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Buncis's hard work pays off for ASU men's hockey

The sophomore forward has made the most of his ice time this season


ASU then-freshman forward Filips Buncis (17) drives towards the net to take a shot in a game against Princeton at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, Arizona, on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017.

ASU men's hockey sophomore forward Filips Buncis made the most of his time on the ice last weekend during ASU's 2-0 victory at Oceanside Ice Arena.

Buncis had a  two-goal, three-point series against Michigan State. This season, Buncis has started in nine of ASU's 12 games, and he has been in and out of the ASU lineup as an extra skater, which is a new NCAA rule that just came into effect this season.

"I told him on the bench and I told the guys in the room, he's either making me look really smart or really stupid," said head coach Greg Powers. "He deserves more time (on the ice)."

Being the 13th forward and 19th player on the lineup sheet means a lot of things, one of which is that Buncis is not guaranteed ice time. His shifts can be staggered, and his time on the ice is ultimately limited to whenever his name is called upon by his head coach. 

However, Buncis found refuge on the second unit of the ASU power play last weekend, and his readiness to step onto the ice and make an immediate impact at any given moment has been prevalent.

"Credit to Fil Buncis. That kid, he is making the absolute most of every opportunity that he is getting," Powers said. "He's not getting enough opportunities. I put him on the second power play because he deserves to be there with that shot and the way he has played. There is just nowhere to put him consistently because everybody is going and we are winning hockey games, and nobody deserves to come out. Fil has done an unbelievable job (with his opportunities)."

Buncis played alongside freshman forward Jordan Sandhu on special teams over the weekend. Sandhu assisted on Buncis's goal on Saturday against MSU, and the freshman was part of a big scoring weekend for the second unit of the power play as he was countered with Buncis.

"It's like coach (Powers) said in one of his interviews — he is kind of like the unsung hero," Sandhu said of Buncis. "He was kind of like that missing piece. He stepped in, and he doesn't get that many minutes during regular five-on-five, but he steps in on that power play and does a really good job. If he's not there, we don't get those two goals on the power play, and maybe we don't win those games."

If it hasn't been apparent already, there is one thing that stands out from Buncis's play this season: He's selfless.

"Me and coach Powers, we understand each other really well," Buncis said. "Obviously, I would like to get more shifts, but everyone is playing well ... I am not feeling bad that I am not getting my shifts, because everyone is playing well and it is what it is. Even as the 13th (forward), I can be productive to the team, and we are just all going in the same direction."

Although he is just in his second year with the program, Buncis has displayed qualities of a veteran player with the way he has gone about his role this season. 

Buncis is originally from Jelgava, Latvia, but he played his junior hockey in the North American Hockey League for the Johnstown Tomahawks. He also has international experience playing for his home country in 2016-17 during the U20 Junior World Championships along with his current ASU teammate and roommate Gvido Jansons.

Buncis has been playing in the U.S. for sometime now, but he said there was a definite culture change when he first arrived in North America. The 6-foot-4 inch forward said he mostly noticed the differences in food, joking that the U.S. didn't have as many salads or soups as he was normally accustomed to. 

Additionally, Buncis said Jansons helps him when it comes to feeling less homesick in the states. 

"I never played with another Latvian in any of my junior teams (in the U.S.). I was always by myself," Buncis said. "It just gives you that home feeling a little bit. Sunday night, me and Gvido just go out to dinner and speak Latvian, and it makes you feel a little more comfortable."

Altogether, Buncis has been an under the radar player that has helped ASU in becoming the current No. 18 team in the country. 

He might not get the ice time or stand out as much as others, but his role in creating depth and being a good teammate has not gone unnoticed, and it's an infectious attitude. And at the end of the day, Buncis is just doing what it takes to stack up victories.

"It's way more fun to play hockey with these guys when we are actually winning," Buncis said. "I just try to bring it everyday as much as I can, and I believe that hard work pays off."

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