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Buckley thrust into emergency goalie situation for Gamblers

By Greg Bates

GREEN BAY – As a Jr. Gamblers young hockey player, Bo Buckley said he dreamed about playing for the real Gamblers junior hockey team.

During his time at Notre Dame Academy, Buckley practiced with the Gamblers and served as the team’s emergency backup goalie for one game.

However, he didn’t get to play.

A few weekends ago, his fortunes changed.

Bo Buckley

Due to a combination of injury and COVID-19 with the Gamblers’ rostered goalies, Buckley found himself as the emergency backup, unexpectedly seeing his first United States Hockey League action.

He played two periods Jan. 7 and started the next night in helping the Gamblers split against the first-place Chicago Steel.

“It was cool,” Buckley said. “Growing up in Green Bay, it was a cool moment.”

Gamblers coach Pat Mikesch said he thought it was a great moment for the former Notre Dame star.

“He was excited,” he said. “I (recently) had a burger with his dad, and we laughed about it. He said, ‘I’ve never been that nervous watching my kid play.’ It was fun.”

After graduating from Notre Dame in 2020, Buckley planned to play junior hockey.

However, two nagging injuries caught up with him, and he underwent two surgeries for his core and a torn labrum in his hip.

He missed the entire 2020-21 season.

After a long rehab, Buckley started the year with the Sheridan (Wyoming) Hawks of the North American 3 Hockey League, a Tier III junior league.

He played in 10 games but returned to Green Bay.

Buckley, a first-team all-state honoree as a senior, was practicing sporadically with the Gamblers when he received word Sunday, Jan. 2, he was needed at practice for the week.

By that Thursday, Buckley found out he would dress for the series against the Steel because one of the team’s goalies, Rastislav Elias, was stuck in Europe with COVID-19.

The Gamblers’ primary goalie, Aaron Randazzo, was planning on playing both games, but the team needed a backup.

Randazzo was in net the opening period during the first game of the series, but Buckley saw him during the first intermission.

“I’ve been around him enough to know he didn’t look good,” Buckley said.

Randazzo’s back injury had flared up.

There was chatting around the locker room Buckley would be thrust into action.

“No notice,” Buckley said. “I’m going out on the bench, and the equipment manager came to me and said, ‘We’re going with you. Good luck.’ Chicago is good.”

Buckley was ready to go.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose,’” Buckley said. “I might as well play, have fun and enjoy it. Going through the Jr. Gamblers stuff, it would be cool to play, thinking to myself as a kid.”

Mikesch said he can’t imagine an emergency goalie thrown into a game like Buckley was.

“Maybe it was easier than having to think about it all day,” he said. “All he was thinking about was having his hair looking good on the bench, and all of a sudden, he was thrown into it – credit to him for how well he handled it.”

Buckley entered the game with his team down 2-0, and the Gamblers ended up falling, 5-3.

The next night, Randazzo was planning on playing, but during warmups, his back was still giving him problems.

This time, Buckley was getting his first career start with the Gamblers.

“Right before we’re walking out, the equipment manager comes to me again and said, ‘I’ve got your (stuff). You’re going in,’” Buckley said. “That was cool because my parents were there.”

Buckley kept the Gamblers in the game against the high-powered Steel offense.

Green Bay pulled off a 6-5 victory in overtime for Buckley’s first victory.

“It’s the first time I’ve had to put an emergency backup into a game,” Mikesch said. “The two periods he played (during the first game), we tied both those periods. To beat the top team in the league (in game two) was a great story. Our guys who know Bo well were excited for him. I don’t want to play an emergency backup every game, but it was a cool story and a great win for us as a group.”

Buckley, who turns 20 Jan. 21, said he’s OK with the role of playing an emergency backup goalie, but he’d also like a bit of stability.

Ideally, Buckley said he’d like to latch onto a junior’s team in the North American Hockey League to get his career resurrected.

“Hopefully, I can get some games under me,” he said. “Coming back from the surgeries, I want as many games as I can to get that repetition back. I’ve been trying to get it, but it’s hard coming off of surgeries. Not many teams want you.”

The way Buckley is playing between the pipes, he might become a hot commodity.

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