Over 200 young hockey players were granted a dream come true experience when their names were called during the NHL entry draft, held July 23-24. While all of them have traveled a journey of discovery en route to this day, few can match the fascinating tale woven by Shai Buium.
Selected 36th overall by the Detroit Red Wings from Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League, on the surface Buium might not seem all that different from the other teenagers who were tabbed by NHL clubs. Scratch below that surface, though and Buium is the most interesting young man who was selected during the 2021 NHL draft process.
Had any oddsmaker opted to write a prop wager on Buium’s chances of enjoying an NHL career for any of the online sportsbooks listed at VegasBetting.com, the betting line would have stretched longer than the Great Wall of China.
Buium was born in Israel. His parents knew nothing of hockey and in fact early in his life, forbade their son from playing the sport.
“It is what makes the story so great,” Ben Umhoefer, one of Buium’s youth hockey coaches, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It is a lot of luck and chance. Maybe luck isn’t the right word for it. But it is not probable at all.”
“Shai Buium” by USHL is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Emigrating to USA
Buium’s mother Miri was a professional basketball player in her native Israel. His dad served in the Israeli military. They immigrated to the USA in search of a better life, ultimately settling in San Diego, California, not exactly a hockey hotbed.
“They didn’t know anything about hockey,” Jeff Turcotte, another of Shai’s youth hockey coaches, said of the Buum family.
Shai discovered the game as a youngster, watching his cousin play. He asked his mother if he could play. She said no, feeling the game was too barbaric.
“Growing up, my cousin lived down the road, I loved watching him play,” Buium said. “I fell in love with the game. I asked my mom if I could play.
“She said no a couple times at first and eventually she said yes just to try it out. Thankfully, she let me play.”
Shai got to play hockey, even though he’d never been on skates in his life. At the age of 11, his San Diego team traveled to LA to play against the Los Angeles Junior Kings, the top hockey program in the state. After seeing Shai in action, the Junior Kings coach invited him to join their club. The Buiums made the drive from San Diego to LA 4-5 times a week so their son could play a higher level of hockey.
“You don’t really hear of many players coming out of San Diego,” Umhoefer said. “His time with the L.A. Junior Kings put him on the map.”
Buium was invited to play prep school hockey in Minnesota at Shattuck St. Mary’s, the same school where NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Zach Parise played.
“The bantam team needed a defenseman and asked me if I could come,” Buium said. “Everyone knows Shattuck St. Mary’s is a great place to be and develop. I couldn’t miss that opportunity.”
He joined Sioux Falls after Shattuck shut down due to COVID-19.
“Shai Buium” by Jesse Brothers/Sioux City Journal is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Moving Up The Ladder
At 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Buium certainly carries NHL size but it’s not the only reason why he stands out in the crowd.
“I think my strengths are my hockey IQ,” Buium said. “I read the game well. I pick my pockets of when to join the rush and when to stay back. I feel my game has matured a lot throughout the year. I’m more of a two-way offensive defenseman.”
He may also be a trailblazer. Back home in San Diego, the number of kids who are giving hockey a go continues to grow.
“More kids are playing (hockey) in California,” Buium said. “I know kids that go to my old high school are playing it. I only knew two or three kids that played it when I went there.”
Buium is headed to the University of Denver in the fall. He’s currently competing for a spot on the USA under-20 team that will play at next season’s world junior championship.