by Lisa Brown on 04/12/12 at 05:30 AM ET
Medicine Hat Tigers lose to Moose Jaw Warriors 4-3 in OT
It was a clean sweep Wednesday night in Alberta. The Edmonton Oil Kings took game 4 by a score of 6-0 and in southern Alberta the Moose Jaw Warriors took a 4-3 overtime victory over Edmonton Oilers’ goaltending prospect Tyler Bunz.
For Bunz, this was very likely his last WHL game and unfortunately this is not the way that he would like to close this chapter in his life. Fortunately, he does have a newly signed 3 year entry level contract with the Oilers and a bright future ahead of him.
Despite the Tigers leading in shots, it was the Warriors who took the early lead, a lead they would have kept had they stayed out of the penalty box. With three quick power play goals, the Tigers ensured that they would not go quietly and fought for every moment of hope for a game 5.
Anaheim Duck prospect Emerson Etem had been suspended early in this series and had returned to the Tiger’s lineup Tuesday night, but it was not until Wednesday that he truly shone as a game changer. Charging into the offensive zone, Etem had several quality scoring chances but only earned a single assist on the night. Etem is another player who will be looking to take the next step in his career development and the Tigers will miss him from their roster next season.
Bunz spoke fondly of Etem following his team’s loss saying “He’s one of those guys that you want to have in your lineup. It was probably the turning point in the season. He came back and gave it his all, he’s a heart and soul player for our team. I have nothing bad to say about that guy, he’s been one of my best friends for years now so there is nothing bad I can say about him.”
The Tigers lost this game because they squandered their 3-1 lead and took their foot off of the gas in the second period. The Warriors chipped away and finally tied the game four minutes of regulation time left to play.
As the skaters let up and started turning the puck over more, Bunz turned away shot after shot, 43 of 47 by the time regulation had expired as well as 8:50 of overtime.
“I thought I played a good game,” Bunz admitted. “I thought that our team played a good game and it was definitely our best game of the series. That’s all you can ask for really, they dominated us the first three games. I would have been more surprised if we would have with the same deficit that we did before rather than losing in OT tonight.
“We have great leadership in our dressing room. The guys really wanted it and they battled hard but there’s no questioning whether or not the guys wanted it. There are tears flowing from 20 year old men in that room. It just goes to show that we tried our hardest but you’ve got to give credit to Moose Jaw, they’re a great team. They battled hard, they worked hard and they outplayed us for most of the series. It’s unlucky tonight that we came out with the loss.”
Of course Bunz did absolutely everything he could to try to keep his team in the game, including a lot of puck handling. “It’s just part of my game, it’s been a strength of mine for years. If I can just make it a little easier for our d-men to get the puck out of our own end and start attacking the other end [it’s a good thing].
“It’s something that I like to do and it kind of keeps me focussed in the game and makes me more aware. Ever y little play you make helps to keep you focussed in the game. It’s just a part of how I play and I’m never going to stop doing it.”
While the current NHL rules may not encourage goaltenders to play the puck, there are still those that do and perhaps one day Bunz’s name will be synonymous with a puck moving goaltender.
It was just a few weeks ago that Bunz signed his first professional contract with the Oilers and that was the one thing that nearly perked up this deflated soul. While Bunz is always a very social and eloquent person he usually only shows happiness after losses or some degree of anger after a defeat, this was the first time that I saw the confident Bunz looking saddened by a loss. And for the first time in my many opportunities it seems the words didn’t flow as easily. Make no mistake; Bunz will be another player to add to the list of Oilers who hates to lose. That is certainly something they can use more of.
When Bunz did speak of his contract, he used the specially selected words I had heard him speak before “It felt good obviously, it has to be one of the highlights of my career, of my life and it’s just another step in the right direction of being an Oiler. You know it’s the easy part and the hard part is yet to come.
“There are a lot more years of development before I can make it to the NHL and I can do it. If they do give me that opportunity somewhere down the road I am ready and so it’s all up to me and what I do in the offseasons and during the season. I’ve just got to stick to it and regroup from this.”
With Bunz’s work ethic, talent and drive he will be an NHL goaltender and I can see him fitting in very well with the Oilers. Just how soon is yet to be determined.
Many of the fans in attendance in Medicine Hat believe that Bunz will be back in the Hat for next season, but Bunz is ready to turn pro and now the Oilers have two options for his development with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL or the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL. Either one of them is a possibility.
“It’s a step that I want to make. If it does happen that I do return to the Tigers I’ll be happy; it’s been my home for four years. I have a lot of memories and a lot of good experiences here. At the same time I do want to move on with my career and take that next step towards being an NHL goalie.“
While the Tiger’s loss is of course a disappointment, they are still one of the most consistently successful teams in the WHL. The list of current and former notable NHLers that have played in the old Arena is very long and always growing. There is of course the chance that Bunz and Etem will be on that list before too long. “Every guy in that dressing room can hold their head high” Bunz said of his teammates and he’s right. It will not be hours after the game, but the loss will become easier for the team to deal with and they will move on. After falling behind in the first 3 games the Tigers knew their chances of recovery were slim but you had to give them a lot of credit for battling the way they did.
And while it may not be true for all players on the roster, there is always next year to look forward to.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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