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Sports Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 31, 2011
Buicko excels as two sport athlete at Hamilton College
By Jordan J. Michael
Hockey and baseball have been a constant part of Joe Buicko’s life for the past seven years. A senior at Hamilton College, Buicko recently made the quick, but smooth transition from ice to turf for the fourth and final time as a double athlete.
Buicko, from Altamont, has been All-Academic in both sports for the past two years. He played 93 games for the Continentals’ hockey team, scoring 86 points (33 goals, 53 assists) and is 30 hits and 15 steals away from breaking both all-time records for the Hamilton baseball team.
“I chose Hamilton because they allowed me to play both sports,” Buicko said last week from Florida, where the baseball team was in spring training. “I just enjoy each sport equally.”
Buicko doesn’t know if he’s better at hockey or baseball, but he initially talked to college coaches about hockey when he was applying to college from The Hotchkiss School. “I asked them about baseball, too,” he said.
Most of the coaches Buicko spoke with told him that students don’t really compete in two sports. Hamilton was different, encouraging Buicko to be a double athlete. Students before him had done it, including one of Buicko’s hockey teammates.
“I’m glad that it’s hockey to baseball, instead of the reverse,” said Buicko, who plays center field. “Hockey training is very specific and intense, while baseball is a little more laid back. Going from one into the other is like second nature now.”
Buicko told The Enterprise that Hamilton’s hockey team is more “established” than its baseball team, this winter winning the New England Small College Athletic Conference with a 14-7-4 record. The Continentals won only five games when Buicko was a freshman.
“I’m under the microscope during the winter,” said Buicko, who was named captain of the hockey team during his sophomore year, the same year Norm Bazin took over as head coach. “I have to be aware of my surroundings because everyone is watching.”
Bazin was named Coach of the Year by the NESCAC for the second season in a row. Buicko remembers the energy he brought when he took over the team.
“He turned it around,” Buicko said of Bazin. “He changed the mentality, focus, and we all bought into the team defense. He turned our individual success into team success.”
Hamilton earned the number-one seed in the 2011 NESCAC playoffs, but suffered a 5- to-2 loss to Wesleyan at home in the quarterfinals. Buicko said that it was disappointing to lose because the arena was packed with excitement.
“We were coming in with an eight-game road winning streak,” said Buicko. “But we weren’t on the road, we were at home in a packed house. Wesleyan deserves some credit.”
It was still the most successful hockey season in Hamilton history, which Buicko said was the highlight of his entire collegiate career. “We came so far,” he said.
Buicko forever will remember the last regular-season game of 2010 against Babson College, when the Continentals scored four unanswered goals in the final 15 minutes of regulation play to win, 4-3.
“We were down three goals and we got a power play with 15 minutes left,” Buicko said. “Coach pulled our goalie and all the rest of us were shocked, like, ‘What is he doing?’ We thought he was nuts, but we scored, and then won the game with 30 seconds left. At that point, he looked like a genius.”
The career point total for Buicko might have reached 100 if he hadn’t been hindered by a freak knee injury in his junior year, missing nine games. “It’s OK,” he said. “I traded those missed points in for a regular season title this year.”
When the ice surface changes to a grass field in the spring for baseball, Buicko tries to bring with him the intensity from hockey. In some ways, he wishes he could hit someone, like he would do to an opponent on the ice.
“You can’t go running over people in baseball,” Buicko said with a laugh.
A goal in hockey could be equivalent to a home run in baseball, in terms of its effect on the game. However, hockey is a much more physical game. Skating on open ice and running the dirt base paths don’t compare.
“My baseball coach says that grass and dirt stains on my jersey mean that I had a good game,” Buicko said. “I like to bring my hockey intensity into baseball, whether it’s diving for a catch or stealing a base. It’s all about my approach.”
Playing two sports is a huge time commitment, meaning Buicko sacrificed some fun social time for sport competition. Add on all the course work of college and Buicko has a stacked schedule.
“You have to have your priorities straight,” Buicko said of balancing sports and schoolwork. He’s studying economics and government, hoping to get a job in finance after interning for J.P. Morgan.
After Buicko graduates, he might play pro hockey in Europe. He played in Germany, France, and Switzerland last summer with a college all-star team. He’s looking at Sweden or Switzerland as possible destinations.
“Going abroad is something I wouldn’t pass up,” Buicko said. “It would be an interesting time. Hockey is more of a finesse game in Europe, but they like to see Americans coming over.”
Whether Buicko decides to find work or go overseas for hockey, he’ll leave Hamilton with a new sense of responsibility. He’s been a leader on the ice, in the field, and in the classroom.
“I’m well prepared in different ways,” said Buicko. “Pushing myself has allowed me to be whomever I want.”