On the eve of his first professional season, Michael Buonincontri has seen quite a bit of the North American junior hockey landscape. Born into the legendary hockey city of Montreal, Quebec, it was a no brainer that Buonincontri’s parents put him in skates at three years old. Like any other Canadian kid, the game of hockey became an obsession and the dream of playing professional became the front runner in Buonicontri’s mind.
Working his skill and plying his trade throughout Montreal and a triple A league down in Colorado, Buonicontri looked up the courage of Saku Koivu to earn his place on the ice. Of course it helped that Koivu was captain of his favourite National Hockey League team too; the Montreal Canadiens. Koivu’s attribute of being a leader on and off the ice lead Buonincontri to adopt the number 11 as his own. A number he still wears today.
His play and determination was noticed. After a short stint with the Cornwall Colts of the Central Canada Hockey League, a rival team in the Smith Falls Bears pried him away. It was here, in this small community of 10,000 southwest of Ottawa, where Buonincontri excelled and made himself a name. “Smith Falls is a place where I was welcomed by everyone. Teammates, staff and fans,” Buonincontri said. “I felt at home and being in a comfortable environment I was able to translate the positivity onto the ice.” And translate he did. In his first two years with the Bears,
Buonincontri notched 56 points in 60 games. At almost a point a game player, his offensive ability started turning heads. A natural power forward, Buonincontri was starting to be compared to Montreal Canadiens sharpshooter Max Pacioretty. “I thank Mark Grady for giving me the opportunity that he did for me to succeed,” said Buonincontri. “I feel I was put in an important role and I was there to help the team win every night.” That role lead him an invitation to compete for Team Canada East however an injury before training camp put a stop to that. Faced with adversity seems to be his strong suit and he never let the injury bring him down. Good thing because important people were paying attention to his play and the phone started ringing.
Bounincontri jumped on the chance of gaining more experience with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League; a team that has graduated the likes of T.J. Oshie and Thomas Vanek into the NHL. A more defensive league, Buonincontri gathered not only hockey experience but valuable life experience in being so far from home in South Dakota. Along with it, he committed himself to St. Cloud State University. However, it was that little town in the middle of Ontario that was pulling on his heart strings. “I was kind of “team sick”. I missed my teammates, staff and fans back in Smiths Falls. It’s a place I felt the most at home. So decided to return.” Buonincontri returned with a vengeance and scored 29 points in 26 games. “The CCHL has grown to be in the top leagues in Canada and has graduated some very good players.” said Buonincontri of his time there.
As a prospect with St. Cloud State, Buonincontri had the chance to finish out his junior career in the British Columbia Hockey League with both the West Kelowna Warriors and the Prince George Spruce Kings. He stayed dominant and got involved with the community off the ice, no doubt a great quality to have on the heels of a University career. The BCHL fit right with the style of Buonicontri’s play. He exploded offensively and was a pivotal role in the Spruce King’s playoff run. “The BCHL is a very professional league. One of the most fun I had playing hockey with two great organizations.” Remembered Buonincontri. “The skill and compete level is as good as the USHL. There are a lot of great players but it’s the depth on every team is what separates those leagues from any other league I’ve played in.”
As his junior career ended, Buonincontri started to feel that the University route just wasn’t for him. He had the skill. He had the determination. He had the compete level. It was time to turn pro.
When Buonincontri de-committed from St. Cloud State, the offers started to pour in from North America. Teams in the East Coast Hockey League were jumping at the chance to land a powerhouse Canadian forward for their squad. The professional North American hockey market is a tough one to crack but Buonincontri would have had no problem. However, teams from across the pond came calling with better deals.
“It’s always been my dream to play professional hockey overseas.” laughed Buonincontri. He had a few to pick through but it was Les Corsaires De Dunkerque, a Division 1 team based in Dunkerque, France that became the right move for him. “They’re a great organization and well respected throughout the country of France,” continued Buonincontri. “My agent was in contact with them for a while and they showed the most interest. After talking to several people who played in France and doing my research on the club, I decided it would be a great fit for me to sign there.” No doubt that growing up in french centric Montreal also appealed to the brass in Dunkerque.
The hockey in France in definitely something to pay attention too. France in general is catching up in the IIHF rankings; they currently sit in 12th, just 100 points shy of the top ten. The style of play in Division 1 will benefit from Buonincontri’s explosive offense. His ability to read the playand be two steps ahead of it is an asset Dunkerque will need to compete hard.
“I want to play professional hockey for as long as I can,” smiled Buonincontri. “My parents put me on skates at the age of three and I fell in love with the game.” As always with players, it’s family that usually makes the most sacrifices. “My family has been supporting me all my life and I owe all my success to them. I couldn’t be where I am today without their help.”
When the puck drops in this fall, Michael Buonincontri is set to take all of the experience he gained in the various junior leagues in North America to the bright white ice of Dunkerque, France. One thing’s for sure, this player is one to watch for many years to come.