Over the almost five seasons I’ve covered the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the fans’ favourite players was Zach Hyman. Toronto, for all its cosmopolitan nature, is a working-class city. Most Maple Leafs’ fans love hard-working players. And Hyman exemplified that aspect in his play.
What Made Hyman Great Also Makes Bunting Great
Hyman was a hard-working, puck-digging, never-say-die player. His unique skill, if it really was a skill rather than a way of engaging the game, was that he just simply wouldn’t quit working. Regardless of the score or the situation, fans could count on Hyman to doggedly seek the puck. He just kept digging it out and getting it to his more highly-skilled teammates.
In much the same way, Michael Bunting shares those same player traits. He simply works hard. Last night during the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bunting executed a play many fans have watched several times. I know I have.
During that play, Bunting collected the puck in the defensive zone and skated up the right-hand boards. All the way through the middle of the ice, Bunting bunted the puck ahead with his stick while protecting it with the rest left side of his body. In that process, he fought off three Penguins’ defenders.
When Bunting finally lost his balance and fell to the ground, he didn’t quit even then. While on his back, he swept the puck with the shaft of his stick to his teammate Auston Matthews who found space alone about 15 feet in front of the Penguins’ net. It took Matthews a split-second to collect the puck on his stick, and then he snapped it past Penguins’ goalie Casey DeSmith into the back of the net.
Bunting Shares His Thoughts About the Win and His Team’s Play
In an interview after the game, Bunting spoke about that play and also commented on the play of teammates Mitch Marner and Matthews.
Marner is now on a 16-game, point-scoring streak. That’s the second-highest point-scoring streak in Maple Leafs’ franchise history.
Matthews, although he’s not scoring as he did last season when he crossed the goal line 60 times, now has logged 24 points on 10 goals and 14 assists in his 23 games this season.
However, as shown last night, all the Maple Leafs’ players are part of a team. Last night’s game against the Penguins was a game in which the team really worked hard. They deserve the 4-1 victory, especially because they were playing with a decimated blue line. It didn’t seem to matter.
The Bunting Interview
In the interview below, Bunting spoke to Kyle Bukauskas after the team’s win over the Penguins. He talks about the team’s recent success and both Marner’s and Matthews’ impressive play. As noted in the interview, Bunting believes that success comes from simply “keeping it simple.”
Comment One: The Team Is Confident
Bunting noted that the team is “rolling right now. We have some confidence in our team, and I think we’re just playing defensively and capitalizing on offensive opportunities.” He believed the team just had to “keep it simple.”
Comment Two: Mitch Marner Is Helping His Team Win
Bunting also noted that, as everyone knows, Marner has been on a run. His goal 40 seconds into the game made it 16 straight games with a point. Marner kind of set the table for the group; and, as Bunting commented, “it’s a great run that he’s going on and we’re all really happy for him. Hopefully, he can keep that going.”
Bunting noted that the goal 40 seconds into the game was a “little relief.” However, Bunting added that Marner was “playing great hockey and was creating a lot.” However, Bunting noted that Marner was also “playing well on the defensive side.”
Comment Three: Setting Up Matthews’ 200th Even-Strength Goal
Bunting was explicitly asked about the shift when he set up Matthews for his 200th career even-strength goal. He noted that the context was that the Penguins had “just scored and now we’re only up by two, so I had to put in a good effort there.” He “just tried to get into the zone and was able to battle off a few guys and find Mattie there when I was on the ground.”
Bunting noted that, because Matthews was “able to finish it” it “was big for us.”
Comment Four: Matthews Is Playing Great Hockey Even If He Isn’t Scoring
When asked about the emotion on Matthews’ face, Bunting tried to describe Matthews’ mindset. He noted that Matthews was “playing great hockey, even if he isn’t scoring. He’s still one of the best players on the ice.”
Bunting also reminded that Matthews “can score in bunches, scored tonight. and had three points” during the game. Finally, according to Bungint, Matthews was playing great hockey and he’s a big part of our team.