January 28, 2013 - United States Hockey League (USHL) - Tri-City Storm
KEARNEY, Neb. - The Tri-City Storm may have found themselves a hidden gem in recent addition Richard Buri, a defenseman that brings an experience most hockey players in the USHL don't have.
Buri, a native of Nitra, Slovakia, recently played against some of the best young players in the world as a part of his country's entrance in this year's World Junior Championships last month in Russia.
Although Slovakia struggled against teams like Canada and Russia, the defenseman lined up against a few players that made National Hockey League rosters. These include Nail Yakupov of Russia and the Edmonton Oilers, Jonathan Huberdeau of Canada and the Florida Panthers and Alex Galchenyuk of the United States and the Montreal Canadiens.
"The World Juniors was a totally different world of hockey," Buri said. "It was a great experience because I wasn't supposed to be there until next year, but our coach picked me up early. Our group was so hard; we had Canada, the United States, Germany and Russia.
Storm head coach and general manager Josh Hauge gave credit to his assistant coach Lenny Hofmann, who pointed the big defenseman out during the international tournament.
"His advisor was e-mailing us and making us aware that he was playing in the World Junior Championships," Hauge said. "Coach Hofmann was watching the games and liked what he saw. We just made a phone call and next thing you know he was willing to come over so we brought him out and gave him a week-long tryout."
Buri, who is now the tallest player on the team at 6 foot 4 inches, played in his first game on Jan. 11 and said he has had no trouble fitting in with his new teammates.
"The guys have been so nice from the beginning," Buri said. "I didn't expect they would be so great. I really like the atmosphere with the coaches and the team."
The 19-year-old said his English is improving rapidly. The only other time he has been in the U.S. was for a tournament in Woodridge, Ill., near Chicago.
"I had English in school in Slovakia from when I was seven-years-old until high school. I also learned from watching TV when I was young, like Cartoon Network. When I'm here in the U.S., I feel more comfortable when I'm speaking English."
Hauge agreed that the language barrier hasn't been a problem on the ice.
"He doesn't talk a whole lot out there but he speaks very well when he does," Hauge said. "He understands everything, it's just a matter of getting more confidence."
As for the new culture, the Slovakian said he is enjoying himself.
"I think the lifestyle is great," Buri said. "It's a big difference when compared to the Slovakian lifestyle. I like all the fast food. It's something new for me."
Buri will be back on the ice when the Storm will finish up a two-game series with the Sioux City Musketeers on Tuesday night at the Viaero Event Center. The puck will drop at 7:05 p.m.