When Malvern Prep won its first Flyers Cup in 16 years on April 19, it was particularly poignant for Friar senior forward Ryan Sambuco.
His late father Chris was a key member of the Monsignor Bonner ice hockey squad that won the Flyers Cup in 1992 and 1993. On April 12, 2018, Chris Sambuco, a Caln Township police officer, died suddenly of a blood clot in his heart.
“To be etched into the Flyers Cup trophy was something I dreamed of accomplishing since I was a little kid, especially to now be on it with my father,” said Ryan. “It’s history, it’s something I can forever look back on and see.
“When I was a little kid all I ever wanted to do was be just like my Dad, and do everything he did. So I got into hockey, which is what he played growing up, playing for the Haverford Hawks teams from Peewee-Midget years, Junior Flyers Junior B, Monsignor Bonner and college club ice hockey at Millersville.”
Malvern Prep ice hockey coach Bill Keenan said, “Someone who has had to go through what Ryan went through at the age he did [a high school freshman] is something very difficult. Ryan has grown up to be a great young man and if you ask his teammates I think they would say the same. It’s great to see Ryan hoist that trophy in which his name now is etched along with his Dad and uncles. To be etched into that Flyers Cup trophy along with your father is not something easy, and we have a few players to have done that – Ryan and his dad, Jim Jacobs and his two sons Jimmy and Jeremy.”
What made the Flyers Cup championship final even more special for Sambuco is that the game was held in IceLine Rink 1, where a “Buc’s Barn” banner was hung on July 14, 2018 in memory of Chris Sambuco, whose nickname was Buc. Ryan had a hand in the Flyers Cup final game-winning shot in overtime, taking a shot that rebounded to teammate Jimmy Jacobs, who scored.
“That was the best atmosphere of a game that I’ve ever played in,” said Sambuco. “The amount of people and the energy in the rink was absolutely crazy. In overtime, I remember picking up the puck on the breakout along the wall in the defensive zone from Jimmy Jacobs, and continuing to skate along the wall through the neutral zone with the puck and then gaining the blue line, cut to the middle and instantly just think ‘Shot’ – just something on net to make something happen.
“It definitely hadn’t been one of my greatest shots, but I remember seeing the puck hit the goalie in the shoulder on his blocker side and the puck just lying there. And I see Jimmy Jacobs crashing the net hard and he backhands it in.
“I jump straight up in the air when I see that puck slide across the goal line. You can see my reaction from the video Gracie Cleveland took from the corner right there with that perfect shot. The videos went viral all over social media now too, which is just crazy – TSN being the biggest account to post it. We all chased Jacobs to our student section, and I remember throwing my gloves straight up into the air and jumping into the glass with my teammates and then our classmates in the stands. That moment is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Interestingly, Sambuco has other family members who are on the Flyers Cup – his uncle, Eric Kuchler, was on the Monsignor Bonner 1992-93 team and his cousin Daniel Sambuco was on LaSalle’s 2018-19 Flyers Cup title squad.
Five days after winning the 2021 Flyers Cup, Sambuco’s Malvern Prep squad captured the Class 3A Pennsylvania Cup, defeating North Allegheny in the championship final, 4-2, at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex north of Pittsburgh. It was Malvern Prep’s first state title in 17 years.
“We were trailing 1-0 early in that game and had no momentum,” said Sambuco. “Then Quinn Dougherty scored on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush and that immediately just shifted the momentum straight to us, and we fed off that the rest of the game. When that puck went in, we all jumped straight in the air, we were just so pumped. It was the most crucial turnaround.”
For Sambuco and the other Malvern Prep seniors, that was the perfect way to end a high school hockey career.
“To do what we did as a team didn’t come easy – our team had to handle adversity all season, whether it be due to COVID, injuries, or missing guys due to [club hockey],” said Sambuco. “This year as a group we really came together as a team, and handled everything and anything that was thrown our way. To bring the Flyers Cup and state championship back to Warren Avenue this year, there’s just not a better ending – we brought ‘em home.
“It’s been a grind for the seniors – Chris Blango, Jack Costabile, Matt Donatucci, Jimmy Kirk, Riley McCarry and I – for the past four years, for sure, and everyone on the team this year from top to bottom knew that we really had a shot with the group we had, not only because of our talent, but because of our work ability. My teammates and I couldn’t be more proud to make history forever at Malvern.”
