| |Tyler Bunz blocks a shot during Oilers Development Camp in July, 2010 (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC).
Almost a year ago now in Los Angeles, Bob Stauffer and I were settling in for the long haul of Day 2 at the NHL Entry Draft. Stauffer had garnered intel that suggested the team would lead off the 2nd Round by selecting centerman Tyler Pitlick
at #31 (they did) and I had ascertained that the team was on the prowl for a goaltender (they were).
Three rounds after Pitlick, at #121, the team selected Tyler Bunz
from the Medicine Hat Tigers; coincidentally, the team that Pitlick would be heading to.
Bunz had just wrapped his third season with the Tigers, earning 31 victories and posting a SV% of .898. He was probably better known to the Oilers organization than most because he's a born and raised Edmontonian and had worked in the past with local goalie coach John Stevenson at "The Goalie Centre".
He had tried, earlier in the off-season, to earn an invite to Hockey Canada's prestigious Summer Orientation Camp, but wasn't selected to move on from the original list of eight goaltenders. As it turns out, he was beat out by fellow Oilers prospect Olivier Roy
, among others. Not being selected for the main camp wasn't an awful thing for Bunz, who used it as motivation to set up his 2010-11 season.
"I had a pretty good camp, and they were happy with my development, but it wasn't good enough," says Bunz. "It kinda set the tone for me for the summer and I wanted to make sure I did enough to make the main camp the next year."
He'll have his opportunity to show his stuff next month, as he's once again been invited by Hockey Canada to the goalie camp portion of their WJHC selection, and this year he's hoping to be invited on to the 44 man main camp, which will take place in his home town. To prepare for it, he got some motivation by sitting down with Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe and General Manager Steve Tambellini on Tuesday afternoon, and is scheduled to being training with team guru Simon Bennett any day now.
The off-season will present another crop of challenges, something Bunz figures to be ready for.
"I've grown as a goalie and as a person this year more than any other year," he says. "I think the consistency and confidence I had in myself was a lot more than in any other year."
As for his WHL season, Bunz says that the moment of finally being drafted took some pressure off of him and allowed his game to thrive.
"Last year I was too worried about scouting and the draft and everything," Bunz admits. "This year I just went out and played and didn't have to worry too much about what was going to happen after the year. It was a lot more fun to be playing this year and I felt more comfortable in the net."
He says it, and he showed it. His save percentage went up to .919 this year as he was ranked in the top three amongst WHL goalies in almost every major category.
"It was more of me staying on my feet on cross ice plays," explains Bunz. "We tend to give up a lot of odd man rushes, and last year I'd just slide across and get beat up top. This year I was more on my feet and I had better depth."
At 6'2", Bunz won't give out a lot of room if he uses his size wisely. Tall goaltenders are, now more than ever, a trend in the National Hockey League and Bunz certainly fits that mold.
"Being a big goalie is definitely advantage," Bunz knows. "It's a lot harder for guys to go upstairs on you when your shoulders are at the cross bar. I'm still trying to work my way into my body and figure out what works for me. I think I learned to stay patient, being a big goalie it's a lot harder for guys to find room to shoot if you stay patient. It felt like I slowed down the game this year."
Despite the clear development and resounding success of his personal season, Bunz doesn't have any illusions about what's happening here. Goaltending, he knows, is a longer road of development than any other position in hockey, and he's realistic about his timeline.
"Right after you get drafted, you're like, 'OK I want to play in the NHL now,'" he says. "But, with maturity, you realize that not many goalies get that opportunity and it's a long process. I'm not expecting to make the NHL in the next three years, I'm looking more towards five-seven years. You can't just jump into it."
Bunz knows he's going back to Medicine Hat next year to play as a 19-year-old, and says he wants to perform well enough to earn a promotion to the American Hockey League when he's 20. And, again, in the meantime, he wants to play for Canada at the World Juniors.
"That's a long process, too," explains Bunz. "It's from now until Christmas that they're watching you. From the start of your season, you need a good start and that's been a historical downside to my play. So, this year's going to be huge for me and I have to be ready for it. It's something that I'm looking forward to."
Author: Dan Tencer