PENSACOLA, Fla. – It was October 2003. Dan Buccella, a rookie fresh out of the Major Junior hockey with the Mississauga IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, found himself participating in a training camp inside a rink that sat not too far from the beaches of the Emerald Coast. He didn’t make the team, being one of the last cuts, but his short time seemed to make a big impression on him.
Ten seasons later Buccella was again in that rink (this time with a new name for the rink, new sponsor logos under the ice and on the dashers, a different team with a close but different name, a different coach, and a different league) skating with a trophy hoisted above his head. He finally got his championship.
Since being cut in that 2003 Pensacola Ice Pilots’ training camp, he’s called seven different cities home including multiple stops in Pensacola and Huntsville, even two different teams in Huntsville with the Channel Cats as a rookie and then three seasons with the Havoc.
This championship for the Ice Flyers is largely owed to former coach Todd Gordon, even more so for Dan Buccella. Bucky didn’t score a lot in juniors but Gordon took a chance on him and brought him into the 2003 training camp. Then after the Ice Pilots closed their doors and the Hangar sat empty for a year, Todd Gordon played a key role in bringing hockey back. He did a ton of leg work that led to the eventual return of hockey to the Five Flags City.
Gordon was named the Head Coach of new and shiny Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League. It was that first season that Buccella made his return to Pensacola. He began the year with another expansion team, the Louisiana IceGators, but was traded to the Ice Flyers on December 14, 2009.
The next season after not re-signing with the Ice Flyers, he was signed by the Knoxville Ice Bears in December only to be released in early March 2011. He returned to the Hangar after the Flyers claimed him off of waivers and thus started his longest stint with the Ice Flyers. Bucky finished the season and played all of the next year with the Ice Flyers including making it all the way to the SPHL Finals. Unfortunately the Ice Flyers were swept by the Columbus Cottonmouths.
Buccella initially de facto retired after that 2011-2012 season. Todd Gordon was out, new head coach Gary Graham was in. This being Graham’s first head coaching gig he wanted someone he knew and was comfortable with to be his captain/player-assistant coach so he brought in Leo Thomas. This wasn’t a slight towards Buccella but he decided he wasn’t going to play this season. He took a job and was coaching with the Jr. Ice Flyers as well as playing in the rec league that played on the same ice he used to get paid to play on.
Ten seasons, nine teams, three leagues, 421 games including playoffs, 146 goals, 170 assists, and countless shifts later Buccella had the Cup over his head. With his wife and son watching from the stands and the tons of friends he’s made over the past few years, Ice Flyers captain Tyler Soehner decided to forsake tradition and call over his friend and former captain Buccella to be the first to lift the SPHL’s President’s Cup over his head and kick off the celebration.
Now Buccella will retire, this time for good, from professional hockey and come back down to the “real world”. Wherever life takes him now, two things are sure: he’s a Champion and he can call Pensacola home.
Contact the writer at Geoff.Nichols@prohockeynews.com
Follow us on Twitter: @ProHockeyNews
Follow the writer on Twitter: @GeoffNichols26
Photos courtesy of Richard Davis/Ice Flyer Nation.