Every hockey player dreams of the NHL. Unfortunately, not every hockey player’s dreams come true. However, when a player goes to Europe, new dreams are born. Brandon Buck is a 26 year old center currently coming out of his fourth year in Europe. At a young age Buck decided that Europe is a better option, but patience was essential. Buck’s rise came gradually. He spent his first year in Norway, a league that isn’t the best known. Following Norway came the EBEL, a league more mentioned in North American circles. After becoming a much better player in the EBEL, Buck dreamed of the Swiss A league, but to get there, he decided to sign in the Swiss B league. Now, still not in the NLA, but the quality, potential and opportunities are there. Buck, however, opted for Germany, where he was fourth in the league in scoring.
Houston, Sarpsborg, Zagreb, Basel and Ingolstadt in only five seasons. Now, it seems like you found a home in Ingolstadt?
Yep. I mean, for me coming over here so early, I wanted to make sure that every single season I kinda got to a little bit better place or set myself up to actually playing in one of the top leagues over here in Europe. I think of every year as a kind of stepping stone. Going into Norway, I was coming off of a year where I hadn’t really played a lot, a healthy scratch the whole time in the AHL, was kind of used as a checker and stuff like that. In junior I was a fairly offensive player, so for me to go and play with the fighters and the fourth line guys, playing a couple shifts a game, I really, I don’t want to say lost my game, but it was almost like taking steps back in terms of me developing offensively. That year was kind of learning the way of European hockey. Going into Zagreb, I knew how good the Austrian league was at the time, I knew a lot of people that played there. I worked really hard that summer, just on my skills, things that I thought I would need that season. That was probably the best year of my life as far as my development and the amount of fun I had in Zagreb, as far as the group of guys we had and stuff like that. That gave me the confidence to play more offensively. When I got to Zagreb I was given a really good opportunity right away with Marty Raymond and Donny MacLean to be an offensive player, to use my strengths, my skating. That kind of just helped to get the ball rolling. Hockey’s a funny game when you get a little bit of confidence. You never really know what can happen. I scored a few goals early and I kinda just rolled with that. I chose to go to Basel just because I really wanted to try and get to the Swiss A league. I learned a lot in that league as well, but with things going south with my team as far as the bankruptcy, I had the chance to make the jump to the DEL and I took that. Now, I’ve had a fantastic season personally. I’m really happy, my game grew a ton. As a whole, this year has been incredible here.
Let’s talk a bit about your Guelph days. In your first year, scoring wise, things weren’t really working out for you. However, going into your second year, you had this, so to say, explosion. What would you attribute to it?
My first year in the OHL was absolutely terrible. I was an 18 year old walk on. Most players go into that league at 16 years old and I was a walk on player that just kind of came out of junior B as a late bloomer and made the team. In my first year in Guelph, the story goes that the first year there, when I signed as a free agent, about a month and a half later my uncle, who played professionally for 12-13 years, he ended up signing as an assistant coach. The whole time in my first year when I was there, it was really hard for me. Everyone was kind of saying that I was there because my uncle was on the bench and I wasn’t good enough to play OHL and this and that. I think I paid too much attention to that kind of stuff so that kind of brought me down. In my second year my uncle decided not to come back. To be totally honest, I wanted to quit hockey and just focus on school, but my parents convinced me to go back and give it a try. That summer I actually worked really, really hard on improving my shot. That’s something I never really paid a lot of attention to. I always worked out but I didn’t really work on my game per say. So, that summer I actually worked at a goalie school where I shot probably, I’d say a 1000 pucks a day, five days per week for the entire summer and that helped me a ton. That was probably the thing that helped me the most when I was younger.
You played against some of your teammates from the Storm, while some play in the NHL and even represented Canada ag the Olympics. Isn’t it funny how hockey has its ways?
Yeah, I mean, it really is. As far as development, the OHL is fabulous. You get to play with certain players that you see on a regular basis and now you turn on the TV and those are the same guys. I played and I was good friends with Drew Doughty. He was with me in Guelph for two years. He is this goofy kid when I played with him, and now I think he’s the best defenseman by far in the NHL. He won two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, and to think that for two years every day I went to practice with that guy, he was the biggest goof I ever met in my life, but you see him now, he’s one of the best players in the world. It is funny how hockey has its ways.
Before you moved to Europe, your scoring production in the AHL wasn’t the greatest. However, when you got to Europe, things turned for the better. In how many other AHL and ECHL guys lies the potential to be a game changer in Europe?
