By Derek Clarkston, Sports, Kodiak Daily Mirror Newspaper

December 9, 2022

PDF (Printable) Story: Kodiak Daily Mirror: Bunch making strides in Tier III hockey

Dawson Bunch missed playing high school hockey in Kodiak by one year.

“That didn’t work out in my favor, but good for them that they are starting up their program,” said Bunch on Monday afternoon from Montana. “It is super cool to see them getting things going.”

Bunch, a 2021 graduate of Kodiak High School, is also doing super cool things as a second-year skater on the Great Falls Americans, a Tier III Junior A hockey team based in Great Falls, Montana.

Bunch, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound forward, recently had his best game for the North American 3 Hockey League club when he punched in a pair of goals and dished out an assist in a 6-4 victory over the Badlands Sabres that snapped a five-game losing skid.

“I finally got my first multi-goal game,” Bunch said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

After barely sniffing the ice in his first season with Great Falls as a fourth-liner, Bunch has made a gigantic jump in his sophomore season. He skates on the top two lines and has nine points — five goals and four assists — in 23 games. He had only one goal in 28 games during the 2021-22 season.

“This year, it feels like the hard work is finally starting to pay off,” Bunch said. “I’m starting to contribute more goals for the team and be a top guy. It feels pretty good.”

Bunch didn’t feel like that in his inaugural season of big-boy hockey. He came in raw and skated with teammates who dedicated their lives to hockey.

A wrestler in his early years in Kodiak, Bunch found hockey as an eighth grader when he joined the Kodiak Hockey League.

“I decided I didn’t like wrestling anymore,” he said. “My parents told me I had to play a sport in the winter. My dad brought up hockey, and I had a couple of friends who played. I gave it a shot and loved it.”

From the Kodiak Hockey League to the junior league circuit, a path very few has taken before Bunch. In 2016, Aaron Hocum spent the first part of his senior year at Kodiak High in Minnesota playing for Blaine Energy.

Bunch knew nothing about junior league hockey until he joined the Alaska Heat — a Mainland team with a roster filled with players from all over the state.

After concluding his senior season with the Alaska Heat, Bunch’s coach recommended he contact the coach for Great Falls. He did.

Before Bunch knew it, he was in Montana for a three-day tryout. He only needed one practice to impress the coach.

“The first day I was there, he invited me over to dinner and gave me a contract,” Bunch said.

As it turned out, that ended up being the highlight of his rookie season. He said he played every other game during the 55-game schedule.

“It was tough. I had always been used to being the best and being super confident,” Bunch said. “I went through highs and lows of confidence.”

He never thought about quitting, though.

“I couldn’t end on a bad season. I couldn’t end my hockey career because I didn’t get what I wanted,” he said. “I wanted to score goals. I wanted to be the best. I’m by far not the best, but I am getting there.”

Great Falls is fifth in the eight-team Frontier Division with 20 points (10-13-0-0).

The season that started in September will conclude in March.

Bunch isn’t sure where hockey will take him. College? Semi-pro in Europe? Who knows. He is simply embracing the moment.

“I want to play hockey for as long as I can,” he said. “You don’t get to play very long. I’m enjoying playing and not having a 9 to 5 job.”

Story Courtesy: Kodiak Daily Mirror: Bunch making strides in Tier III hockey (December 9, 2022)

PDF (Printable) Story: Kodiak Daily Mirror: Bunch making strides in Tier III hockey