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Meet Zeev Buium, who could be the NHL’s next Jewish superstar

When Zeev Buium prepared to take the ice with the University of Denver’s No. 4 team last fall, he had the jitters you’d expect from any 17-year-old in his first Division I game.

But he also had something else in mind: The Pioneers’ first game was Oct. 7 — and Buium’s parents and much of his family are Israeli. “That morning it was not easy to wake up,” Buium told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency; Throughout the day, text messages from his family and news of Hamas’ surprise attack trickled in.

“We immediately panicked and my mom called us right away,” Buium, now 18, said of himself and his older brother, Shai, who also played hockey for Denver. “She was like, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening. We don’t know everything, but Israel was attacked, a lot of people were killed and injured or taken hostage.’”

On the other end of the line, their mother Miriam, who lives in San Diego, tried to be cautious. She knew they had an important game that night — “It’s their first game together, and I didn’t want it to stress them out too much,” she said — and she tried to emphasize one message: that their loved ones were OK.

That knowledge, Buium said, helped him as he prepared for the 7 p.m. game.

“We knew the most important details, but the most important thing was that she said she was pretty confident that our entire family is safe and healthy,” he said. “So that was the most important thing for us: making sure the people we love are safe.”

As the war and the season progressed, Buium tried to stay abreast of news from Israel while contributing to his team, which won the national championship in April. Now he’s hoping to give his Israeli family something else to celebrate during a difficult time: He’s scheduled to be selected in the top 10 of Friday’s NHL Entry Draft.

His entire family, including eight relatives from Israel, has already arrived in Las Vegas, where the tour will take place, and will be with him in The Sphere when his name is called.

“I think the most important thing for me is seeing our family come over from Israel to Vegas to be with me and the rest of my family,” said Buium (pronounced “Boo-y-YUM,” according to his biography from the university). “I couldn’t thank them enough for making all the sacrifices they made, what they had to go through to make a sacrifice to come to the United States and be with me.”

Buium’s path to becoming one of the top NHL draft picks went through the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, where his parents were from, to San Diego, where they moved in 1999, before he was born. When they arrived in the United States, they said, they had “no idea” what hockey was.

“I think my mother’s quote-unquote words were, ‘Over my dead body,’ to Shai when he wanted to play,” Zeev recalled. “It was definitely not in their book, and they definitely didn’t think we were going to play, so it took a lot of convincing.”

Miriam, who played professional basketball in Israel, said she knew nothing about hockey until her cousin invited the family to their child’s youth hockey tournament. It was the entire Buium family’s first exposure to the sport, which is rarely seen in Israel’s Mediterranean climate. “I saw the game and thought, ‘Oh my God,’” Miriam Buium recalled.

From there, Miriam and her husband, who goes by Iuli, got a crash course in hockey, as their three sons all fell in love with the sport. It became a full-time job for Miriam, who spent many days from 6 a.m. to midnight trying to manage the logistics of her sons’ school and hockey commitments.

Shai, Ben and Zeev Buium

L-R: Shai, Ben and Zeev Buium at the 2017 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Ben played for the gold medal-winning Team USA hockey team. (Courtesy of Miriam Buium)

The sport even influenced where the Buiums lived. At one point, all three children were playing in a youth hockey program at El Segundo in Los Angeles, which meant the family drove more than two hours to and from practices and games several times a week, with the boys doing their homework and eating in the car . Eventually the travel time became too much, so they moved an hour closer to LA.

“When people said to me, ‘You’re crazy, you live in San Diego, you go all the way to El Segundo and LA, blah, blah, blah,’ I said, ‘Well, I used to play,’” Miriam Buium said. “I know what it takes and if my kids want to put in the effort, I’ll be there for them. I’ll help them out any way I can.”

Shai Buium is grateful for his parents’ support. He says it taught him what it means to be Israeli in their eyes.

