||01-06-2006 12:40 PM
RiverDogs' Bobby Kukulka article
Kukulka content to create chaos
Pesky right wing delights coach and antagonizes the opposition
BY JERRY LINDQUIST
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Jan 6, 2006
What in the world has gotten into Bobby Kukulka? If you didn't know better, you would think he's the Richmond RiverDogs' newest goon.
In his past four games, the team's smallest player at 5-8 and 185 pounds has doubled his penalty minutes to 96 in 31 games overall. Last year, as a pro rookie, Kukulka had 67 in 71 games, including six in 14 outings after joining the RiverDogs late in the season from Flint.
He was pretty much a nondescript 10th forward. He usually could measure his playing time by a handful of shifts. "I did not have a great rookie year," Kukulka said.
If this isn't the new Kukulka who has emerged this season, then it's the old one with a new face. On a team that hasn't always lived up to its "Bad to the Bone" self-styled reputation, the native of Macomb, Mich., has more often than not been a delight to Coliseum fans. There's something about the little guy with heart who doesn't mind mucking it up with the bigger guys.
"I'm just trying to fill a role as a third-line player, getting dirty, drawing penalties, taking my share, too," Kukulka said earlier this week.
Before you think his definition of dirty is the same as yours, be advised it isn't. "I mean dirty as in hitting [and] not having guys like you," Kukulka explained. "I hear it all the time that my cousin John DiPace is a hated player around this league. He's always in your face."
Their mothers are sisters, and it was RiverDogs forward DiPace who originally steered Kukulka to coach Robbie Nichols when they were in Flint. "He wasn't supposed to make it [last year]," said Nichols, now the RiverDogs' coach. "I was going to cut him, then in preseason he ran somebody over and fought someone. He kept on impressing. You ask for effort, and he gives effort. I just want to see it every night."
Kukulka was a first-line, goal-scoring forward in junior hockey. Four years ago, he had 45 points (24 goals) in 31 games. A punctured lung took away most of his final junior season. Kukulka attended community college back home, intent on becoming a firefighter, but thought better of it after one semester and turned pro.
Being traded in a seven-player deal in which Kris Waltze (currently on RiverDogs IR) is the only other player remaining with either Flint or Richmond "had an effect on me - a wakeup call," Kukulka said. "I'm playing harder this year."
It helps perhaps to know the Turk is forever lurking in the background. For some players, there's nothing like the fear of being cut to serve as motivation to do whatever it takes to survive.
Ask Nichols how many times he's considered releasing Kukulka the past year and a half, and the coach says, "Oh, I don't know, maybe 20. And every time he seems to show a reason why he's here."
Come to think of it, "He's done a lot more here than some other guys have," Nichols added.
For the most part, Kukulka has been a third-line regular this season. He has four goals and six assists. His plus-7 is the best on the team. Still, after 27 games, he had 48 PIM, and 20 came in one game in which he fought Roanoke Valley's Rico Fatticci. Kukulka also got into a skirmish with David-Alexandre Beauregard at the final buzzer that earned him a major, a game misconduct and automatic game suspension.
The latest PIM binge started innocently enough with a high-sticking minor at Danbury, but it escalated into a personal war with the Trashers' Mike Omicoli over the next two games. "He stuck his stick in my face, and I'm not going to stand for that," Kukulka said.
In Richmond, Omicoli took a couple of two-handers at Kukulka while he was being held by a linesman. Kukulka got a spearing major and game misconduct. The next night in Danbury, "I hit him in the corner. We were going side by side up the ice. The next thing I knew I was on my back, knocked out for a second," Kukulka said. "I look up, and he's coming down, trying to cross-check me in the head. I got him with a punch. He got a match penalty."
Sunday at the Coliseum, Kukulka was given a match penalty for allegedly slew-footing Elmira's Mathieu Wathier. "We looked at the tape. I didn't deserve what they gave me," Kukulka said. (The league agreed. He will not be suspended, which usually goes with a match penalty.)
Kukulka likes his new-found role, and he doesn't plan on changing again soon. "To stay on this team I need to play the way Robbie wants me to play," Kukulka said. "I don't mind being a third-liner. It takes the pressure off me. I just go out and do what I do best - hit and cause havoc."