Michael Bunting remembers sitting with his mother, Lynda, at the family dinner table in Scarborough, Ontario, wondering about his future.
Bunting, 17 at the time, pondered his career path. A university education? The police academy? Firefighter training? Those were some of the possibilities.
One week later, he played in a Midget AAA All-Star Game -- and everything changed.
"I had about five OHL teams calling me saying they were going to draft me after that game," recalled Bunting, who tallied his first NHL hat trick Monday night.
More on that in a moment. First, some backstory.
Playing at the AAA level in Greater Toronto takes two things: one is skill -- the other is money.
When Bunting was a high school senior, a school administrator, Shane Bowler, was coaching a local AAA team, the Don Mills Flyers.
"'Hey, come play for my team,' he told me," Bunting said. "But it's expensive to play AAA hockey in Toronto, it's pretty crazy."
Bunting was raised in a blue-collar home. His father, Andy, worked for the city. His mother was a bookkeeper at a local retail store. Despite the expensive AAA fees, Bunting went to the tryouts, figuring it would at least be a good experience.
He apparently dazzled -- but was discouraged.
"I still remember the day," Bunting said. "They showed me how much it would cost. I said, 'Okay, I'll talk to you guys later, I don't think I'm going to play.'"
Then, the Flyers worked out a payment plan.
"They helped out my family," Bunting said. "We were able to make it work. I can't thank the Don Mills Flyers organization enough. They were great to me and my family. I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for them."
Not that he wasn't a little bit more than a worthwhile investment.
Bunting totaled 39 points (27G, 12A) in 28 games with the Flyers and consequently -- after that AAA all-star game -- was selected in the ninth round of the 2013 OHL Priority Selection by Kyle Dubas, the current Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager. Dubas was the GM of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, with whom Bunting would play two seasons.
Bunting eventually was drafted by the Coyotes in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and is in his sixth season with the organization. He played 217 AHL games before making his NHL debut on December 11, 2018, in Boston -- a game in which he scored his first NHL goal.
Video: ARI@BOS: Bunting buries loose puck to score in debut
The puck from that goal is framed in a plaque, which he gave to his mother. He gave his brother, Chris, the stick he used.
Bunting recently reflected on his family and childhood.
"My parents never forced hockey on me," Bunting said, "which I think made me appreciate hockey even more. A lot of kids are drilled with hockey in the winter, hockey in the summer, hockey in the spring. Every season they play hockey."
He was allowed to be a kid.
"I played soccer, I played basketball," he continued. "I played badminton and tennis, volleyball, and hockey for my high school."
Some would say he has competition in his genes. His father played hockey growing up; his mother played volleyball for the University of Toronto; his brother played rugby.
"I was able to experience the high-school life," Bunting said of his teen years. "I've talked to a lot of buddies and they were already in junior hockey by high school, so they really didn't experience that side of it. I have my parents to thank for that."
Bunting has played 323 AHL games and seven in the ECHL. He is the Tucson Roadrunners' franchise leader in games played (260), goals (74), assists (106), points (180) and penalty minutes (244).
"I've played quite a while in the American Hockey League," Bunting said. "I have more than 300 games in the league, but I love it. I wouldn't change anything about the path I've taken. I spent a lot of time down there, but it's made me the player that I am and made me appreciate the little things more because I've had to grind, I've had to work hard.
"There were some negative times I had," he continued. "But luckily I had a great support system from all the coaches."
He mentions Roadrunners head coach Steve Potvin, who gave him this advice: "Just take it day by day, realize where you're going with your game."
His "going" ended up being called up to Arizona.
The 25-year-old joined the Coyotes taxi squad March 26. He made his season debut March 31. In four games played, he has four goals - three of which came via that first NHL hat trick Monday night in Los Angeles.
Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said: "(Bunting) as a willingness to go to the net. He's underrated. He's got a really sneaky shot. He's got some sneaky speed. Last game, he was in front of the net when (Chychrun) scored. All these goals -- every time I (look) I see number 58 around the net. He's not afraid to get in some people's faces. He's definitely added a net-front presence."
Bunting lives by the motto, "Never forget where you came from."
"I've only had a cup of coffee," he said. "I've only played nine games, I've had early success, but the biggest thing to stay in this league is consistency. So, I need to make sure I keep this good thing going and not get too high on the highs and not too low on the lows."
He continued: "Be the player you are, never take a shift off. I go into every game not taking anything for granted. You earn your milk money every single day.
"Now, I've got to just keep this going in a positive way and take every day basically day-by-day. Things can change quickly."
Kind of like they did the day after that AAA all-star game years ago.
Lead Photo Credit: Norm Hall - NHLI via Getty Images // Second Photo Courtesy: Michael Bunting // Third Photo (Collage) Courtesy: Michael Bunting // Fourth Photo Credit: Kate Dibildox - Tucson Roadrunners // Fifth Photo Credit: Juan Ocampo - NHLI via Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Debora Robinson - NHLI via Getty Images