Buchberger comes home


Former Oilers captain returns to organization as Road Runners assistant
By Robin Brownlee -- Edmonton Sun


Give the Edmonton Oilers credit for a sense of timing and picking the appropriate day to officially welcome Kelly Buchberger back to the family fold.

The Oilers have been holding a seat for one of the unheralded but most valuable Boys on the Bus for several summers, but it wasn't until yesterday, after a bone-chilling day on the links at the team's My Team, My Town golf tournament that the warm, fuzzy news of Buchberger's inevitable return was announced.

Stints in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Pittsburgh notwithstanding, the Oilers have been Bucky's team and this has been his town since he first walked in the dressing room and began earning his place in franchise folklore as a raw, willing rookie.

Home at long last - the former captain was named an assistant coach with the Edmonton Road Runners along with Joe Patterson yesterday - just one questions begs an answer.

Bucky, what took you so long?

'THIS IS A GOOD DAY'

"This is a good day," said Buchberger, who won three Stanley Cups with the Oilers. "I'm coming back to an organization that I always wanted to belong to. I feel very fortunate."

The Oilers have been dangling a coaching position in front of Buchberger since Mark Lamb left to join the Dallas Stars three years ago, but each and every summer since then No. 16 insisted he intended to play as long as he could.

Finally, friend and former teammate Craig MacTavish, not to mention Father Time and the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA, convinced Buchberger now is the time to take a clipboard gig.

"I guess if somebody was to offer a huge amount of money to play, I'd have to look at it," mused Buchberger, who isn't counting on that with his 38th birthday approaching.

"I'll just concentrate on coaching and taking that next step ... if there's a lockout for a full year, I'd be coming up on 39 and not many teams are looking for a player like that."

To say Buchberger had a helluva run is understatement. He hangs 'em up with 1,182 NHL games, including 795 with the Oilers, in the books. Not bad for a Saskatchewan boy drafted 188th overall out of Moose Jaw in 1985.

"This is the third straight year we've been chasing him and we finally got him," MacTavish said. "We understood he wanted to keep playing, but we've always known where Bucky's heart is."

WORKED HARDER THAN ANYBODY ELSE

Buchberger played longer than anybody thought he would because he accepted his role, always put his team first and worked harder than anybody else from his very first shift - his NHL debut came in the 1987 playoffs. And he was fearless.

If Buchberger, the franchise's career penalty minutes leader with 1,747, including a rookie record 234 in 1988-89, is half as effective behind the bench with Road Runners head coach Geoff Ward and Patterson, Oilers prospects are in good hands.

"You have to have a rapport and a good relationship with your players, especially as an assistant," MacTavish said. "The other thing is respect. He's got that built in.

"There's not going to be any hypocrisy between his message to the players and the way he played the game."

Buchberger is one of only a handful of Oilers whose career here spanned the Stanley Cup parades of the 1980s to the lean years of the 1990s. Buchberger, who assumed the captaincy from Shayne Corson in 1995, would get a big raise from GM Glen Sather, then a fresh start from the boss when he was left available for the 1999 Expansion Draft.

Buchberger took his willing fists and silky skating stride to the Thrashers, Kings and Coyotes before coaxing a swan song of 71 games with the Penguins last season. He was as honest a player in his last game as he was in his first.

"As long as he played in the league, and as much experience as he had, he tried to justify being in the uniform every night," said MacTavish. "He would never take a night off.

"You hear that said a lot about players, but with Bucky it was the truth. He'd do whatever he had to do to be a positive factor."

Buchberger and wife Carla kept their house here even after the move to Atlanta.

The ties that bind Buchberger to this town never loosened - even when he was scrapping with Anson Carter or yapping at Georges Laraque.

"You always want to beat your old team, but in the back of my mind I still wanted to be an Oiler," laughed Buchberger. "Walking into the other dressing room was always weird for me."

Just a week ago, Buchberger showed up at Henry Singer's Bad Pants fundraiser with MacTavish. Plain white shirt. Crisp jeans. No goofy trousers for Bucky. Straight up, as usual. Yesterday he slipped into a new job, back where it all began.

"I was fortunate to play as long as I did," Buchberger said. "I consider myself so lucky to be back and I look forward to the chance to be a coach and work with Geoff and Joe."

It's about time, Bucky. It's about time.