Bud Buonato is the head coach of the Howard Huskies hockey team… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
Only for reasons beyond his control — the rules of USA Hockey, and its tradition of staging national championships in different parts of the country — must Bud Buonato settle for coaching just one team this week.
His Howard Huskies Under-16 boys won the Maryland championship this season. That got them a bid to Troy, Mich., to compete on ice there for a national title.
But their head coach is not with them.
This is because Buonato also happened to coach the Huskies Under-18 team to the state title for its age group. The older Huskies are competing at the same time for a national championship, but at a rink outside Hartford, Conn.
Very few youth ice hockey clubs in the region get one team to "nationals," as they are known, much less two in the same year.
As it stands, Buonato must settle for the tournament in Connecticut, leaving his younger team in the hands of an able assistant, Michael Blount.
But if Buonato, the hockey czar of Central Maryland, could find a way to be in both Michigan and Hartford — via hologram, or perhaps by drone outfitted with camera and speaker for bench instructions — he would be. He's that committed to his teams, to his burgeoning Howard County youth ice hockey club, and to a sport that, while still growing in Maryland, has always been overshadowed by soccer, football and lacrosse.
Buonato, who works as an administrator for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, is not only coach of the Huskies' marquee teams, but the president of the Howard County Youth Hockey Club. He has held these volunteer positions for years.
He's also served the club as its scheduler, arranging hundreds of practices, scrimmages and games for nearly two dozen teams, including his own. This, of course, helped in the season that ends this weekend for the U16 and U18 Huskies.
Buonato scheduled practices and games so that he could be with both teams as much as possible. All of which is extraordinary considering the length of the youth hockey season, which runs from about Labor Day to St. Patrick's Day and, if the puck bounces the right way, into the national playoffs in April.
Buonato sometimes had to race from one game to another, though he frequently was able to coach back-to-back at the rink in Columbia.
Last month, his U16 team and U18 team were in state title games on the same day.
First, Buonato guided his older team to an overtime victory over the Tri-City Eagles on home ice.
Then he drove from Columbia to Cabin John to coach the U16 team, which held off the Montgomery Blue Devils, winning 5-4 despite being shorthanded, with a player in the penalty box, for the last 30 seconds of the game.
Two state championships for the Huskies on the same day.
The trip to Hartford represents the fourth time in five years that Buonato's U18 made the national championship tournament. It's the first time for the Huskies U16.
Buonato, at 50, is still up to his ears in all this kids' hockey stuff long after his own sons and daughter moved on.
He grew up a football player in suburban Philadelphia, but when his first son, Jamie, got onto the ice as a Mite — that's what the hockey world calls 6- and 7-year-olds — so did Buonato.
"I think this is my 20th year, and what can I say? I just love it," Buonato says. "I like working with the kids year after year. It has been such a fun experience for me, my wife, my kids, and building the Huskies organization. And the club keeps growing."
The Huskies had 360 players this year.
Which says a lot about Buonato's organizational skills and leadership, the volunteers in his club and, of course, the affluence of Howard County. Hockey is an expensive sport, primarily because of the cost of ice time. (Buonato says the next challenge is finding a way to provide financial assistance for families who can't afford the annual fees.) It's also not the most visible sport — played inside metal-and-brick buildings, often on the edges of industrial parks — and it competes with more affordable sports promoted by recreational leagues.
Including, of course, spring sports.
While many hockey players in Maryland quickly move on to lacrosse, usually by late February, those who play for the Huskies know to keep their skates sharpened into early spring.
There's a chance they'll be at nationals, and tryouts start in just a few weeks for next year's teams. Buonato will be there — and he says he's going to coach two teams again. Why cut back on a good thing?