugural season. She’s been a shutdown center, a power play specialist, a goal scorer, a playmaking winger, and an Isobel Cup Champion. But she still hasn’t been an All-Star. Maybe this year that will finally change.