Photo courtesy Steven Christy Photography. All Rights Reserved.
The Edmonton Oilers had an interesting situation developing in net for their prospects this season. Signing Ty Rimmer to an AHL deal, the Oilers gave themselves seven total goaltenders signed, and only a limited number of spots to play them. Last season, the Oilers had the same situation, but Rimmer was already committed to playing for the Quad City Mallards of the then-CHL, allowing them to spread their goaltenders out among their affiliations. This season, the Oilers had to decide which goaltenders went where, and find another team for their extra goalie.
When training camps began, I had figured that the Oilers would loan a goalie to an outside team, but I had no idea who or where. Laurent Brossoit was obviously moving up to the Oklahoma City Barons full-time, but that left two spots in Bakersfield for Rimmer, Frans Tuohimaa, and Tyler Bunz. Clues started to surface when it was stated in different interviews that the organization was wanting to get Bunz some prime ice time, following the injury last season that saw him take a puck to the throat and ending his season.
Sure enough, the Oilers ended up sending Rimmer and Tuohimaa to the Bakersfield Condors, and a couple days later sent Bunz to the Wichita Thunder of the now-ECHL. A little odd, being outside of the organization, but the ties between Wichita and Oklahoma City are there. In the past, the Barons have called up defenseman Andrew Martens and forward Erick Lizon, signing the latter to an AHL contract last season. By extension, the current coach of the Thunder is former Edmonton Oilers forward Kevin McClelland.
Getting a chance today to see Bunz practicing with the Thunder, he’s obviously determined to have a good season this year. Coming off of the injury last season, Bunz is feeling pretty good and is fully recovered. Being able to get back on the ice, and train, he’s looking forward to getting into his first game. He’ll have a small change in his equipment this season, now wearing the throat protector full time.
On playing with Wichita this season, Bunz said “It’s different. Obviously you want to be with the guys and be a part of it, but it’s a business, so I understand that. It’s nice to come here and meet new guys, join another team. Hopefully we can do well and make the playoffs. It’s a good league, there’s a lot of good players on our squad, we’ve got a good looking team so I’m pretty excited about it.”
Last season, Bunz battled with Laurent Brossoit for the number one spot in Bakersfield, but this season, he’ll have a different dynamic to the battle. The Wichita Thunder recently acquired long time CHL/ECHL player Tim Boron in free agency from the Rapid City Rush. Last season with the Rush, Boron finished with 30 wins on the season and finished fifth in the CHL in save percentage. Bunz said that either way, it pushes him to be better and work a little harder. “But Borsy (Boron) out here, he’s a veteran guy and a real good goalie, he pushes me to be good in practice, he’s someone that I can look up to.”
“To have that here, instead of having two younger goalies and not really knowing what to do when you get into trouble, Boron’s seen it all, he’s been around a lot, so if I ever have any questions, he’s a guy I can go to and ask. He’s a smart guy, he knows his position well, and I look forward to working with him this year.”
Coming off the injury, Bunz expects himself and Boron to split the start of the season and see how they perform, and after that it’s all about performance knowing that nothing is given out in the league. Projected to start Sunday against the Tulsa Oilers in Tulsa’s home opener, Bunz hopes to start the season off right.
And to end, I asked Bunz if he’d like to relay any message to the fans in Oklahoma City.
“I want to thank them for the support,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but good comments since I’ve been sent here, I know a lot of people want to come out and watch some games. To get that kind of feedback even though I’m not there, it’s pretty special. So, a good thank you.”
Hopefully we’ll see Tyler back in OKC sometime this season, but we’ll certainly be watching him in Wichita.