By Dave Dyer
---- — When Mike Buckley talks, people listen, and they listen closely.
Well, at least if they’re goalies, they do, because it’s certain that Buckley has something to say that could benefit them.
The 35-year-old Buckley operates Goaltending Development Services (GDS), is goaltending director for Pro Ambitions Hockey and is the goalie coach at the University of New Hampshire, and those are just his most current positions involving netminding on the ice.
To say that Buckley, who lives in Bradford, has been “around the block,” or ice, pertaining to goalies would be an understatement. He’s been involved with them on every level as both a player and a coach.
Buckley came up through Haverhill Youth Hockey, was a two-year starting goalie for Haverhill High, went on to play goalie at UMass Amherst and then played five years of pro hockey in the ECHL, CHL and IHL before turning his attention to coaching.
As a goalie coach, in addition to his current duties, Buckley coached goalies for Dynamo Minsk in the Russian professional league, he was the goalie consultant for the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets for three years and he coached goalies for five years at UMass Amherst before switching to UNH.
These days, when not heading up to UNH two to four days a week, he usually splits his time giving private lessons through GDS at either the Micro Ice in North Andover or the Ice Den in Hooksett, N.H.
The GDS has grown into quite the business. Buckley employs four full time assistants, including two other former Hillies in Jeff Woods and Dan Lupi, and two years ago he opened a satellite operation in Hackensack, N.J.
Buckley never imagined that his goalie business would grow to its current level but he knew it was one that he wanted to operate in a certain way.
“The idea started back in 2003 and I was still playing at the time,” he said. “I had been giving private lessons and the goalies I started with were having success.
“I had been involved with other (goalie) schools and I didn’t like the way they were doing things. The level of detail wasn’t there and I knew it was important to give proper instruction.
“I also wanted to keep the cost reasonable. I went to camps growing up, but I couldn’t afford goalie lessons. I know it’s a sacrifice for parents, so I put everything I have into it.”
That focus has already been noticed by UNH starting goalie Casey DeSmith, a Rochester, N.H., native who currently leads all Hockey East goalies in virtually every category. He is second in the country in most categories and has been a key for the No. 2-ranked team in the country which may be named No. 1 today.
He’s been Hockey East Player of the Week four times already.
“Mike is really dedicated and he’s very serious about it but he’s also good natured,” said DeSmith. “He’s into the mental part of the game and stresses it more than other coaches I’ve had. I think it’s really important.”
If DeSmith pays close attention to Buckley, it’s understandable. He has not only coached goalies at every level, but he’s worked with pro hockey players like Mike Spillane and Brian Foster, who played some for the Florida Panthers last year, and he’s also given instruction to Jonathan Quick, the Los Angeles Kings’ netminder who was the star of the Stanley Cup back in June, and Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins.
Buckley admits that, while it’s rewarding to work with goalies of any age, and he currently services about 120 clients of all ages, it’s exciting to work with the pros.
“I like working with anyone who wants to learn, who is eager to get better,” he said. “Time flies when you work with someone who loves being out there and wants to work hard to get better.
“But working with pros is really fun because there are very few restrictions and, if you teach something, they pick it up quickly.”
With that in mind, Buckley isn’t shy about expressing his ultimate goal.
“I’m hoping to work for the Bruins some day,” he said. “I’ve had opportunities with other NHL teams, but I really want to stay in this area.”
Even if that opportunity never presents itself, however, Buckley is more than satisfied with how his business has grown.
“It’s kind of an odd job to have, but I love it and I love going to work every day,” he said. “It’s a fun job but it’s necessary now.
“It’s unheard of nowadays for goalies not to have specialized goalie training. The game has changed a lot since the 1980s — the equipment, technique, the way it’s played — and goalies need the extra work.”
And Buckley is happy that he’s able to provide it.
Goalie hotbed Our region is a hotbed for high level goalie coaches. Bradford's Mike Buckley is coaching goalies at UNH, operates Goaltending Development Services, is goaltending coach for Pro Ambitions Hockey and was goalie consultant for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jim Logue of North Andover is in his 19th year at Boston College. He was the former North Andover head coach and has also been an assistant at Salem State and Merrimack. Mike Geragosian of North Andover is goalie coach at Boston University and is director of goaltending for USA Hockey His son, Adam Geragosian, has been a goalie coach for the last 10 years. Brian Daccord of North Andover is the former Bruins' goalie coach and wrote the book "Hockey Goaltending."