We now know two of the players who will make up the Coachella Valley Firebirds for their inaugural season at Acrisure Arena. Drivers who regularly pass the arena construction site near I-10 in Thousand Palms can see the progress on the arena that will soon be home to the Firebirds. Now fans are starting to see the roster of players coming together.
The Firebirds team account tweeted Monday morning "Are you ready for this? Our very first player... Samuel Buček!" along with a pronunciation of the player's name: b-EWE-sec.
Buček, 23, the organization’s first player to be signed, was the top scorer in Slovakia’s professional league. The 6-foot 3-inch, 205-pound winger led ExtraLiga scorers with 41 goals and 64 points all while playing for HK Nitra last season, adding another 13 goals and 11 assists in 19 playoff contests. He was named the league’s Most Valuable Player during the playoffs.
Buček has represented his native Slovakia in several international tournaments, including the 2018 World Jr. Championships. In addition, he recorded 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 52 games with the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes in 2016-2017 and played for the USHL’s Chicago Steel in 2015-16 and 2017-18.
Are you ready for this? Our very first player... Samuel Buček! [b-EWE,sec]#GetFiredUp #IgniteTheSeason #BuildingAnOasis #AHL #AHLPlayer #Hockey #Firebirds #CoachellaValley #OneValley #OneTeam pic.twitter.com/ZKLf3IOhFX— Coachella Valley Firebirds (@Firebirds) July 11, 2022
Shortly after, another player in Ian McKinnon was announced to the roster.
Ian McKinnon, a 6-foot-2-inch, 196-pound winger split time last season between the Providence Bruins (AHL), Maine Mariners (ECHL) and Jacksonville Icemen (ECHL) after splitting the previous two seasons between Providence and Jacksonville. He helped Jacksonville earn a playoff berth in 2021-22, recording a point in two of the four playoff games he played in. The 24-year-old has recorded a combined six goals and four assists across 90 AHL/ECHL regular-season games since turning pro in 2019.
"We are building a team that leads with skill, tenacity and impact on and off the ice," said Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma in a statement sent to News Channel 3. "Both Samuel Buček and Ian McKinnon have the potential to be strong leaders for our team and we anticipate them having a solid impact in the AHL."
Construction on Acrisure Arena is expected to be complete in a few months, but organizers are setting up plans for the players to start games in Seattle, where NHL affiliate Seattle Kraken plays.
The announcement of the team members came just days after the Coachella Valley Firebirds named Jessica Campbell as assistant coach.
An image of Campbell and head coach Dan Bylsma made it to Twitter on Monday, shared by Seattle Kraken enthusiasts Emerald City Hockey. The post says Bylsma and Campbell are watching the team's development camp.
That made history: Jessica Campbell is the first female in this role in the American Hockey League. She brings years of experience on the ice as a coach and player.
"There's a lot worse place to live in the world than Palm Springs," Campbell told News Channel 3 in an interview just hours after the announcement that she would join the Firebirds. "I'm very excited. The small-town Canadian kid in me is definitely they're excited to be part of that community."
What's ahead for the team
The Coachella Valley Firebirds plan to play their first game this fall. The team is the 32nd AHL team and the affiliate of the NHL Seattle Kraken.
The team will play its inaugural season at Acrisure Arena in Thousand Palms later this year. It's still under construction.
While the team waits for its home to be ready, they will likely kick off their inaugural season in Seattle.
Acrisure Arena, the $300 million, 10,000-seat arena is being built next to the Classic Club Golf Course just north of the Cook St. Interstate 10 exit.
Officials broke ground on the arena in June 2021. Construction is expected to be complete in late 2022.
Arena officials have previously said the arena will host AHL hockey games, concerts, conventions, UFC, boxing, and WWE events.