I’m sure there are quite a few. The thing is with North America that I find, this is my opinion, there’s a lot of guys in North America that I believe, they fly under the radar. They’re undrafted, they’re not signed as highly rated prospects and if that’s not the case. Even in my situation, I don’t think that I was a bad player when I played in North America, but that I was just really never given an opportunity because I never really had a resume or a big signing bonus that they had given me. I find, NA hockey, for me, is 95% mental. It really is. The way that teams and GMs can play mind games with you. You have a bad game, you get sent down, you have a good game you get called up. It’s really tough mentally. It’s draining. My first year I was kind of split between the AHL and the ECHL, I got called up seven times. I get called up for one game, sent down for three, called up for two games, get sent down for ten. You never really know. You’re always kind of hanging around your phone, hoping that you get a chance to come up. I know for sure that there are guys in the ECHL now that are great hockey players but they are just flying under the radar, not getting the opportunity. For me, I decided at a young age, a lot younger than a lot of people that I was kind of sick of playing those games and that with hockey, hockey’s a great game because you’re able to come over, and there’s so many different countries that have teams in different leagues. I don’t think everybody knows how good the hockey is over here. For me, it fit my game a lot better as well.
You came to Zagreb and you were an immediate impact..
For me, Zagreb was my biggest year by far for development. Coming from Norway, we had two other North Americans, so I had a really hard time that way adjusting, too, because you coming from North America where you’re playing with 15-16 NA guys and you only have three or four Euro guys. You come over and it’s a bit of a shell shock right away, but Zagreb was fantastic because we had so many NA guys, our coaches were English speaking. The city as a whole, everybody for the most part spoke English. If any player has the opportunity to come over to a European country like that where it’s so easy to adjust, it just makes it that much easier for the player. I talked to a ton of people. Friends of mine that are still in the AHL, I’ve spoken with people through my hockey school that I have back home, a lot of people ask about Europe and I don’t have a single bad thing to say as far as what it’s done for me. If somebody wants my opinion, I would say I’m much more biassed, I would much rather have someone come over to Europe that’s sitting in the ECHL, grinding it out. Come over to Europe right away because you can play a lot better hockey, you get paid better over here than you do sitting in the ECHL. You have a lot more fun. I find hockey here is much more fun. It’s not as much of a business as it is in NA.
What are your favorite stories of your year here, and what are some stories of your year here you wouldn’t usually tell?
People that I talk to about Zagreb, I mean, holy smokes the experience of my lifetime there. We talk about it yearly it seems, we talk about it all the time. From us getting there right away, playing those games in Pula. There were so many things that I’ll never do again in my life. The whole Pula experience is something I talk about constantly with new people that I meet through hockey. We played at Šalata which was incredible as well. Such a historic event in Zagreb. A lot of fun. The other thing that I talk about was just, our home games at DS. The atmosphere in there is one that you’d rarely get in hockey. The people were so passionate about the team. Zagreb as a whole was such a comforting place for me and my wife. We’re always talking about going back to visiting because we enjoyed it there so much. Zagreb’s a sports city, that’s all I can say about it. They love their sports, they love their hockey team. Any time a player from NA that’s used to playing in the ECHL in front of 1500 people can go play in Dom sportova in front of 6000 screaming fans, it’s insane. I’ve nothing but good things to say about my time there.
The EBEL and the playoff series against Salzburg. While it is easy and a cliche to always blame it on the refs, how much do you feel they’ve taken away from you in that series?
Yeah, I mean, that’s a touchy subject for sure. We felt that year that we had an extremely, extremely strong team. We played a great regular season. Going into that placement round, we started second and we ended up fourth. It’s an interesting league in that sense because teams get to pick who they want. I remember that year Salzburg had just slid into the playoffs, they were outside of the playoffs, they ended up picking up a bunch of guys from the KHL at the deadline, including some of my buddies. Nobody wanted to play them. Us being the fourth place team, we were stuck playing Salzburg. Like I said, it’s a funny league that way. There always seems to be a slight advantage when you’re a non Austrian team playing an Austrian team. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be that way or, that’s just how it kind of felt at times. I mean, I’m not taking anything away from Salzburg. They had a fantastic team that year and made the finals for a reason. They had a team that was stacked with talent. It’s the reason nobody ever wanted to pick them to play. I’m not taking anything away from them, but there’s always something that we kind of felt as a group that the refereeing was always slanted one way for sure.
You lead Medvescak in points right behind Kyle Greentree, and you two have become some sort of a duo, moving on to Basel to play together. How much of a mentor was he for you, given that he was a bit older than you?
