“I didn’t play any organized hockey until Grade 11,” he said with a tinge of amazement in his own voice. “I do find it a little weird. I’ve liked hockey all my life, but I never got into organized hockey. I’d play shinny and skate a lot and play on outdoor rinks, but in Novice and Atom and Pee Wee, I guess I just never signed up. But I always liked the game.
“I think sometimes that I missed a lot not playing when I was younger, but my hockey life’s pretty good right now.”
Tyrel Bueckert is a star with the Keystone Junior B Hockey League’s St. Malo Warriors. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound leftwinger was 17th in scoring through the first 20 KJHL games with 15 goals and 31 points.
His coach, Dennis Senebald, loves the way he plays. However, even Senebald seems a little confused by Bueckert’s background. When you watch the kid play, it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that he didn’t play a game of organized hockey until he was 16-years-old and never scored a goal in an actual game with uniforms and referees and a scoresheet until Nov. 16, 2013.
“I just decided one day to try out for the high school team (W.C. Miller Collegiate Aces in Altona),” said Bueckert, 20, who grew up and still lives with his parents, John and Sara, on the family dairy farm in Gretna. “I’d never played on a team before, but I thought I’d give it a shot and I guess I was good enough because I made the team.”
In his first year, he had seven goals and 14 points in 36 games. In his second year (2014-15), he completely blew up on offence. He had a goal and four assists in the season opener against Morris and finished the year with 22 goals and 51 points in 30 games. At the time, he figured it was a great way to finish a two-year hockey “career.” High school was over so he was probably done with organized hockey. It would likely be back to the outdoor rinks and perhaps a beer league game or two.
“But then I went to University College of the North in The Pas and a buddy at school suggested to me that I try out for the OCN Storm, the Jr. B team up there,” Bueckert said. “So I called the coach and he gave me a tryout and I made the team.”
There seems to be a theme here. Nobody ever recruits Tyrel Bueckert. He just attends training camps and plays well enough to impress coaches and make teams. He’s the ultimate Walk On.
At OCN, he had an outstanding season. He had 21 goals and 39 points in 31 games on a good Jr. B hockey team, but at the end of the school year, he decided to head home and take a job as a welder at the John Deere plant in Altona. He asked OCN for his release and got it. At that point, he was probably done with hockey.
“But then the next season started to roll around so I called (Warriors head coach and GM) Ralph Collette in St. Malo,” Bueckert said. “He told me, ‘Well, if you had a good year in OCN, you can probably make the Warriors,’ so he invited me to try out and I made the team.”
In his first year in St. Malo in 2016-17, he had 17 goals and 38 points in 33 games and helped the Warriors reach the KJHL semifinals, where they lost in seven thrilling games to the eventual KJHL champion Peguis Juniors.
This year, playing on a line with two solid players Haden Hildebrand and Robert Guimond, he has been lights out. He’s a Top 20 scorer and he’s even found time on the side to play some Sr. A hockey with the Altona Maroons. In five short seasons, Tyrel Bueckert has gone from milking the cows to making a mark on Manitoba hockey.
“Yeah, I’m still a good milker,” he said with a laugh. “I still get up from time to time and help my dad. My parents own a market farm with dairy cattle and a few feed lots. It’s not really big, but I’m still living at home. I love it at home.” Senebald is thrilled that Bueckert came home from OCN and started playing for the Warriors. He’s one of the Warriors top players on one of the Warriors Top 2 lines.
“He’s been having a great season for us,” said the coach. “He’s a 6-foot-3 power forward who really has great hands. It’s unbelievable that he never started playing until Grade 11. He’s such an outstanding kid and it’s great having him in the room. We have a lot of rookies this season and he’s been terrific helping the rookies prepare for this level of play. He’s always positive and we need that on a team that’s kind of rebuilding (9-7-3 at the Christmas break). But we’re getting better and Tyrel has played a big role in our improvement.”
Bueckert doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about his hockey future. He’ll play this year and probably next season with the Warriors and likely continue to play for the Altona Maroons. He’s just living it day-to-day.
“I look back and I wish I’d played Pee Wee and stuff when I was younger,” he said. “I probably missed a lot. But right now I’m having a pretty good time. I have great linemates and playing for Ralph and Dennis is pretty cool. I love hockey. Right now, I’m just having fun.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if the game was that simple for everybody?
By Scott Taylor
Photo by Bahia Taylor