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Hockey goalie signs pro contract

March 29, 2007

For most hockey players, the dream of playing for the National Hockey League (NHL) has entered their mind sometime throughout their life, and for one UW-River Falls athlete, that dream is one step closer to becoming a reality.

Junior goaltender A.J. Bucchino signed a professional contract with the Augusta Lynx of the East Coast Hockey League Sunday, March 23.

“Some people said I didn’t think it through,” Bucchino said in a phone interview. “But to be honest, I have had a lot of contract offers, and this one was just the right fit.”

The decision to leave River Falls so abruptly was one that surprised many of his teammates.

“I didn’t find out until just recently,” junior captain TJ Dahl said. “I was kind of shocked at first. I can’t do anything but wish him the best.”

Bucchino met with head hockey coach Steve Freeman Saturday, March 24, morning and discussed the decision.

“I was disappointed,” Freeman said. “Not only because we lost an important and quality player, but because of leaving school ... he promised me that he would finish his degree.”

During Freeman’s tenure with the Falcons, he estimated that roughly five goaltenders have signed professional contracts, such as Bucchino.

Dahl said the last player to sign a contract was Garrett Larson following the 2004-05 season.

The Lynx are affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL; neither team could be reached for comment.

“This is a good time for me to get experience,” Bucchino said. “There are six games left in the season and the playoffs. It’s a good time for me to get my feet wet before next fall.”

Bucchino said he had heard from the Augusta team a couple times throughout the season before taking them up on their offer.

“I got the blessing from my father... he said if you want it, take it,” Bucchino said.

While the transition from college hockey to a minor league level might be stressful and overwhelming, Bucchino said he is not worried; in fact he is quite comfortable.

Bucchino said he played for the Lynx’s coach when he was a junior hockey member of the United States Hockey League in Des Moines, Iowa, which was the same team he played for with Falcons teammate Pat Borgestad.

With this decision, Bucchino can never play hockey at UWRF or at any other college again. Even though he can’t play college hockey, he is still working to complete his psychology degree.

Bucchino said his professors have been helpful about allowing him to stay in his classes.

He said he is doing extra homework and taking tests online.

Once the Lynx season is over, Bucchino will return to campus. He could be back in the classroom as early as two weeks if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.

However, the Lynx are in fourth place in their conference and are on pace to get a playoff spot.

With Bucchino not returning to play his senior season, his open position allows fellow Falcons freshman Tony Stoehr and Matt Page or a potential new goaltender to take his spot.

“We’re going to have to find another goalie,” sophomore Devin Underwood said. “Somebody’s going to have to fill his shoes.”

In two seasons with the Falcons, Bucchino played 47 games and finished his career with a 31-11-5 record and with a 2.10 goals against average and a .934 saves percentage.

Stoehr said Bucchino had the “goods to back up” his professional offer and he knows Bucchino has an opportunity to be the starting goaltender.

“I don’t know too much quite yet,” Stoehr said. “I just know I have to work hard to get the spot.”

While losing the top goalie may be a huge blow,  the Falcons can still be competitive next season.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not going to be awesome next year,” Dahl said. “That doesn’t mean a national championship is out of the picture. We just have to work a little harder.”

While Bucchino is looking forward to new opportunities in the professional hockey ranks, he said it wasn’t easy for him to leave the Falcons program.

“It was a tough decision,” Bucchino said of leaving the program. “River Falls has been good to me, especially coaches Freeman and [Bob] Ritzer have given me a chance to play. But this is something I wanted to pursue.”

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