Night in and night out over the course of a four-year KIJHL career, Eric Buckley has taken a beating.
Whether in the corners or in front of the net, the 5-foot-9 native of Penticton goes where many won’t and he continues to pay the price to make the play.
In his 20-year-old season, that penchant is paying off as the pesky Kimberley Dynamiters winger is producing at a career rate with 43 points in 30 games, already equalling the career mark he set in 2013-14 (43 points in 47 games).
Friday night in a 5-1 win over the Columbia Valley Rockies (16-16-0-0), Buckley was undoubtedly the best player on the ice, scoring twice and setting up two others to pace the Nitros (24-3-0-3).
“Buck has been phenomenal all year long, in terms of the abuse that he takes,” said Jerry Bancks, head coach of the Kimberley Dynamiters, following Friday’s victory. “He just keeps on taking it, keeps on ticking. He’s changed his game completely from what he used to be — he used to be the player that would take undisciplined penalties and he’s turned that around totally.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Early in the first period, it looked as though old Eric Buckley might make an appearance, as referee Graham Waugh sat the pint-sized forward down on back-to-back shifts for a pair of minor penalties.
Between the beatings he takes and the eye many officials seem to have for Buckley and his style of play, Dynamiters fans have even popularized a hashtag specifically for the smooth-skating pest — #BecauseItsBuckley.
“Sometimes he’s got my number, sometimes not,” Buckley said with a smile in regards to the attention he gets from officials from night to night.
After serving his time, new Eric Buckley was out in full force from there on.
The recent commit to the University of Jamestown started the scoring in the second period, cleaning up a rebound in front of the Rockies net.
With Quinn Sobus serving a tripping minor, Jared Marchi sent a point shot towards Rockies goaltender Connor McKay but the puck never made it through a clutter of bodies. Captain Jason Richter took a swipe before the rubber found Buckley and he deposited it for a 1-0 lead.
Moments later, Rockies defenceman Kobe Eagletail caught Nitros forward Korbyn Chabot with a high hit. The infraction was Eagletail’s second head-contact penalty of the night and this time around he was served with a five-minute major and a game misconduct, effectively ending his evening early.
On the ensuing power play, the Dynamiters worked the puck around the offensive zone without much in terms of scoring opportunities. With 1:25 remaining in the major penalty, Buckley picked the pocket of a Rockies forward at centre ice, turning and burning in two-on-one with Brendon Benson.
Buckley dished to the newcomer Benson who made no mistake in putting the puck past McKay for his first goal as a Dynamiter, extending the home team’s lead to 2-0.
“It was all Buckley,” Benson said with a grin Friday night. “He read the play perfectly on that rim, pick-pocketed that ‘D’ man and made a great move around their last ‘D’ man. I just happened to be in front of the net.
“It’s a good confidence booster. It’s always good to have a goal in the new jersey.”
The goal went on to stand as the eventual game-winning tally.
The Rockies scraped their way back to within one goal in the second period after Dynamiters defenceman George Bertoia was cuffed with a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind.
All it took was five seconds for the visitors to convert, as Luke Bellerose redirected a point shot past a bewildered Mitch Traichevich who, along with the fans in the Kimberley Civic Centre, called for high sticking to negate the goal. The officials were having none of it as the Rockies made it a 2-1 contest.
But that’s as close as the visitors managed on this night as the Dynamiters pulled away in the third period.
Benson added his second power-play marker of the night just past the midpoint of the third period to make it a commanding 4-1 lead for the hosts.
The 19-year-old native of Lethbridge has shown great flashes in three games, tallying two goals and two assists, since joining the Dynamiters last week following a stint with the Kindersley Klippers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
“We’ve got a tight squad in here and everybody plays for each other,” Benson said. “That’s what you need out there, especially in the long run when you’re looking at playoffs.
“[I’m looking to take on] a leadership role. We’ve got a lot of young guys, but we’ve also got a lot of old guys. You’ve got to pump up those young guys to make the simple play — easy ins, easy outs — and work as a team. We all use each other and we’ve got a great work ethic.”
At 5-foot-11 and 180-pounds, the former seventh-round pick (144th overall, 2011) of the WHL’s Victoria Royals, has added yet another dangerous weapon to an already overloaded arsenal of top-end talent in Kimberley.
“Benny is a kid who came here and he is starting to fit in with the group and starting to enjoy himself more,” Bancks said. “He is definitely a very good hockey player, so it was nice to see him have success tonight.”
Rounding out the scoring was the man who started it all.
With 7:05 to go in regulation, Buckley turned on the jets as he beat Rockies captain Colton Sandboe to a loose puck before skating in alone and ringing one off the iron and in behind Giovanni Sambrielaz. Sambrielaz came on in relief of McKay who was forced to leave the game after taking a shot off the top of his mask earlier in the third period.
The goal checked in as Buckley’s fourth point of the night, all but ensuring first-star honours for the Dynamiters alternate captain.
“When you’re 20 years old, you’ve got that extra confidence out there,” Buckley said. “I’m just trying to make this season a memorable one because it’s my last.”
Rounding out the scoring Friday night was Revelstoke native Brodie Buhler, who was the first to victimize Sambrielaz, making it 3-1 Kimberley early in the third period.
Between the pipes, McKay was stellar for the Rockies, making 14 saves on 16 shots before being forced from action in the third period. Coming on in relief, Sambrielaz turned aside five of eight shots.
At the other end, Traichevich earned his sixth win of the season by stopping 19 of the 20 pucks sent his way.
Saturday night, the Dynamiters return to action as they face their third divisional contest of the week, with the rival Creston Valley Thunder Cats (18-8-1-1) visiting the Kimberley Civic Centre for a 7 p.m. puck drop.
“It’s going to be tough,” Bancks said, looking ahead to Saturday’s tilt with the Thunder Cats.
“Creston is a good team. Some of our younger players are going to have to step up.”
Montana’s Cookhouse Three Stars1) F Eric Buckley, Kimberley Dynamiters (2G, 2A) 2) F Jared Marchi, Kimberley Dynamiters (3A)3) F Korbyn Chabot, Kimberley Dynamiters
Notes: The Nitros were without F Keenan Haase (upper body), F James Rota (undisclosed), F Marco Campanella (lower body) and D Tristan Pagura (shoulder) Friday night. F Jesse Wallace has (shoulder) has chosen to move on from the team and pursue academic opportunities…When Creston visits Kimberley, the Dynamiters will also be without the services of D George Bertoia as he serves the first of an automatic two-game suspension for his check from behind…