By Tyler King
It isn’t very often that the Fort McMurray Oil Barons can add a local player as impactful as Wil Tomchuk has already been for the MOB.
After spending the last two seasons in the Western Hockey League, Tomchuk returned to his hometown team just under two weeks ago, helping to anchor a young defensive corps and create some much-needed stability on the team’s back end.
After notching an assist in his return to the team in a 4-2 home win over the Sherwood Park Crusaders, Tomchuk quickly re-established himself as an effective rearguard in road games against the Crusaders, Spruce Grove Saints, and Whitecourt Wolverines. Even in the team’s shutout loss to the Cru, Tomchuk shone as an effective defensive zone presence.
“My first game was a lot different; I didn’t really know what to expect,” he admitted. “After my second game, I knew what to expect, and it’s a lot better now. I needed to realize that I had more time with the puck, more time than I thought I had; I have more time to make plays than in the WHL.”
Tomchuk predates the entire Oil Barons roster and even most of the staff as far as tenure in an Oil Barons uniform goes. He was part of the 2011-12 MOB team that began the year in Russia at the first-ever World Junior Club Cup before advancing all the way to the league final.
“That year we had a very good team; lots of memories started pouring back for sure,” said Tomchuk of his return to the Casman Centre for the first time since that year.
“That year we had nine twenty-year-olds; they taught me a lot and showed me the ropes of the league, and I used that; it made the player I am today,” he added, singling out veteran and fellow McMurrayite Matt Szpak, as well as future captain Brock Maschmeyer, as major influences on him as a defenceman.
After that season, Tomchuk signed with the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Washington to begin his WHL career. The following season, a mid-year trade sent him north to the Prince George Cougars, a struggling team that depended more on Tomchuk’s reliable stay-at-home style. Tomchuk returned to Prince George this year, but as a 1994-born player, of whom teams can only carry three, he became a victim of the numbers game when the Cougars acquired a 20-year old goaltender and decided Tomchuk would be the odd man out.
But Tomchuk wasn’t dwelling on any supposed missed opportunity.
“What happened with the Cougars happened, and this is the only place I’d want to play Junior A, especially with them hosting the Western Canada Cup,” he said. “We have a good chance of being national champions; I just swallowed the pill of what happened and moved on.”
“He’s a veteran guy; he’s been around the game and is a real mature kid, and he’s a steadying force,” head coach Curtis Hunt surmised about Tomchuk and his potential for the team.
“I’m going to come here, I’m going to play a lot, and that’s exciting,” Tomchuk added. “I know I can do it; and it’ll be fun, for sure.”
So far, it has been a solid debut for the MOB’s newest veteran defenceman. As many fans have hoped, a local player is finally back in the Barons’ lineup; and this one is earning every minute of ice time he’s getting.
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