Chasing a hockey dream together: How Luke and Sophia Kunin make the first NHL-PWHL marriage work

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For years, Luke Kunin watched as his girlfriend, then fiancée, then wife, Sophia, supported his career.

She was a shoulder to lean on when things got tough in Minnesota. Moved to Nashville when he was traded there. Was a constant during the toughest season of his pro career — last year with the San Jose Sharks, when he tore his ACL.

So Kunin can’t wait to walk into Xcel Energy Center — the arena where he began his NHL career as a Minnesota Wild rookie seven years ago — on Saturday with the shoe on the other foot. The 1 p.m. CDT game will be his first time watching Sophia play at the highest level in person, as she’ll take the ice with Minnesota’s Professional Women’s Hockey League team to face Boston in its regular-season home finale ahead of next month’s playoffs.

“I’ll get to see what it’s all about,” Luke said. “I’ve watched her games on the internet all year — as much as I can with our schedule — but I think of all the things she’s sacrificed for me over the years so I can live out my dream. I can’t wait to be there to support her and watch her live her dream.”

Luke and Sophia Kunin’s relationship has helped them come through so much to arrive at this point. Meeting as teenagers. Watching each other excel in hockey. Becoming college sweethearts. And Luke being Sophia’s “rock every step of the way” after the most traumatic event of her life, the death of her younger brother, Drake, at the start of her sophomore year.

Luke, 26, is a hard-nosed, hard-working forward for the Sharks who hails from suburban St. Louis. Sophia, 27, who grew up in Wayzata, Minn., and is now one of PWHL Minnesota’s fastest, most reliable forwards, was known as Sophia Shaver until the Kunins were married last summer in the Twin Cities.

They are the only husband and wife professional hockey players in their respective top leagues in North America.

For now.

“I think the more our league’s around, the more we’re going to start to see it,” said U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Natalie Darwitz, GM of PWHL Minnesota and a two-time NCAA champion with the University of Minnesota. “Not to say that romances are going to happen left and right at the rink, but as more franchises start to share facilities and we’re around, it only makes sense because who better to understand the other’s schedule and commitment than another professional hockey player.

“To me, Luke and Sophia is such a cool story. It’d be even cooler if Luke still played for the Wild.”

Luke and Sophia met at the University of Wisconsin before their freshman years. Luke was an incoming men’s hockey player for a Badgers team he’d ultimately captain as a sophomore. Sophia was an incoming women’s hockey player for a Badgers team she’d ultimately captain and help lead to an NCAA championship with the winning goal in the title game.

At Wisconsin, athletes usually come to Madison for summer training before the school year starts.

“We actually were both in the same dorm,” Sophia recalled. “It was a small dorm with us — women’s hockey — men’s hockey, both basketballs and then some track people. We had a lot of time on our hands so we would hang out all the time. We’d see each other at the rink. Started off as friends and then really quickly just started dating in the fall of our freshman year.”

They’ve been together since, although because Luke plays for San Jose and Sophia was part of the Minnesota team in the inaugural PWHL season, they were newlyweds who rarely got to see each other during this first year as husband and wife.

Wild winger Marcus Foligno may be six years older than Luke, but the two hit it off right away when Luke arrived in Minnesota as a rookie, becoming such good pals that Foligno was a groomsman in the Kunins’ wedding, along with Luke’s former Nashville Predators teammate Colton Sissons and childhood best friend Matthew Tkachuk.

In early March, when the Sharks came to Minnesota for their first visit of 2023-24, Foligno was so excited to see his old friend that he asked if he wanted to have dinner the night before the game. He forgot, of course, that Luke would probably rather spend some time with his wife.

“He’s like, ‘Dude, I haven’t seen Sophia in two months,’” Foligno said, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s right. You guys have a crazy lifestyle.’ I don’t know how they do it. I’d go insane if I didn’t see my wife all the time, especially the first year of our marriage.”

But as tough as it is, the Kunins have done the long-distance thing often in their relationship since Kunin left Wisconsin after his sophomore year to turn pro.

“It’s tough, but we’re kind of used to it,” Sophia said. “We’ve been apart a lot of our lives. And with both of our schedules, we kind of have the same schedule. So we’re both unavailable to each other throughout the day. We’re here at the rink and then we get to catch up at night.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *