, the No. 1 goaltender for the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers, may not actually be in the Tigers' net that much this winter. The 19-year-old has already missed time while playing with Edmonton Oilers
prospects during this week's Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C. He'll miss more time by attending training camp with the Oilers, perhaps including some preseason play -- and that's not even counting Team Canada's events building to the World Junior Championships and the CHL's Subway Series against Russia.
To achieve all that, Bunz will have to get off to a fast start -- something he hasn't always done.
"It's definitely going to be a year where I need to come out and play strong, especially in the first half of the season if I want to have a shot at that World Juniors team," Bunz said. "It's been kind of been one of my knocks over the course of my career where I don't have good starts. This year can't be like that. I need to go out there, right from the first game, and identify myself as a goalie and make a good statement out there.
"It's definitely going to be a year where I need to come out and play strong, especially in the first half of the season if I want to have a shot at that World Juniors team. It's been kind of been one of my knocks over the course of my career where I don't have good starts. This year can't be like that. I need to go out there, right from the first game, and identify myself as a goalie and make a good statement out there. "
-- Tyler Bunz
His first game in Penticton was just the kind of statement Bunz is trying to make. He stopped every shot he faced and made two stunning saves in the final two minutes to preserve a two-goal lead and a 2-0 shutout win against the Winnipeg Jets
The St. Albert, Alta., native hopes it's another step toward a berth on Team Canada's entry at the World Juniors, which will be played in Calgary and Edmonton.
"Making that World Junior team on home ice is something I want to do; it would be pretty special," Bunz said. "This summer was definitely a step in the right direction. I thought I had a really great summer with all the (Hockey Canada) camps that I went to. (Tuesday) night was another step, and I just have to keep going and make sure I have a good start in Medicine Hat.
"I want to make that Subway Series game against the Russians in November, and that's really that's the stepping stone to getting invited back to the December camp for the World Juniors," he said. "It's a goal I've set, and I want to achieve."
Bunz's stock has soared since the Oilers took him in the fifth round (No. 121) of the 2010 Entry Draft. Edmonton head scout Stu McGregor is delighted with his progress.
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"In his draft year he was a little bit all over the place and not quite as controlled as you need to be, but I really loved how he competed and battled," MacGregor said. "With that in mind, and him being an athlete, we made the decision to take him. This past year he's been evolving and maturing. With help from our goaltending coach Freddy Chabot, he's been able to calm down and use his positioning better."
Bunz can also see the improvements in his game since being drafted.
"Over the course of last year my consistency really improved from previous years," he said. "Last year I didn't get pulled until the playoffs. I went in there every night for 56 games and gave my team a chance to win that's something as a goalie, you need to do."
The numbers reflected his improvement. Bunz saw his goals-against average drop to 2.47 from 2.91 a year earlier, while his save percentage improved to .919 from .898.
Aside from the incentive to succeed with the World Juniors on the horizon, Bunz is already living out a dream just being involved with the Oilers.
"It's pretty special," Bunz said. "I grew up just outside of Edmonton, watched the Oilers my whole life, they've always been my favorite team and they still are. To be drafted by them and to be putting on a retro Oilers jersey here in this tournament and having the game I had (Tuesday) night was pretty special."
MacGregor acknowledges it's not often a kid grows up and plays for his favorite team.
"He's a Saint Albert guy, which is just outside of Edmonton. I understand he is an Oilers fan and has been his whole life. It's got to be exciting for him," MacGregor said. "The opportunities are in front of him, he knows they are in front of him -- now he has to take a step and seize the opportunity."