You know what, Greener was great with me. We had a ton of guys that year in Medveščak that I learned from. From Tanger down to guys that were heart and soul players like my best buddy on the team there, Curtis Fraser. I learned a lot from him just the way he played, but Greener was a guy that, he was a scorer, he was a guy that had a ton of points and a great resume back in NA. I learned a ton from him. He’s the kind of guy even today, talking with him throughout the year in Schwenningen. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t accept losing very well. He had a really tough time there in Schwenningen this year just because they didn’t have the greatest team. He’s the kind of guy you’d want on your team any time of the week. He knows how to win and he knows how to play the right way. He taught me that. He taught me how to really take the game a lot more seriously as far as being a professional. I’m lucky to be able to call him my friend. I’m lucky to have been able to play with him. I learned a lot from a lot of the guys we played there in Medveščak.
A week or so before Medvescak announced they were joining the KHL, Greentree and yourself announced you were signing with Basel. Was that the plan all along, or is there perhaps some sort of regret about it? Essentially, would things have been different had Greentree and yourself known Medvescak was joining the KHL?
No, I don’t have any regrets about not playing in the KHL. At the time, for me, my year in Medveščak, I was 24 so I was still fairly young. I was at a point in my career where the Swiss A league was something I really hoped to get to and I knew that if I wanted to get there I needed to kind of get into Switzerland. It’s a small country and teams don’t necessarily go out a whole lot looking for players. It’s a lot easier to be noticed if you’re already in Switzerland. At the time when I ended up signing there were big question marks about whether Medveščak was going to stay in the EBEL. For me, this offer.. I had a couple opportunities to go to different places in Switzerland, numerous opportunities to stay in the EBEL and I had a few opportunities actually in the DEL as well. At that time, they had spoken to me, they told me they were also interested in Greener. Knowing who the other import player was going to be, someone I was very close with, was something that I was excited about. When I discussed it with my wife it was kind of the best situation for us to take. That’s the reason I took it at that time. If I didn’t have any options at that point and time, I would have wanted to wait, I would have seen if Medveščak had gone to the KHL or not, but at the time it was still question marks there.
You two joined Basel, tore it up there, unfortunately got eliminated from the playoffs, then you were getting ready to come back next year and the shock came, that the Sharks were folding. What was that like for you?
That was devastating to be honest. The year before Greener and me got there, they had a really below average season. They had about three below average seasons in a row. They didn’t make the playoffs in two years. We had a fantastic arena, fantastic city. We didn’t have a whole lot of fan support in Basel just because the soccer team was so big. We had this beautiful 6000 seat arena, the best arena in the league by far, but we would have maybe 2000 people show up for games. That was a little bit weak. We didn’t have any problems throughout the year, hints telling us that the team was going to fold. Greener and me were nominated and won entertainers of the year for Basel that year because we had done so much for the hockey team. As far as team standard, when you go into a team like that it’s extremely hard because they had kind of accepted losing, and that was something that Greener and me really went in there and changed. We wanted to win, we wanted to make the playoffs. I know we had set records that they hadn’t had set in years, we had beaten Langnau who they hadn’t beaten in eight years, beat Langenthal three times who they hadn’t beaten in 12 years. There were things that we had done that season that nobody would have expected us to do. We slid into the playoffs in sixth place, which again, nobody had even expected us to make the playoffs, let alone in the top 6. We played Langenthal, they were a great time, they beat us out, we ended up winning a playoff game which, again, people were ecstatic about us just winning one playoff game. We went home, we had left all of our stuff in the apartment, we were supposed to be back in the same place. Greentree, same thing, we left stuff there, said our goodbyes and during the summer, I called to book my flight back, and it was weird because they were kind of stalling my flight back. Finally, they ended up booking my flight back. About three days later, my Swiss agent had called me at about 3:30 in the morning. I answered the phone, said “Are you okay to talk“, I said “Yeah, sure, freaking sleeping but yeah, sure“ and he said “Yeah, your team just folded. When you wake up, call me, we’re going to have to find you a new team“. This was probably the 10th or 12th of July, and I was supposed to leave on the 21st. This was basically two weeks before I was supposed to go back to Basel that the team had folded. There was a couple efforts to save the team. They had a few fundraising events, I mean, they had a fundraising even where they had an investor say that, if you could get a 100,000, I’ll support the club and get the rest. Out of the 100,000, I think they ended up making about $3,000. It wasn’t anything that they were going to save the team with. When that happened, it was a big shock, but fortunately for me I have a great group of agents that worked hard at it. I had about three or four offers within the first five days. Ingolstadt was one of them. I had spoken with my coach that I’m here now, Larry Hurs, who is a huge name in Switzerland. Won a lot of championships, really experienced guy, he convinced me to come here and the rest is history, I enjoyed it ever since.
Was there a moment when you didn’t know what to do, given that training camps across Europe were just around the corner?
Yeah, I mean.. Yeah, for sure. Going into last summer, I felt I had a good year in Basel. I had a concussion that year, it was my first concussion so I missed the last month of our season before playoffs, and then going into playoffs, I had a really good playoffs, but I was supposed to go up to the Swiss A league at the end of the year. I had signed a, they call it a B license where I was supposed to go up and play the remainder of the season in Bern, but Bern hadn’t made the playoffs either so they were kind of playing playouts and tried coming back a little bit quicker than I had originally wanted from my concussion, so I didn’t want to go up to Bern and hurt myself. I decided right after my season was done I was going to fly home. My wife and I had our baby, our daughter on February 21st, the day of playoffs our daughter was born, so we had a lot going on at that time. I said you know what, I’m not going to go to Bern, I’m going to go home and then going into the summer, I talked a few times with different coaches in the Swiss A league and they all said that they felt that I could play there, that I needed to get a little bit stronger and stuff like that. I went into last summer and I probably worked the hardest I ever worked as far as my summer training program. My on ice stuff, I really worked hard on that, tried to be on the ice for as much as possible. I really really worked hard on my game. When the team folded, I was worried for sure about not having a place to go, but then when I ended up signing with Ingolstadt, there was no point where I thought “Oh, shit, I’m not ready to go to the DEL“ because I knew how hard I had worked that summer to go play in Switzerland. I knew the work I put in was going to be good for wherever I was going to go. If I went to the NHL, I was in the best possible shape I could be in at that point, so I wasn’t really worried.
You then signed with Ingolstadt, while Greentree signed with Schwenningen. Has it been difficult to split up?
It was different at first because I was so used to playing with somebody for two years. It was a lot different at first to be honest. As soon as I signed here, Ingolstadt needed a centreman. They had all the wingers that they needed. I came in here, Larry Huras told me exactly who he had me envisioned playing with. That was Peter Taticek on my left wing and Ryan MacMurchy on my right wing. As far as that’s gone, I mean, I think we’ve had one of the best lines in the DEL throughout the season.We were good consistently. There were times when we had either Ryan out, or Peter out missing games because of injuries. We had other guys step up and jump into those spots. But I found a ton of chemistry with Peter especially. The way he plays the game, the way he approaches it, but you know, coming here I had a ton of respect for him, just because of the places he’s played, he’s a first round draft pick in the NHL. I’ve learned a ton from him, but it was hard leaving Greener, for sure, just because I knew Greener’s game so well. I still know Greener’s game so well. I found a home here really quickly with Taticek as well.
This year, you were amongst the league leaders in the DEL, you represented Canada at the Deutschland Cup. Describe the season so far from your perspective.
Oh, man, this season has been easily my most successful season. Like I said, I came in knowing that I put in the work that I needed to be good in the DEL. Again, I’ve been given a chance by Larry right away to play an offensive role, to play the game the way I wanted to play, to use my skating. The players that I was surrounded with, the team we have, and we have a fantastic team. From our oldest guy to our youngest guy, we just have an incredible group of guys, they make my job easy. If I can get my feet moving quickly in a game, those guys they always seem to find me so I used my skating. It’s been a fantastic year. I got to represent Canada for the first time in my career at the Deutschland Cup. That was a massive honor, and given that it was in Munich, too, it was only 40 minutes away from Ingolstadt. My wife and daughter were there with us. I mean, it’s crazy. The way that they approached that, it’s so professional. Hockey Canada treats us all like we’re in the Olympics. They treated us so well. I had a chance at Christmas, actually, not many people know this but I had the chance to play at the Spengler Cup also for Canada, but we were right in the middle of the season, we had three games during that time. We were trying to separate ourselves from kind of the pack, the top four teams from the fifth sixth seventh team. It was a decision that we made that I couldn’t go, but as a whole, it’s been a great season.
Your style of play is pretty much flying down the wings. That makes the bigger ice in Germany a perfect fit for you, doesn’t it?
It really does. The extra room out here makes the game a lot easier for me. I’m not a guy that weighs 95, 100kgs and can go through people. I’ve always been the kind of guy that has had to go around people. The extra few meters on each side of the boards and the rink being a little bit longer that definitely helps my game.
What’s next for Brandon Buck?
Well I have a contract here for the next two seasons. There’s interest from pretty much everywhere as far as me leaving, but for me, right now my heart is in Ingolstadt. This is my team. When the season ends, I’ll sit down with my agents, discuss all the different options that I have. Like I said, I’m really happy here. Ingolstadt is now my home away from home. I have a contract here for next year and as of now that’s what’s next. It’s what I’m focused on for now.