MEDICINE HAT, AB — Every WHL team deals with it one way or another.
Overage guidelines allow three 20-year-old ('97 born this season) players to take up permanent spots on the roster. It can be any combination of forwards, defenceman or goaltenders, combined with a maximum of two import picks.
Goaltender Michael Bullion is one of five overage players on the Medicine Hat Tigers roster. Although his future with the club remains uncertain, he says presenting a good work ethic in practice is his main focus.
"For me it's just about getting better everyday and practicing like it is a game," said the 20-year-old netminder, acquired by the Tigers on New Years Day last season. "We do a lot of scrimmages and stuff like that to replicate a game... For me I'm going full out because this is my game, and that's what I've got to play right now."
Scrimmages are the closest thing to game action Bullion has seen during the preseason. After three exhibition games, the Anchorage, AK product has yet to see a minute of ice-time.
But it's not for a lack of ability or skill. Bullion understands the coaching staffs decision to give youngsters Duncan McGovern and Kaeden Lane more WHL experience as the regular season nears.
"I try my best to give advice to the young guys, especially the goalies because that's my area of expertise," added Bullion, who recorded a 16-5 record to help the Tigers win their first Central Division crown in 10 years last season. "Guys like Duncs and Laner, I try and give them little pep talks and stuff.
"I just do what I can to be a leader and help out."
Adding more uncertainty to Bullion's future is the medical recovery of Tigers goaltender Jordan Hollett, who spent several days in hospital at the beginning of the month with mono.
Hollett, acquired by the Tigers in a blockbuster deal with Regina which sent overage forward Matt Bradley to the Pats, is expected to be the Tigers backbone in the crease. Most recently, he's been resting up at his home in Langley, B.C.
Hollett's recovery time, which remains uncertain, could open the door a bit wider for Bullion to remain with the team.
Although there are arguments in favor of keeping each of the other overage players — forwards Zach Fischer and Mark Rassell, along with defenceman Kristians Rubins were the only 20-year-olds who took part in the Tigers leadership meeting ahead of the preseason. Defenceman Brad Forrest brings over 150 WHL games of experience to the back end, and is coming off a career high 22 points last year, 19 of which were assists.
But regardless of the coaching staffs decision in the end, Bullion says he's taking things one day at a time, while focusing on being the best goaltender he can be.
"I talk to my mental coach about it, and we both just look at it with the attitude of 'don't focus on it and work your best everyday'," he said. "If it happens, it happens. If you get traded, you get traded. If you get released, you get released. But make the decision tough for the coaches."
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