by Lisa McRitchie on 01/20/12 at 05:00 PM ET
For the Edmonton Oilers, goaltending continues to be an issue if not a major concern. When this season began, it appeared as though Nikolai Khabibulin was back to his prime and that Devan Dubnyk was ready to make the next step. Now, as the season has progressed, neither Dubnyk nor Khabibulin looks as steady, but they do still have great games from time to time.
What may be of little comfort to Oilers fans is that the Oilers may have the “real deal” waiting and developing in the WHL. For many however, Bunz is one of most exciting prospects in the Oilers’ system. After all, Bunz can be a real game changer. The best part of that of course being that Tyler Bunz was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Round. Everyone loves an underdog story.
Tyler Bunz, raised in St. Albert is definitely an Oilers fan. It was certainly a dream come true to hear that the Oilers had selected him that June afternoon, and it was something that has certainly changed Bunz life for the better.
Bunz has quietly been putting up excellent numbers in the WHL. Last season he led his team to the playoffs, but had to miss the first round due to a concussion suffered in March. Bunz did suffer another concussion this season, but in an extremely odd and Oilers like injury as Bunz was struck in the head with a puck, but while sitting on the bench during the Subway Super Series.
Showing no signs of injury or slowdown, Bunz has strung together a record of 25-12-2-2 (W-L-OTL-SOL), a save percentage of 0.922 and a goals allowed average of 2.56. With 25 wins, Bunz is the second winningest goaltender in the WHL.
“I think it’s been pretty good, I feel really good with my year,” said Bunz Wednesday evening following his team’s victory over the Calgary Hitmen in Calgary. “This hasn’t been the best month of my season but the past few games I’ve played well.”
The Tigers have lost four of their six games in January, but convincing victories over the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Calgary Hitmen may be enough to turn the team’s luck around.
“Every goalie goes through it where there’s a bad stretch and you don’t play as well as you want to but it’s a long season and you’ve got a lot of time to rebound. Hopefully you do it sooner rather than later.
“My game’s starting to come around again. Tonight felt good. There were a little, few, mishaps with the puck, it didn’t really want to stay in my glove, and they kept popping out of my glove so I think I need to work on that.”
The single goal Bunz allowed Wednesday night was one that he just couldn’t catch with the glove, and of course Bunz is his biggest critic and will undoubtedly do some glove work before his next game.
“I’ve got to credit our goalie coach from Calgary here [J.F. Martel], he’s done a real good job with me and Kenny [Cameron, Tiger’s backup goaltender]. He’s definitely the reason why I am where I am today. We work pretty hard both on and off of the ice so a lot of credit goes to him.”
Bunz has always been a professional and well spoken. Bunz also won the Tiger’s Scholastic Player of the year award, twice. So, he’s definitely smart enough to know that he will need help to take his career further. With his outgoing and friendly personality, Bunz should have no trouble at all forging relationships with all of the right people from the goalie coaches and strength and conditioning to the hockey operations staff.
Bunz’s biggest disappointment of the season may be being cut from Canada’s World Juniors team. But even that didn’t seem to affect Bunz very much. “You have to take it with a grain of salt,” Bunz reflected. “I wasn’t at my best at the [Team Canada] camp and that is how you have to look at it.
“I went there and I wanted to perform the way that I wanted to but I didn’t end up doing that. They made the right decision going with Wedgewood; he was the best goalie in camp. Obviously Visentin was there before and he had the experience so it’s pretty much three goalies competing for one spot.
“Wedgewood really came out and played the way that he needed to to steal that spot. You’ve just got to take it how it is. It’s been about a month now so, I came back and played real well after it happened and you don’t want to let that kind of stuff get you down.
“It’s tough to take, but you’ve got a long season, and a long career in front of you. This type of experience I had with the World Juniors makes you better and after getting cut it just makes you realize that you just have to work that much harder to make sure that you’re at the top of your game when you’re back with your club team so that’s the mindset that I had. Obviously it’s a tough pill to swallow, but you’ve just got to take it how it is.”
Although Bunz wasn’t on the ice for Team Canada, he was with them in spirit. “I had some good relationships on the team with the guys. I’m happy for the team that they won bronze. I think everyone wanted to see them win gold but that’s just the way that things go, the Russians were a good team. Just because I got cut I wasn’t going to not watch. I’m still a Canadian at heart and these are all my best buddies, so I obviously want them to do well.”
It’s true that bronze was not the goal, but taking a medal at the competitive tournament was still a victory because after all, the team could have just as easily walked away empty handed.
Bunz has been gaining interest within some Oilers circles, and his popularity is definitely on the rise. At this point, it’s not something that Bunz can think about or consider.
“For me I just want to go out every night and give my team the best chance to win and hope for the best and let the chips fall where they may. You can’t control anything but the way you play.” Bunz says of his status and ranking amongst other prospects.
“You’ve got to just go out there and battle and compete and show the Oilers coaching staff that I want to play professional level hockey and play for the Edmonton Oilers one day. So you’ve just got to keep progressing, keep working hard on and off of the ice, make sure that you develop your skills because those skills are going to get you where you want to be one day and obviously the NHL is where I want to be.”
At this rate, and with this type of play, Bunz will play in the NHL and hopefully with his childhood favourite team, the Oilers.
The Oilers’ development staff, led by Billy Moores and Mike Sillinger has continued to work with the prospects on an individual basis. This not only helps the players with what they need to do, but it also reinforces just how much the players in the system mean to the future of the Oilers team.
Of course the players who play in the WHL might be more accessible in person than the players in Europe, but it is still the constant interaction between the players and staff that remains the same.
Minutes after Bunz’s near shutout win, Bunz had a missed call from Mike Sillinger. “They’re keeping in touch pretty good. They treat their players well whether you’re on the team or not. They treat you with great class and it’s a great organization to be a part of.”
This season, Bunz hoped to work on his skating, puck control and rebounds. There is always room for improvement and as with all goalies, rebounds will haunt Bunz for his entire career.
This will be yet another year the Oilers do not make a playoff appearance. And so, many will turn to the “baby Oilers” in Oklahoma City (AHL), in Stockton (ECHL) and the WHL to remind themselves that better days must surely be coming.
For Bunz, the good days are already here. His team is playing well and looking forward to the playoffs and his personal performance puts him near the top of the WHL rankings. Given Bunz’s play this season, he will also undoubtedly continue to have more happy post game phone calls from the Oilers who may themselves be excited for their goaltending future.
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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.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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