He captained the first men’s hockey team to play in Maple Leaf Gardens in 13 years. The lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan loves the renovated Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) so much he buys his groceries there.
But for the first time, Andrew Buck thought about quitting last year.
The star winger suffered a tragic end to his dream season when he was slammed into a metal stanchion, breaking his left collarbone, in a game against the RMC Paladins in January.
The six-foot-two, 220 pound senior had to watch from the stands when his team was eliminated from the playoffs in the 2012-2013 playoffs.
Despite thoughts about leaving hockey to pursue other activities, “Big Buck” and his famous toothless smile returned to lead his team for another season.
“When you break your collarbone, the thought of stopping definitely goes through your head,” says Buck. “You think: ‘Is this really something you want to be doing every day to your body?’ You’re putting yourself at risk and it’s not like you’re making millions of dollars.”
The risk didn’t come without reward for Buck last season.
He got to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper in one of the MAC’s opening ceremonies at the start of the year. The hype around the hockey team caused the 24-year-old to become a recognizable face on campus – though nobody has asked for his autograph yet.
Buck was leading the team in scoring when he went down, and for the first time in a long time, he wasn’t sure what to do with himself.
“Whenever I’ve had an injury before, it has always just been something I can play through and deal with in the off-season,” says Buck, who lost his front teeth from an errant puck while playing for the Newmarket Hurricanes five years ago. “This was the first time there was nothing I could do except sit out and watch from the sidelines.”
During his six weeks on those sidelines, Buck had plenty of time to consider his options. The fifth-year public administration and governance major still went to all the team’s practices, but rode the bike instead of taking to the ice. He went to all the games, but scouted instead of skated.
While on the injury list, Buck brought up his GPA and buckled up for a career in office work. When he was finally cleared for contact, however, thoughts of leaving the game went away.
“When I got back on the ice, that kind of disappeared,” says Buck. “I wouldn’t want to end my career with an injury like that.”
The four-year Rams veteran is typically one of the team’s top point producers while playing a smart defensive and physical game. He says he models his playing style after his favourite player, ex-Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark.
“It’s not normal for a guy to be that fast for how big he is,” says Rams goalie Louie George, a four-year teammate of Buck’s. “When you’re around him, you just know he’s a leader … on and off the ice.”
Off the ice, Buck is relatively quiet and leads by example. He seldom yells, but when he does, his teammates say they can hear him clearly from several rooms down the hallway.
On the ice, Buck is extremely talkative and is constantly communicating to his teammates on the bench.
Throughout this season, his final year of eligibility, Buck simply wants to improve the team to the point where they can get by without him.
Past that, Buck doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do. He hopes to play hockey in Europe next season, a common destination for Canadian university hockey players, if an opportunity arises.
If he doesn’t find a place to play professionally, Buck will likely return to his ongoing summer job at Molson Coors Canada, relegate himself to a beer league with his friends, and finally get his teeth permanently fixed.
“It’s going to be over at some point, but I want to keep playing for as long as I possibly can,” Buck says.