“I think our Israeli parents raised us the way you would be raised in Israel,” Shai Buium told JTA. “Work hard, that’s how you get what you want. You have to work really hard. Nothing comes easy, and that’s been our mentality our whole lives.”

Zeev Buium also feels so connected to his Israeli identity that he literally wears it on his sleeve. The defender has a tattoo on his left forearm with the Hebrew calendar dates of his three major championship victories: the 2023 U18 World Cup, the 2024 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships and this year’s NCAA title.

“All the boys get tattoos and I thought, ‘I can do something special,’” Buium said. “I thought with the Hebrew letters, it has a lot more meaning than just writing or Roman numerals… I obviously love being Jewish, I love everything about it, so I’m not afraid to show it off.”

Buium also said his family’s Israeli heritage is central to his Jewish identity and that he “enjoyed every second of it, every holiday… We really knew what it meant to be Jewish.” It also feels special to be the rare hockey player with Israeli parents, he said.

“By doing what we do with hockey, it’s pretty unique and special for us to show the Jewish community that it doesn’t matter what your culture is, where you’re from or who you are, you can do whatever you want,” Buium added.

That sense of pride hasn’t changed for the family since Oct. 7, Miriam said.

“I always tell them, stand tall, hold your head up,” she said. “Be proud of who you are. And they know that, and they’ve never taken off their chai or their Star of David for a moment.”

Now, the Buium brothers stand out not just for their identity, but also for their skills. Shai was drafted 36th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2021 draft and signed a three-year, entry-level contract in April that will begin in the fall. (Their older brother Ben, 23, also played hockey but did not play the sport professionally.)

Buium is expected to go even higher in Friday’s draft after a freshman season filled with accolades, including being named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s Rookie of the Year and Offensive Defenseman of the Year. He is ranked as the No. 6 prospect going into the draft by ESPN.

When Buium makes the jump to the NHL (he can continue to play in college under draft rules), he will join a growing group of Jewish players, from Edmonton Oilers star Zach Hyman to New York Rangers defenseman Adam Fox . If he and Shai both make it through, they will join Jack, Luke and Quinn Hughes as Jewish brothers playing together in the league. In a recent interview after attending Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Buium said he considers Quinn Hughes his NHL role model.

“If I could be another Jewish hockey player in the NHL and pave the way for younger kids who are Jewish and show them that it is possible, I would be very happy and it would be great for me and my family,” he said. .

Buium family

L-R: Iuli, Zeev, Ben, Shai and Miriam Buium after a hockey game in Denver. (Thanks to Miriam Buium)

And after a year in which Buium recorded the first 50-point season by a Denver freshman in 40 years, coach David Carle said the young defenseman earned the hype.

“I think it’s a great honor for him to be considered that way, and his play has shown that he deserves to be drafted as high as he will be,” Carle told reporters last month. “I don’t think there’s a player in the draft that impacts the game, shift to shift, the way he does, with how much he’s on the ice.”

Carle added: “Whatever team ultimately drafts him must first get a great person and an excellent hockey player.”

Shai said his brother has a “winning mentality” and “the highest level of competition I’ve ever seen from a player.”

“I’m not just saying that because he’s my brother,” Shai said. “Seriously, ask anyone on our team, he probably has the highest level of competition on our team. And obviously just his skills, his hockey IQ. Everything comes together when it’s game time.”

Next season, the brothers will no longer be on the same team (or the same league), meaning they likely won’t be able to celebrate holidays together like they did in Denver. Buium said his demanding hockey schedule — often with games on Fridays and Saturdays — has made it difficult to observe Shabbat or get involved in Jewish life on campus, something he’d like to change.

But he said he fasts every year on Yom Kippur and cancels all practices and competitions that fall during the holiday, a practice that was reinforced by a painful experience Shai had in high school when he skipped fasting at the ice stepped and broke. are single.

For Zeev, that was enough of a sign. “We don’t get involved in that,” he said.