March 15, 1926|
Montreal, QC, CAN
|Died||August 3, 1968
Cleveland, OH, USA
|Height||5 ft 11 in (180 cm)|
|Weight||183 lb (83 kg; 13 st 1 lb)|
|Played for||Detroit Red Wings
New York Rangers
Hyman "Hymie" Buller (March 15, 1926 – August 3, 1968) was a Canadian ice hockey defenceman. Nicknamed the “Blueline Blaster” because of his penchant for hitting opposing players above the skate toe and below the pads, Buller was one of two Jewish professional hockey players in the 1940s and 1950s.
He was on the Eastern Amateur Hockey League’s (EAHL) Second All-Star Team in 1943, the American Hockey League’s (AHL) First All-Star Team in 1949 and 1951, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Second All-Star Team in 1952, and he played in the 1952 NHL All-Star Game. Buller was greatly admired by hockey legends Gordie Howe and Maurice Richard, and other contemporaries not only for his solid plays but also for his good sportsmanship. He played in five NHL seasons, first for the Detroit Red Wings and later for the New York Rangers, before retiring in 1954. Buller was married to Elaine Witten for 22 years and they had three sons—-Bob, Bruce, and Jeff. He died from cancer in 1968.
Hy Buller’s father, Nathan Buller, immigrated to Canada in 1893 from Wiznitz, Bukovina, which was at that time a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now shared by Romania and the Ukraine. The Buller family originally settled in Montreal, Quebec where they ran a cleaning and pressing business. In 1919, Nathan married Goldie Goldenberg. Following a tragic explosion at the shop that killed Nathan’s brother, the Bullers left the garment business and moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1929 to join their relatives.
Winters in Saskatoon were devoted to hockey. Buller’s love of the sport developed in the flooded and frozen vacant lot belonging to his uncle. Many of the local boys played a form of hockey called shinny, or street hockey, and in 1937 the first artificial ice arena opened in Saskatchewan and the boys soon formed leagues. Buller moved quickly up the ranks throughout his childhood and teen years, often playing alongside older and more experienced team members. But his athletic abilities were recognized and desired by coaches early on. Aside from ice hockey, Buller also participated in football, baseball, basketball, golf, swimming, and track and field; earning many awards.
In David A. Schwartz’s article “A Mensch on Defense – The Hy Buller Story” from the Jewish Historical Society of British Columbia’s journal The Scribe, he describes how in the 1930s and ‘40s, there was one team in Saskatoon that scouts would come to see. The boys in this club were required to attend weekly church services and Buller, as a Jew, was not eligible to join. However, Buller’s natural abilities were too exceptional to overlook and in 1942, at the age of 16, he was offered a spot in the New York Rangers’ Winnipeg training camp. Buller’s parents were hesitant at first because he was an excellent student. He had graduated two years early and could easily have gone to university. But Buller’s zeal for hockey could not be shaken and in the fall of 1942 he began playing with for the Eastern Amateur Hockey League’s New York Rovers along with two other Saskatoon boys, Vic Lynn and David Livingston.
After one season with the New York Rovers, Buller made his debut in the National Hockey League with the Detroit Red Wings. In 1944, there were only six teams in the NHL so space was limited; because of this Buller was demoted to the American Hockey League in the 1944–45 season. He was sold to the Hershey Bears and played for them for three seasons, during which they were runners-up for the pennant twice before eventually winning the title in 1946–47. Buller was traded to the Cleveland Barons mid-season and helped them set a league record of thirty undefeated games, as well as win the championship. Buller spent a total of eight years in the American Hockey League. In his final year with the Cleveland Barons they won the Calder Cup, and Buller, who at that time held the record for most all-time points scored by a defenseman, was awarded a spot on the AHL All-Star Team, a position he had held a couple of years before in 1948–1949.
In 1951 Buller was traded to the New York Rangers, and after much deliberation moved his young family to the city. In his first year Buller played defense alongside Allan Stanley and his performance matched the Rangers’ record for a defenseman. He won the West Side Association of Commerce Trophy as the Rangers’ most valuable player and came in second for the Calder Trophy; he was also the first rookie defenseman to be chosen for the Rangers’ All-Star second team.
Buller’s connection to the large Jewish population in New York was used by the Rangers’ management to attract a new audience to the home games. Banners emblazoned with the Star of David were hung from Madison Square Garden and his faith was frequently reinforced by sports writers.
In 1954, Buller was traded to the Montreal Canadiens but before the season began he announced his retirement from hockey. David A. Schwartz, Buller’s nephew, discounts theories that Buller retired because the game was too violent, in his article “A Mensch on Defense – The Hy Buller Story” from the Jewish Historical Society of British Columbia’s journal The Scribe. Schwartz discovered that Buller retired mostly because he did not want to uproot his family again but also because an NHL salary was not substantial. And his physical condition was weakened as a result of the injuries he had suffered throughout the course of his career.
The Buller Family returned to Cleveland for a few years where Hy worked as a salesman before moving to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1962 where he coached several amateur hockey teams. In 1965 Buller was diagnosed with cancer. He and his wife decided to move back to Cleveland, and in 1968 he died.
Nine years after his death, he was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.
The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia has an extensive collection of records related to the career and family of Buller.
- Schwartz, David A. “A Mensch on Defense – The Hy Buller Story.” The Scribe, no. 1 (2002), 18.
- Legends of Hockey
- Schwartz, David A. “A Mensch on Defense – The Hy Buller Story.” The Scribe, no. 1 (2002), 29.
- Schwartz, David A. “A Mensch on Defense – The Hy Buller Story.” The Scribe, no. 1 (2002), 8.
- ""Hy Buller" NHL Players". Nhl.com. March 15, 1926. Retrieved February 2, 2010.
- ""Hy Buller" Detroit Redwings Team". Redwings.nhl.com. Retrieved February 2, 2010.
- Pelletier, Joe. "Hy Buller". Nyrangerslegends.blogspot.com. Retrieved February 2, 2010.
- Schwartz, David A. “A Mensch on Defense – The Hy Buller Story.” The Scribe, no. 1 (2002), 23.
- Schwartz, David A. “A Mensch on Defense – The Hy Buller Story.” The Scribe, no. 1 (2002), 25–27.
- Schwartz, David A. “A Mensch on Defense – The Hy Buller Story.” The Scribe, no. 1 (2002), 28–29.
- Hy Buller at Detroit Redwings: Team History
- Hy Buller's career statistics at The Internet Hockey Database
- Buller, Hy at Jews in Sports
- Hy Buller at Joe Pelletier’s Greatest Hockey Legends: The Hockey History Blog
- Hy Buller's biography at Legends of Hockey
- Hy Buller at New York Rangers: History
- The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia
- The Scribe