Riding on the back of a Donkey
By: Chamberlain Bauder and Michael Rose
Brockport’s defense in men’s lacrosse has been a high point all season, riding on the backs of a donkey. Cam “Donkey” Kuzniar to be specific. Lacrosse is notorious for giving nicknames to teammates, often based around their names or something related to their game.
“The boys call me donkey… when I was a baby in the hospital I cried like a donkey so my parents said, ‘woe we gave birth to a donkey’ so it’s literally stuck since day one,” Kuzniar said. “But ya know what it’s kind of a cool unique nickname, there’s no shame behind donkey.”
Donkey is not the only thing that seems to have “stuck” from an early age. Kuzniar wouldn’t be the lacrosse player he is today if it weren’t for first dominating another sport.
“My main sport growing up was hockey, and you can’t get recruited to college hockey out of high school… I was playing top level hockey, triple A, tier one, and I was like, do I really wanna be a 21-year-old freshman?” Kuzniar said.
While the decision seemed to be an easy one for Kuzniar, it wasn’t for a lack of skill on the ice. 2,487 career saves in varsity hockey would be enough to give Kuzniar the state record by about 200 saves. Kuzniar was a hockey goalie first and that has shown in his play on the turf as a lacrosse goalie for his entire career. Often gliding between posts and going into a butterfly position, completely unorthodox in most lacrosse coach’s eyes.
“You’ll see me use my feet and legs more, just because of growing up as a hockey goalie. Usually, you step up to the ball. You’ll see me drop right to my knees, which works for me… Or I’ll make a kick save just because I have the foot coordination or leg coordination,” Kuzniar said.
Kuzniar started his collegiate career at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa. There he started six games before COVID-19 shut down the NCAA in March 2020.
“We were driving to the game we kind of heard about COVID, all of a sudden after the game, we lost by a goal, and coach is like ‘Hey boys the season’s over, we didn’t want to tell you before the game’ because they knew previously but we were already down there so the coaches just agreed to play,” Kuzniar said.
After a coaching change at Lycoming, Kuzniar followed a different path.
“I don’t like what I’m studying, I’m gonna go back home. I knew Brockport was a great school, a great institution. I grew up here in Rochester and my Grandma’s 10 minutes away from Brockport. I decided to study physical education,” Kuzniar said.
Kuzniar transferred into Brockport and started off in the spring back home, living with his grandma. He walked into his first practice without any college gear.
“First practice, it was weird, I was the new guy. I’m wearing my high school bucket. I come in and I’m like ‘Hey boys my names Donkey’ I didn’t even say Cam… But everyone accepted me and it was a great squad,” Kuzniar said.
Kuzniar was sure to keep the “Donkey” legend alive as he came into Brockport. The goalie gained a lot from his situation, being under coach Ben Wineburg. He was Kuzniar's first coach to have played his position.
“Just small little tips because I never had a goalie coach growing up, like I’m self-taught. So, him knowing the game, like you take little things. We changed up a lot, stance, positioning in the crease, or baiting shooters,” Kuzniar said.
Kuzniar would enter battling for the second spot on the depth chart behind incumbent John Felice. Despite showing great improvements in practice Kuzniar would not be given the opportunity to start over Felice.
“The first game after I transferred here in my sophomore year Wineburg said, ‘Hey Felice is our man and you got it in two years.’ I don’t think he had the balls to play me over Felice,” Kuzniar said.
Despite coach’s choice, players noticed a much closer competition in goal than it was made out to be. Underclassman goalie Jack Acker got a front row seat.
“John was a very active goalie and he would come out of the cage and Donk (Kuzniar) was just locked in there every single time, shots anywhere on the field he could save them,” Acker said. “In my personal opinion some games it should’ve been Donks, some games it should’ve been John but it was a very tight battle between the two of them.”
Felice still posted a career year, earning second team all-conference honors. But Kuzniar’s ability was obvious to those that saw it, unfortunately for him his play was limited to practice. Now in his senior year, with a new coaching staff, Kuzniar has finally taken his place between the pipes. New head coach Colin Cornaire has noticed Kuzniar’s skill.
“You know it’s an age-old question, do you play the seniors or do you play who’s best. Obviously, I wasn’t here but I’ve heard a good bit that Cam was definitely at least fighting for that starting spot,” Cornaire said.
Cornaire credited Kuzniar and his continued effort even while sitting for the last two seasons.
“I think it’s just a testament to him. He’s one of the best hockey goaltenders that New York state has ever seen. It would’ve been really easy for him to just give up lacrosse all together and go back to hockey or just say woe is me… It’s just a testament to how much Cam wants it and how much passion he has that he’s stuck around and did that,” Cornaire said.
Kuzniar has proven his decision to stay with lacrosse was wise. He has received SUNYAC men’s lacrosse defensive athlete of the week honors twice this season. In 12 games, he has stopped 60.1% of the shots he’s faced, totaling up 188 saves. His save percentage ranks 21st amongst all college goalies this season regardless of division.
“You can see it in the shooters, they’re adjusting their shots because we’ve got 33 in net whose pretty much going save anything that’s weak. I wouldn’t even begin to imagine what the scores would look like if he isn’t as hot as he is,” Cornaire said.
Although Kuzniar’s individual success hasn’t translated to the rest of his team, he has remained optimistic.
“Wineburg didn’t recruit for us at all since he knew he wasn’t going to be back. So, this year is a building year, building our culture. It’s the start of a new coaching staff for the next however many years. It’s the start of a new culture so it’s pretty special to be a part of,” Kuzniar said.
Kuzniar has no plans to use his fifth year of eligibility granted to him from the COVID-19 cancelled season. So, while his final season may not be what he had hoped Kuzniar is satisfied with his college career ending this season. Lacrosse will always be close to him though.
“Definitely coach in the future, my kids will play lacrosse for sure. So I’m still gonna be around the game. Hopefully start going to Syracuse games because I’ve never really been to a Syracuse lacrosse game at the dome which is crazy. But I’ve just been busy growing up, travel hockey, lacrosse,” Kuzniar said.
Though it may lay dormant for some time, the Donkey mantle may come back to sports some years down the road. The blue helmet with a funny design will sit proudly on a fireplace and 33 will always be a reminder of when Brockport lacrosse rode on the back of a donkey.