By: Paul Osborne
Guelph native Connor Bunnaman turn pro this year with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League and is relishing the experience. Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 4th round, 109th overall in 2016, Bunnaman is learning the hard way that the professional game is much different than his days with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
“For sure,” he said with a laugh. “You have systems in junior and routes you run but if you’re a little off it’s usually okay because there isn’t the high skill level you have here and many players are 16 or 17. At this level you have a bunch of men 6’4” flying around and you can get exposed pretty easily.
“It is a jungle out there and if you don’t know your precise role you can be sure someone will be yelling at you to get it right.”
Bummaman has played 11 games this season and scored two goals. In the pros you can take nothing for granted. Every start and even every shift has to be earned.
“In junior I never got scratched but I’ve been in and out of the line-up here,” he said. “It can take a toll on your confidence for sure but I’ve had to maintain a positive attitude and keep fighting through it. So much of it comes down to the detail expected from you within the team’s system.”
Bunnaman had nothing but praise for his coaches who “are great communicators” and he also singled out Phantoms leading scorer Phil Varone who has taken the time to explain the finer points of the game to him. Bunnaman’s roommate is highly touted goaltending prospect Carter Hart and they’ve struck up a great friendship and he has enjoyed his first opportunity to live away from home.
“I like change,” he said. “It’s different but I’m adapting well. I’m getting used to cooking every day. We have a nutritionist that helps us if we have any questions and she offers up recipes that will help us on road trips. I’m not big on going out to eat so I like going to the grocery store and getting food. I used to have my billets do that for me but I like the change.”
The other big culture change at this level is in the dressing room.
“In junior players are in the room talking about the video games they are playing but here players are talking about their wives and kids,” he said with a hearty laugh.
Bunnaman’s goal is to ultimately get to the NHL and he knows he’ll have to improve on a couple of things before that happens.
“First of all my skating,” said the 6’3”, 214lb centre. “I need to get faster. I’m big guy so I need to improve (my first few steps), and I need to get the systems down so I’m in the exactly the right spot at the right time.”
The Guelph native was looking forward to this past weekend when his family could watch him play in Belleville and Toronto as the Phantoms swung through Ontario.
“I’m really enjoying playing here in Allentown, PA but it is always great to see my family again.”