Sambuco began playing ice hockey at age 4.
“I instantly fell in love with the game,” said Sambuco. “My Dad brought me out on the ice at the age of 2 when I attempted to skate for the first time. Then at 4 years old I started to play hockey and go to what was called ‘Rookies’ at IceLine after school from preschool through kindergarten.
“I was fortunate enough that, with my Dad being a police officer and working shift work, it allowed him the time to take me after school when he was off. He would always help out and come onto the ice to help coach, all the way up until my Peewee years. He’s someone I’ve looked up to my whole life, on and off the ice, and continue to look up to moving forward.”
Sambuco gravitated to the forward position during his youth hockey career, from Mites-Squirt to the West Chester Quakers, then to the Philadelphia Junior Flyers as well as the Valley Forge Minutemen and Team Philadelphia.
“The forward position had always interested me growing up as a kid,” said Sambuco. “I wanted to be the goal scorer and be able to celebrate for sure. My favorite player, Sidney Crosby, was a forward as well, and I love watching him play the game.”
During the spring of Ryan’s freshman year, his father passed. Chris Sambuco was a 15-year veteran of the police force, had received a letter of commendation for his service, and was a member of Chester County’s Regional Emergency Response Team (ERT), commonly referred to as Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT).
As a freshman, Ryan played for the Philadelphia Junior Flyers 14U AAA squad. The following year, he played for the Junior Flyers 15U AAA squad as well as Team Philadelphia 16U AA. He went on to play for the Valley Forge Minutemen 16U AAA in his junior year, and as a senior he has played for Philadelphia Flyers Elite 18U AAA. His favorite ice hockey memories outside of Malvern Prep are his experience with the Valley Forge Minutemen.
“The team itself was one of the most talented teams I had been part of, and were an all-around great group of guys, with tremendous camaraderie, much like my Malvern teams,” said Sambuco. “The times we had at the hotels, and the games we shared were awesome.”
On July 14, 2018, the day a “Buc’s Barn” banner was hung in IceLine Rink 1 in memory of Chris Sambuco, Ryan’s mother Kristine was surrounded by more than 200 friends and family members at the “Buc’s Benefit” ceremony. Kristine watched Ryan trade his Malvern Prep No. 29 jersey for Chris’ old Monsignor Bonner No. 2 sweater. A hockey game was played, too – Chris Sambuco’s friends against Ryan Sambuco’s friends.
Ryan Sambuco said, “We had everyone there look up to the bird box that’s on top of the scorer’s box and everyone was gathered around, and the General Manager of the rink, Jim Binns, who was a good friend of my Dad, made the announcement that, ‘Ice Line Rink 1, will forever be known as Buc’s Barn,’ and he then revealed the covered-up banner and everyone was filled with pure joy.”
On Dec. 30, 2018, the First Annual Malvern vs. Bonner Alumni game was held in Buc’s Barn, and Kristine Sambuco was wearing her late husband’s letterman sweater from Monsignor Bonner. This game has become an annual event, except during the past year due to COVID.
“The alumni game is truly an amazing experience, just hearing the stories of the Bonner guys who played with my Dad,” said Sambuco. “It’s always a fun time being with those guys and trading my Malvern Prep No. 29 jersey for my Dad’s Bonner No. 2. I know that my Dad’s teammates and everyone really enjoy it too. Especially it being played at Ice Line on Rink 1, where the ‘Buc’s Barn’ banner is hung proudly in the top right corner, and with the pub right upstairs for the alumni afterwards.”
Currently, Sambuco has received a tender agreement with the New Jersey Rockets junior ice hockey team of the National Collegiate Development Conference (his fellow Malvern teammate Chris Blango also will be heading to further his hockey career by playing junior hockey for the Lone Star Brahmas of the NAHL).
Sambuco said, “My goal is definitely to play hockey at the collegiate level. I’m going to go through the Junior route and through the grind and see what game has to offer. Right now, I’m working [most] on my game away from the puck and what I’m doing when it’s not on my stick, as well as getting stronger and faster now that it’s the offseason.”
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