(Photo: Troy Young)
WICHITA FALLS, Texas – Former Wildcats forward Rudy Junda has committed to play Division I hockey at the University of Denver beginning in the fall of 2014, it was announced Thursday.
“I’m very excited to commit to Denver and am eternally grateful to have this opportunity,” Junda said. “I’m thankful for all the support I received from everyone associated with the Wildcats, especially my billet family, the Welches, who helped me stay focused on reaching my goal”
“We are ecstatic with the opportunity that Rudy has earned at Denver,” Wildcats President and General Manager Paul Baxter said. “Rudy is a very committed player who will provide the Pioneers with energy and intelligent play. He has been a great player for us over the past two seasons, and we look forward to watching him play at the Division I level.”
Baxter, who coached Junda for two seasons in his previous role as head coach of the Wildcats, believes the forward has the skills needed to succeed at Denver.
“Rudy has a lot of things going for him,” he said. “He is a very good puck protector, and he uses his strength well. He has a very good shot with a quick release, and can impact the game with his physical play, all of which give him the potential to be a successful DI player.”
Junda, who posted career-highs in goals (11), assists (14) and total points (25) in 2013-14, faced uncertainty after completing his final year of junior hockey. But the Denver native took a proactive approach to his recruiting process, reaching out to the Pioneer coaching staff when he caught wind of a potential roster opening.
“I came home after the season and my good friend Evan Ritt, who was a freshman at Denver this past year, told me the Pioneers were looking to fill an opening, and I jumped at the opportunity” Junda said.
Junda reached out to the Pioneer coaching staff, and although the ensuing recruiting process did not proceed as quickly as he may have liked, he stayed positive throughout.
“I was trying to keep my cool, stay positive about the situation, and not get too high or too low emotionally. I had waited this long [for a DI opportunity], I knew I could wait a bit longer,” he remarked. “I really wasn’t nervous, I was just grateful to have the opportunity to visit the school and meet with the coaching staff at Denver.”
Sometime after visiting the Denver campus and speaking with Pioneer Head Coach Jim Montgomery, Junda received the call he had been hoping to get for years.
“I grew up a few minutes from the campus, going to Pioneer hockey games,” Junda said. “I remember watching them win a national championship and attending their hockey camps. I’ve thought about playing DI hockey for so long, and I couldn’t be happier to do so for a school I grew up around, in a city I love.”
Despite his excitement for the challenge ahead, Junda paused to reflect on his time with the Wildcats.
“Playing for [former head coach] Paul [Baxter] has done a lot for me,” Junda said. “The style of play he taught prepared me well for playing in college, but I don’t think anything is going to be more valuable than what Paul taught me about being a competitor.”
Junda becomes the fifth player in team history to commit to the University of Denver, joining goaltender Evan Cowley (2012-13), defensemen Wade Bennett (2010-11) and Chris Nutini (2005-07), and forward Luke Salazar (2006-08).