ASHWAUBENON - The Green Bay Gamblers scour the globe for the best hockey players the world has to offer. Sometimes the search even takes them to their own back yard.
Green Bay native Tony Kujava has locked down the position between the pipes for Green Bay. He's the 6 th goaltender they've used so far this season.
Head Coach Derek Lalonde said Kujava's played a major part in the Gamblers rebounding from a slow start to the season. "He's a big reason we're where we're at right now," Lalonde said. "We won one of our first ten games and to have the playoff position clinched, to look like a possible number two seed going into the playoffs, we're ecstatic and he's been a big part of it."
Kujava came to the Gamblers around Christmas from the central Canada hockey league and he's turned out to be quiet the Christmas present for the team. With more appearances his 2.05 goals against average and .934 saves percentage would both be league leading marks.
The team didn't make Kujava any promises about playing time when he signed on. Both he and Coach Lalonde said that it was his competitive fire and play in net that earned him the starting nod.
"I didn't really know what my role was going to be when I got here and I just kept working hard, earned some ice time, kept playing well and just trying to help the team win," Kujava said.
Derek Lalonde added any goaltender can make the easy saves. It's what Kujava does the rest of the time that sets him apart. "It's his compete level around the net," Lalonde said. "Even tonight (Sunday) there's 2 or 3 times people thought the puck was in the back of the net and he found a way to make a big save and that separates a lot of goalies."
Defenseman Ben Gallacher said that Kujava gives the entire team an air of confidence when he's between the pipes. "He just gives us all confidence. I mean we all know he's going to stop the puck and he's good at stopping pucks behind our nets and so it's easy for us as D men to makes plays to get the puck out of the zone," Gallacher said.
Kujava has traveled like a hockey veteran. He's played in Janesville, Canada, and now he's here at the Resch center, a building that holds special meaning for him and his family.
"Just seeing people in the lobby after the game and hearing my name chanted is a pretty cool experience," Kujava said. "I've dreamed of it since I was 5 years old. Growing up every year me and my dad had season tickets and just to be living in that net and playing for the Gamblers is something special."
With the way he's played, his coach would likely agree, Kujava in a Gambler's jersey is something special.
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