London Knights hopeful Jacob Buch learned to fight during battle with cancer

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When the Knights won the OHL title in St. Catharines a year and a half ago, the first person co-captain Mitch Marner encouraged to hoist the J. Ross Robertson Cup was Jacob Buch.

That gesture remains one of the enduring — and endearing — images of London’s 2016 Memorial Cup run.

Buch was the club’s fifth-round pick in 2014 and signed a contract with the organization before being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that affects mainly children and adolescents.

The battle with the disease cost him more than a year of hockey. His recovery has made him even more determined to realize his dream of playing for the Knights.

He is back at training camp this week, trying to earn a coveted roster spot.

“I’m kind of the older guy here now,” the soon-to-be 19-year-old from Stoney Creek said Tuesday at Budweiser Gardens. “You don’t see too many guys my age come into camp thinking they’re going to make it if they haven’t played in the league yet.

“It’s always been my goal to play here. Getting sick was a little bit of a setback, but nothing was going to get in my way. I’m here and I have to prove I’m able to play at this level.

“I worked really hard this off-season to get here.”

This is his second trip to main camp. He has been to two previous rookie versions.

Although it would be one heck of a story if he makes it, the slick forward has been given no assurances.

“I’m just like everybody else,” he said. “Just play hard and see what happens. I believe I’m still the same player I was (before cancer). I go off my skill and hockey IQ — those are my strengths.”

He is a winner, too — something the Hunters have always put a lot of stock in during player evaluation.

Buch owns three Sutherland Cup rings as an Ontario Junior B champion — two as a member of the powerhouse Caledonia Corvairs and another from this past season with the Elmira Sugar Kings.

The past two years, his teams have beaten the London Nationals in the final — and he raised the Cup just down the road from the Bud at Western Fair.

“I don’t know what it is,” he joked.

His road to Elmira and the latest Cup was a soap opera in itself.

Buch got his release from Caledonia and signed with Thorold to play with some of his buddies.

He averaged nearly a point a game, but the Blackhawks started to fall apart. After a few guys quit and a friend was traded to Chatham, Buch and Jake Brown were dealt to Elmira, for cash, shortly before the ‘Hawks suspended operations.

Buch played in 13 regular-season games with the Sugar Kings, but injured his hip on an accidental collision in practice late in the season.

The hip affected his back — a problem made worse by the fact he has a rod and eight screws in it from the cancer fight.

“They had to do back surgery to get rid of the tumour, which ate one of the vertebrae bones,” he said, “so I’ve had to work around that area. I’m not going to use it as an excuse. I’m trying to be careful with it. My dad said I came back too soon from the injury, but I had sat out for a year and a bit. It’s hard to leave hockey aside for that long and I wanted to get back as soon as possible.”

He appeared in 12 playoff games, but missed most of the tail end of Elmira’s run because of a nasty case of strep throat.

“In the London series, I ended up making it out for (clinching) Game 5,” he said. “I was trying to be cautious with it. I even went home to get looked at by the doctors in Hamilton. But I did go on the ice after we won. I said to the guys who were scratched, we’re going to get dressed and go on (for the celebration).

“That wasn’t my first time. I’ve been through it before.”

He has been through more than many players face in their careers. It’s only added to his resolve.

“Growing up, the mental side of the game wasn’t always my strong point,” Buch said. “I would get frustrated with myself if things went wrong, but now, I’m stronger with that stuff. I had to sit back and realize what I was going through when I was sick.

“Now, when I do something wrong, I forget about it, learn, and go out and try something different.”

It’s not Knights or bust for Buch this fall. Other OHL teams have shown interest in his skills.

“We’ll see what happens here,” he said, “but I want to play here. This is where I signed my contract. I don’t have NCAA eligibility anymore, so if not here, then somewhere in the league.”

Buch was already part of one OHL championship squad.

He’d love to play his way onto another.

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