Buckles becomes the first of his class to be signed to the organization that drafted him.

Cameron Pollack | Sun Photography Editor

Buckles becomes the first of his class to be signed to the organization that drafted him.

March 29, 2017

Buckles Joins Florida Panthers’ AHL Affiliate

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The Springfield Thunderbirds, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Florida Panthers, announced Wednesday that Cornell men’s hockey senior forward Matt Buckles has been signed to an amateur tryout contract to finish out the 2016-17 season, the team announced Wednesday.

Buckles is in the lineup for the Thunderbirds’ Wednesday night home game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He instantly made a splash with his first career pro goal 6:58 into the second period.

“Definitely a big adjustment,” Buckles told The Sun about the transition to the pros. “[The goal] wasn’t something I was focusing on — I was more just trying to do little things — but it felt really good to get it out of the way early.”

Buckles is the third member of the current senior class to join a professional organization, as Patrick McCarron’s and Mitch Gillam’s signings were announced Tuesday. However, he is the only one of his class to play with an organization that drafted him — neither McCarron nor Gillam were drafted.

The Panthers selected Buckles in the fourth round with the 98th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft after he was named the Ontario Junior A Hockey League’s Top Prospect by the NHL Central Scouting Service.

Buckles spent four seasons on East Hill, amassing 44 total points — 29 goals and 15 assists. His 29 career goals paced his senior class, with 12 coming on the power play and five in the postseason.

“I learned a lot playing for [head coach Mike Schafer ’86],” Buckles said. “He taught me a lot about the defensive game, tried to make me more two-dimensional. Also little things like keeping your stick down and work ethic and little things like that.”

Buckles made his name with his gritty play style, never afraid to get into the mix and in the minds of his opponents. The NCAA would penalize Buckles had he ever entered a full on fight. Now, that is almost encouraged in the AHL.

“I’m not going to try and be a goon,” Buckles said. “But I think I can do it. If someone asks for it or jumps a teammate I’ll have no problem getting at it.”

The Toronto played in at least 25 games each of his four seasons, missing part of his senior year due to injury. Regardless, he finished sixth on the team in points, finding himself on the scoresheet 17 out of 29 games. Five of his nine senior year goals came in a six game stretch from Jan. 28 to Feb. 17, and he added an assist in that span as well.

He makes it nine total Cornellians in the AHL after McCarron signed Tuesday morning with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Most notably, he enters the Atlantic Division with the Thunderbirds, which consists of Cole Bardreau ’15 and Reece Willcox ’16 on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms — Philadelphia Flyers affiliate — and Brian Ferlin ’15 on the Providence Bruins — the Boston Bruins’ minor league team.

“I’ve been texting Reece a lot,” said Buckles, who faces off against Willcox and Bardreau Saturday, April 8 on the Phantoms’ home ice. “We’ve been joking around.”

Buckles joins several other former collegiate athletes on the Thunderbirds’ roster, including products of Denver, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio St. and Wisconsin, among others. Assistant coaches of the Thunderbirds are Doug Janik and Michael Ryan, who spent time at University of Maine and Northeastern, respectively.

The Thunderbirds currently sit at sixth in the Atlantic Division with a 27-29-9-2 record with one of the lower goal totals in the league. Buckles will look to inflate that stat, and he already has.

“I just want to go out and play to earn a spot [next year],” he said. “And to show myself and boost my value … to play hockey, make an impact and play my game.”

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