The object of the two games is the same — to score goals. One is played on a sheet of ice, the other on a pitch. Canisius College junior Ryan Puntiri excels at both.
On the soccer field, the midfielder is one of the leading playmakers in the nation. Puntiri was named second-team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference after registering 14 points this season. He ranked 12th in the nation in assists with 10 and is tied for third at Canisius in all-time assists with 17.
The junior is also a forward on the Canisius hockey team. Though he’s not the most fluent skater or graceful stick-handler, Puntiri is constantly doing the dirty work, delivering solid hits and digging pucks out from along the boards. He tallied seven goals and nine assists last season.
He brings a hard-nosed attitude and leadership to both Griffin squads, which teammates admire and try to imitate. Puntiri has been elected captain of the soccer team and won the Tom Chapman Memorial Award, given to the Ice Griffs’ unsung hero, last season.
“My work ethic is how I find success in both sports, and other players feed off that,” said Puntiri.
“Ryan is an extremely competitive and hard-working player, who takes pride in his performance in games in addition to his performance in training,” added head soccer coach Dave Kreger. “He does not allow an opponent to outwork him.”
The two-sport athlete was recruited by former soccer mentor Dr. Greg Reeds to play for the Golden Griffins, but he also wanted to play hockey at the college level. His father, Victor, played for the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League.
Reeds spoke to hockey coach Brian Cavanaugh, and it was decided he could play both, though the seasons of the two sports overlap by a month.
The transformation from one sport to the other is tricky, both physically and psychologically.
“The training for soccer helps build endurance but you use different muscles in hockey, so it takes a while to get your hockey legs back,” admits Puntiri.
The product of Plymouth South High School has made the changeover look easy. In just his fifth game on the ice this season, he scored two goals in the last eight minutes to lead the Ice Griffs to a 5-5 comeback tie against American International.
“Ryan is a gifted two-sport athlete who makes an immediate contribution when he steps off the soccer field and onto the ice,” said Cavanaugh.
Time management is a skill that must be mastered in order for any student-athlete to be successful in the classroom, especially for one that competes in two sports.
“I’m used to it because that1s the way it’s always been,” said Puntiri. “There really isn’t much of an adjustment.”
The upperclassman’s experience has also helped another two-sport athlete, freshman Brad Kenny. The Burlington, Ont., native tied Puntiri for the team lead in soccer scoring with 14 points and has tallied two goals in his first three hockey games. Kenny sought advice from the veteran on making the shift between the two sports.
“Coach Cavanaugh has always told me not to worry about hockey until after the soccer season, which helps ease the situation.” said Puntiri. “I just relayed that to Brad.”
With his work ethic and leadership skills, Puntiri shows no signs of slowing down.
“Anybody who’s ever played with Ryan knows that he’s one of the fiercest competitors to ever put on a Canisius jersey — in hockey or soccer,” said Cavanaugh.
“I expect him to improve on his junior year and be one of the top playmakers in the MAAC again next season,” offered Kreger.
And if he has a favorite between soccer and hockey, Puntiri’s not telling.
“We’ve had a little more success in hockey, which helps make it more enjoyable,” admits Puntiri, “but once I get involved, I love playing both.”
John L. Maddock is assistant director of athletics for Canisius College.