Defense first: Buckley adds to Huskies’ depth on blue line

Photo courtesy of the Merritt Centennials The Centennials’ Tyrell Buckley controls the puck in his zone during a game in February.

HOUGHTON — When you are one of 11 new faces to join a college hockey program, it can be a daunting experience. For incoming freshman defenseman Tyrell Buckley, the transition should be a little easier. He already has a friendship with current Michigan Tech Huskies winger Gavin Gould.

“I knew Gavin, (since) I played with him for two years in junior hockey,” said Buckley. “I just talked to him a lot because I know he loves it here.

“I’m really happy with my decision (to come to Houghton). I feel comfortable.”

Gould gives Buckley a familiar face to turn to for support.

“Knowing Gavin a little bit (by) playing with him, (makes) it good to have someone to throw questions off of if you need to,” Buckley said. “I met a lot of the guys in May that are still here. I’m excited to start the year.”

The lefthanded defenseman from Penticton, B.C., spent four seasons with the Merritt Centennials, and plans to study psychology. In his last season with the Centennials, Buckley racked up a personal-best 39 total points, on the strength of 11 goals in 55 games.

Buckley feels that his final year in the British Columbia Hockey League prepared him for his new chapter at Tech.

“As a player, I would want to say that I’m a two-way defenseman,” he said. “I improved a lot last year on my offensive side of the game, and I definitely take pride in my own end. I like playing a shutdown role.”

Buckley believes in an old sports adage that a good offense starts with a strong defense. He tries to carry himself with that in mind.

“I’ve always taken pride in playing really good defense in my own end and not being scored on a lot, and having a good plus-minus,” he said. “I’ve been playing against some tough forwards in the last few years of juniors. I tried to shut them down every night. You never want to get scored on as a defenseman.”

Buckley hopes to fill in for the losses of senior defensemen Mark Auk and Dane Birks this season.

“It’s going to be an adjustment coming from junior hockey to guys that are older and faster,” he said. “I’m going to have to make an adjustment and learn as I go. I’m just ready to (work on) getting better every day as a player.”

Michigan Tech’s success in recent years is what sealed the deal for Buckley as he was deciding which school to attend. That decision didn’t come without a season of hard work on multiple facets of his game, including those he felt he already had a good command of.

“It was my last year, so I had one year to try and get a scholarship,” he said. “I really worked hard in the summer of that year.

“I got more offensive opportunities on the power play this past season. I just really felt (like) my confidence grew on the offensive end and I still played the shutdown role on the defensive end, so I played a lot of minutes.”

While he was working hard on a Centennials team that struggled in the win column, the Huskies were winning WCHA regular season and playoff titles.

“We’ve won the last couple of years,” said Buckley. “(That was) kind of one of the reasons I came (to Tech), to win and improve. I know a lot of defensemen have moved on. We had a good defensive core that went pretty far last year. I just want to add to that.”

The small-town feel that Houghton offers was also a selling point for Buckley.

“I started talking to (Michigan Tech) in January or February of last year and they were interested,” he said. “I’ve obviously heard really good things about the university’s hockey program. It’s in a smaller town than where I played junior hockey.”

Buckley looks forward to bringing has game to the next level.

“I’m just really lucky,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with the coaches and with the team. I (want to) keep an open mind and continue working as hard as I can every day.”

Buckley made the jump to junior hockey at 17 and fully admits that he assumed it would be easy for him to earn a scholarship with hard work. He learned a lot during his time in Merritt.

“I thought going into (juniors) that it was pretty easy to get a scholarship, but it’s obviously a ton of work,” said Buckley. “(I feel) I’m extremely lucky to have the opportunity to play Division I hockey for such a great school. I played four years of juniors (and) over 200 games. I had to work really hard to get here, so I want to make the most of it.”

Over the course of his career, Buckley has studied the game of Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, and he has tried to mold his playing style around it.

“He plays really good defensively,” said Buckley of Doughty. “He’s also one of the top defenseman every year. I just think overall he works really hard (and) is competitive. I want to bring a lot of that into my game. I like watching and learning how he plays his game.”