Colby Bukes (12) came up with the Colorado Thunderbirds before embarking on a USHL career. He's now in his sophomore season with Minnesota State Mankato. Photos courtesy of Minnesota State University Mavericks Athletics
In 2019-20, Bukes' freshman season, the Mavericks posted a 31-5-2 overall record and were rolling through the WCHA playoffs prior to their season being cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 5-foot-11, 178-pounder got his feet wet by appearing in two games as a freshman and is eager to see his role increase as a sophomore. So far, Bukes has played in one tilt this year — a 1-1 tie versus Bemidji State on Dec. 19.
As of this writing, the Mavericks are ranked No. 5 in the nation in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine men's college poll with an overall record of 3-1-1.
The Colorado Hockey Hub recently spoke with Bukes, who is one of three Coloradans on the Mavericks' roster, which also includes Sam Morton of Lafayette and Lakewood's Shane McMahan.
Colorado Hockey Hub: What was your introduction to hockey and what were some of your early memories in the sport?
Colby Bukes: My first initial memory was my dad. He pushed me to go out and I was balling, crying my eyes out, wouldn’t want to do it again. I ended up going out a second time and just loved it. That’s kind of how it all started.
CO Hockey Hub: Were there other sports you preferred more as a kid?
CB: Honestly, no. I tried basketball for a year, baseball for a year, but hockey became my main sport.
CO Hockey Hub: Do you have a favorite NHL team and were there players growing up you looked up to?
CB: The Red Wings have always been my go-to team. My dad grew up in Detroit so that’s my in with that. Nicklas Lidström, Pavel Datsyuk were a couple favorites.
CO Hockey Hub: How would you describe the presence hockey had in Colorado in your youth days and as you’ve grown up?
CB: My brother kind of missed it by a year, understanding AAA hockey in Colorado and the importance it plays. If you want to make it somewhere, that’s what you have to do and pursue. Over the years, it’s grown tremendously from what I’ve noticed by the amount of the NHLers and draft picks. There are more Colorado names, I feel like.
CO Hockey Hub: When did you really begin to take hockey seriously and when did things start to ramp up for you?
CB: I’d say the year before I made the transition to AAA. I played with the Jr. Pioneers team. It was a AA team and they kind of got all the Thunderbird recruits for a year before the next year. We won nationals, we all dyed our hair blond and that was kind of the first year it really meant something. From then on, just AAA hockey, scouts and all that intrigued me. I wanted to pursue it even more.
CO Hockey Hub: Were you always a defenseman or did you try other positions?
CB: I was mainly always a defenseman. I couple times in the season they’d put me at forward just because I had quick feet and kind of speedy, but I always kind of liked it back there [on defense]. I’d get too tired up front.
"I learned a lot since it was my first year experiencing stuff going against me. I had never been a healthy scratch for games. Just understanding the way everything is — how it’s a business. Hockey-wise, just being able to practice with such a good team that we were last year was such a huge development aspect. "
Bukes (right) skated for the Muskegon Lumberjacks from 2016-19 before joining the Division I Mavericks in Minnesota.
CO Hockey Hub: How would you describe your experience in the USHL, how it helped you develop as a player and what you learned about yourself?
CB: I loved Muskegon. Development wise, I think the USHL is the route to go for defensemen, especially if college is the end goal — or the NHL. I think it shapes most players, the coaching and everything.
CO Hockey Hub: What were some memories of those years in Muskegon?
CB: I played with Andrei Svechnikov; he plays with the Carolina Hurricanes now. That first year I played with so many really unbelievably skilled players that I’ll definitely remember for the rest of my life.
CO Hockey Hub: What was your college recruitment like?
CB: I visited Mankato on my way to play with Muskegon in my first year. That year, I was going to visit Mankato, Western Michigan, and maybe another school but Mankato was my first stop. They always kept in touch, they were really big in relationships. Early in the process I kind of jumped on their side. I loved the school, loved the coaching staff and everything. From then on I had a confidence boost throughout juniors just knowing I had a goal to work toward and a team to make happy and prove [myself for].
CO Hockey Hub: There are a couple other Coloradans on the MSU roster. Is there any kinship or connection with them?
CB: Yeah, Sammy Morton, I play with him now. He actually came out and visited last year. He transferred from Union. He loves the school, too, he loves the guys. We played on the Thunderbirds a couple years before — I think my 14s year. Our families are close friends and our relationship has gone from there.
CO Hockey Hub: Your freshman season you got a little bit of playing time, but also got to sit back and watch a pretty successful team. What did you take away from that season?
CB: I learned a lot since it was my first year experiencing stuff going against me. I had never been a healthy scratch for games. Just understanding the way everything is — how it’s a business. Hockey-wise, just being able to practice with such a good team that we were last year was such a huge development aspect. Pushing myself to try to play in that type of lineup with such good teammates and people around me.
CO Hockey Hub: Unfortunately last season was cut short in March due to the pandemic. What was it like when you guys got that news and how have things been this season?
CB: Obviously we were very sad last year when we got the news. I felt awful for my seniors, especially because the season they had and the four years they all had bonding together for it to just end like that with how close we got. The change with how everything is different this season, there’s nothing you can really compare it to.
CO Hockey Hub: What are some of the challenges you’re facing this season? It looks like no fans are allowed at games, is that right?
CB: That’s a big challenge. Above all, I think just the team being able to hang out and bond together, I think that’s the biggest part of creating a great championship hockey team. Being unable to do that this year, going down to the bars or anything and hanging out that way. It’s a different change of scenery, we’re all cooped up in our houses and such.
CO Hockey Hub: What are some positives with this season so far and things the team is happy with?
CB: The positive is we’ve played five games before break, I know there are some teams that weren’t able to play any. We got off to a good start to the first half of the season. I’m definitely ready to go back for league play.
CO Hockey Hub: How would you describe your role for this team? What do you bring to the ice?
CB: I’ve only played one game so far. I wouldn’t say it’s a rough start, but I’m trying to gain the coaches' trust with effort and stuff in practice and change their perception of me, I guess. I see potential as a good offensive defenseman to the team after losing [leaders Connor Mackey and Ian Scheid] last year.
CO Hockey Hub: What else should folks know about you?
CB: I’ve had some life adversity. There are a lot of people in Colorado who supported me. My mom actually passed away this past summer from breast cancer. Just trying to overcome that obstacle.
CO Hockey Hub: How do you try to keep her spirit with you and how does that fuel you?
CB: She’s always been my drive, on and off the ice. My goal now is just to play games to please her. My ultimate goal was to have her watch my first college hockey game in person. Now she can watch them all, you know?
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