If the stars align for Medicine Hat Tigers goaltender Tyler Bunz, he’ll spend New Year’s Eve back home in Edmonton, decked out in a Team Canada jersey and facing buddy Emerson Etem of Team USA.
“On New Year’s (Eve), Team Canada and Team USA, that’s the all-ends hype of games, so I think that would be a pretty special game to be a part of,” said Bunz, one of four goalies in contention for two jobs as Canada’s netminders for the world junior hockey championship.
The 19-year-old St. Albert native was among the 41 players invited Monday to Canada’s selection camp Dec. 10-13 in Calgary. The tournament runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Edmonton and Calgary.
Bunz, an Edmonton Oilers’ prospect, still has work to do to make his Team Canada dream a reality. The world junior path is more certain for Tigers forward Etem, the California kid who played with the U.S. team that won the bronze medal at last year’s tournament in Buffalo.
“He’s a good friend of mine (and) a great hockey player,” Bunz said of Etem, a first-round NHL draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks. “He’s proven his stuff game in and game out with this (Medicine Hat) team, and if I could have that opportunity to face off against him, and hopefully get the win, that would be pretty unbelievable as well.”
Etem, who has 27 goals and 53 points in 28 WHL games this season, knows what he’s potentially up against internationally in Bunz.
“He’s a great goalie, very athletic,” Etem said. “He moves well side to side. Team Canada can, for sure, use a goalie like him.”
Bunz has bounced back from a scary setback during the Team WHL-Russia series two weeks ago in Saskatchewan.
An errant puck struck him on the side of the head while he was watching from the bench.
“It was a tough break,” he said. “It was a clearing attempt. (The puck) hit me right in the temple and I was out for a couple of games.
“It’s definitely a tough pill to swallow (when) you’re trying to impress the coaching staff and you can’t even get out there and play. Ever since I came back, I’ve felt good. I thought I’ve played well.”
He might have suffered considerable pain and sported a black eye, but the missed audition didn’t foil Bunz’s chances to advance to Canada’s selection camp.
His crease competition will come from Louis Domingue of the Quebec Remparts, Scott Wedgewood of the Plymouth Whalers and Mark Visentin of the Niagara IceDogs. Visentin is one of just three players back from the Canadian team that lost to Russia in last year’s final.
“I think (head scout Kevin) Prendergast and Hockey Canada are saying that goaltending isn’t the strongest part (of the prospective team),” Bunz said. “You can take that as (criticism) or you can take that as a challenge.
“I took that as a challenge. I want to go out there and prove the naysayers and critics wrong. For the most part, I think I’ve done that.
“A lot of people talk about politics and all that kind of stuff that goes into (the selection process). I don’t believe in that. I think if you go out there and show your stuff, and you come into camp last on the (scouting) radar but you play the best, you can earn a spot there. That’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Team Canada has already made a couple of questionable calls with the exclusion of Saskatoon Blades defenceman Duncan Siemens and Regina Pats star Jordan Weal. Both would make an impact.
Siemens, a Sherwood Park native who strikes fear in opponents, won’t have the opportunity to play in the world junior tournament in his hometown. Bunz is thankful he’s among the Canadian prospects who still might get that chance.
“It would be pretty special,” he said. “As a kid, you grow up wanting to put on your Canadian jersey. And to have that chance to do that in my backyard, if I do get the call, words wouldn’t be able to describe that feeling.
“It’s a goal I’ve set. I haven’t made any of these Hockey Canada teams in my previous years. This is my last kick at the can, so I’m hoping I make the best of it.”
Team USA plans to announce its preliminary roster this coming Monday, with a selection camp set for Dec. 17-23 in Camrose.
Etem, 19, is expected to be a key cog with a U.S. team shooting for a third straight medal, including its golden finish in Saskatoon two years ago.
“I think (U.S.) coach Dean Blais is looking for a lot of speed up front,” Etem said. “It’s something that I hope to bring to the club. I played more of a two-way role last year, but I obviously like to use my speed on the PK (penalty kill) as well. Anywhere they put me, I don’t mind. I’m just hoping to make it.”
Etem made unwanted headlines during last year’s tournament when he tweeted comments critical of Buffalo, the host city. He later apologized, but realizes he probably hasn’t heard the last of that incident.
“I think it’s going to come back to me in the upcoming tournament,” Etem said. “Obviously, you’ve got to stay a little bit more disciplined, with the social media, but I’m not worried about it, at all. I’ve just got to go there and play the game that they want me to play and just kind of stay away from that (other) stuff.”