Some say playing a sport builds character. While others insist that athletics, in fact, reveals character.
In Justin Buccarelli’s case it did both.
As a senior defenseman for the Niagara-Wheatfield hockey team Buccarelli is doing his best to help the Falcons in the daily grind of playing in the WNY Federation Hockey as they attempt to get back to Super Monday-and beyond.
The senior season is always a special one for any student-athlete. It’s one last kick at the can for a championship. One last season together with your teammates. One last season to make your mark on the varsity program. But for Buccarelli it’s also a season of first. After three years of trying and falling shy of the goal Justin Buccarelli finally broke through and earned himself a spot on the varsity roster.
“It was just a huge weight off my shoulders and I knew I had a lot to prove,” Buccarelli said. “I improved a lot from last year to this year. We lost a lot of big defenseman so I knew I had to step up with my skill whenever I could and contribute to the team.”
After playing JV as a freshman and sophomore Buccarelli understandably felt he had paid his dues, improved his game and was pretty confident that he was going to make varsity last season as a junior. But that didn’t happen, as he was among the final people cut from varsity tryouts.
“Emotionally it was difficult because it was at a point in my career when I thought I was moving up in the right direction,” Buccarelli confessed.
“I came back the next year and throughout the whole off season it was just eating at me all off season to work on the things (Falcons head coach Rick) Wrazin wanted me to work on and improve. When it came to tryouts this year everything paid off.”
But instead of getting angry, Buccarelli got better. Falcons coach Rick Wrazin said it was tough to cut Buccarelli last season, but to Justin’s credit, Wrazin said his young blue liner handled the news like a man.
“I think it says a lot (about his character). Not only did he make the decision to go there he didn’t pout or get angry,” said Wrazin.
“He went there and he worked and he worked on the things that he had to do to get himself ready to be here, and it shows. So it shows a lot about his character and his mental toughness.”
Wrazin went onto say that the coaches felt that as a junior Buccarelli was on the edge of breaking through. But there were some spots in his game that needed fine tuning. Mistakes that he simply would not be able to get away with at the varsity level. And the extra year with the JV coaches helped smooth out those rough patches and made Buccarelli a better and more confident contributor now.
Along with shoring up skills Buccarelli realized that, in his case, the area that needed the most work was his emotions. He had to learn one of the most important lessons of sports-have a short memory.
“He just told me that I was always hard on myself,” Buccarelli said. “Personally, I would let a mistake get to me and lead up to bigger mistakes. Just have a short memory. In through one ear, out the other.”
Once he came to grips with what was holding him back Justin Buccarelli was able to learn how to better manage his emotions on the ice. It was a process he worked on while with his travel team, Niagara Purple Eagles.
Buccarelli worked closely with Falcons defensive coach Ryan Coyne to sharpen his game. Bit by bit Justin won the faith of his coaches and proved he could be trusted in any situation. Now firmly entrenched on the N-W roster Justin Buccarelli is seeing solid minute in even strength, power play and penalty kill.
Becoming a better player who can help his team has obviously been satisfying for Buccarelli. But knowing he can one day walk away from N-W hockey a better person is the real payoff.
“Wrazin taught me that you get out what you put in,” Buccarelli said. “How much you put in effects how much you get out of it and you’ve got to have a positive attitude about it and a short memory. Even a mistake, you’ve got to learn from them. You can’t let them haunt you or get at you.”