Bronco Hockey goalie looks to net support for autism awareness

Contact: Erin Flynn

Brandon Bussi defends the Bronco goal during a game in Lawson Arena.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Brandon Bussi is having a banner year. The Western Michigan University Hockey goalie has received multiple accolades for his puck-stopping prowess, including a spot on the 2022 Richter Award watch list—an annual prize for the nation's top men's college hockey goalie. He's also helped the Broncos rise to a top three national ranking—the highest in program history. While Bussi is all business on the ice, the third-year accounting major is also hoping to use his platform to enact change outside the rink.

"Being a goalie, we have some artistic freedom with our gear. And we are fortunate here at Western to be able to make custom masks. I thought this year would be a great opportunity to go with an autism awareness mask," he says.

The helmet designed for Bussi.

Bussi worked closely with Allen Schneider of Vice Design to design a helmet that incorporates puzzle pieces—a symbol recognized by the Autism Society to generate awareness.

It's not a fashion statement; the cause is personal. Bussi's younger brother, Dylan, was diagnosed with a severe form of autism spectrum disorder as a child and is nonverbal.

"I thought it would be good to have a little bit of a voice or show how much (this cause) means to me, because it was a huge part of my life growing up," he says. "My brother means the world to me. It's unfortunate that I'm not able to spend as much time with him, being away from home as much as I am. So everything that I work toward is all to try and better his life in some way."

Bussi hopes his helmet generates some conversations about autism and the impacts it has on both individuals who are diagnosed and their loved ones.

"Growing up, there were many occasions where people misunderstood my brother, didn't understand that he had a disability," he says. "It's important to understand that these are people, very smart people, and sometimes there's just a little bit of patience needed. That's what I learned from being with my brother."

The helmet is just the beginning. Bussi hopes to continue to expand his involvement in causes related to autism awareness.

"It's something that comes with the job of being an athlete; you have a bit of a bigger platform to speak about what you think is right," he says. "And whatever I can do to support my brother is something I would like to do."

Dylan Bussi

Bussi has the opportunity right now to reach a large audience, gaining widespread attention as a two-time Bauer National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Goalie of the Week this season as well as scoring the first NCHC Goalie of the Month honors in program history in December.

"There's another half of the season and more opportunities for us to show that we are the real deal. We're hoping to be contenders for a national championship this year," he says. Having the backing of the Lawson Lunatics, the best student section in college hockey, is an added benefit. "Being able to step on the ice at Lawson Arena with such an unbelievable student section is such a great experience that I never thought I would live, and being able to live it is very cool."

Being able to share his story with those fans, he says, is the icing on the cake.

"I will always support and talk with anybody about autism and my brother. It's something that has made me a better person," says Bussi. "My relationship with my brother … is something I wouldn't change for the world."

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