During his three-year career with the New York Rangers, Hy drew comparisons with the great Bill Quakenbush (who went an entire season without single penalty minute -- a remarkable achievement for a defenseman). When Buller was criticized for not being aggressive enough, his coach Frank Boucher said: "Sure, I'd like to see him crack (the opposition), but you can't have everything. Bill Quakenbush doesn't hit them either...they're both exceptional stick checkers, fine stickhandlers and rushers. Buller, like Quakenbush, is very good on point in power plays. He has our best shot from the blue line...the most noticeable thing about Buller is his coolness and quick thinking under fire. He'll adapt himself to any situation."
Birth and Death Dates:
b. March 15, 1926 - d. 1968
Nicknamed 'The Blueline Blaster,' Buller initially appeared headed for a career in the minor leagues, without the chance to excel in the NHL. After graduating from the junior leagues in 1943, he played seven games for the Detroit Red Wings in 1943-44 (when he was only 17-years old) and two games the following year. Over the next six seasons, Buller remained in the minor leagues with the Hershey Bears and Cleveland Barons, becoming one of the greatest players in the history of the American Hockey League. A two-time all-star with the Barons, Hy had 16 goals and 57 points in 66 games during the 1950-51 season! Following Buller's terrific season, Toronto Maple Leaf owner Conn Smythe said: "I'd rate him right up with the top 10 defensemen in all hockey today." His impressive numbers, considered good for any player but outstanding for a defenseman, attracted the attention of NHL teams, but the Cleveland owner did not want to part with his star defenseman. Finally, Buller was sold to the New York Rangers, where he had an immediate impact.
Although he was 25 years old and had played sparingly for the Red Wings in the mid-1940s, Buller was considered a rookie by NHL standards. Still, Buller's teammate on the Rangers, Hall of Famer Edgar Laprade said: "he arrived from Cleveland with quite a reputation as a good player. He was really good on the point. Some people would get rattled when they got the puck...but he was very cool and he took his time. He never let a wild shot go at the net." During the 1951-52 season, Buller exceeded all expectations. He played in 68 games, scored 12 goals and had 35 points. That year, he was named a second-team All-Star, and played in the 1952 All-Star Game. He also finished second in the Calder Trophy balloting for rookie of the year. In 1952-53, Buller played in all 70 regular season games for the last place Rangers (17-37-16, 50 points), scored 7 goals, and had 25 points. In 1953-54, he split time during the season with the Rangers and their minor league club, the Saskatoon Quakers of the WHL. The next year, he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens but abruptly chose to retire while still in his prime, at the age of 28. Rangers goalie Chuck Rayner said: "We were surprised to hear he was retiring. He was one of the best defensemen in the league...he was a real smooth skater, a good stickhandler, and a real good playmaker."
There have been many questions about why Buller retired so early, and some people believe that anti-Semitism may have been a factor. A hero to New York's Jewish community while he played for the Rangers, Buller refused to play on Yom Kippur. Unfortunately, his Judaism made him a target on the ice as he was forced into many altercations and fights; he led the Rangers with 96 penalty minutes his rookie season despite complaints that he was not aggressive enough. In his final year in the NHL, 'Terrible Ted' Lindsay swung his stick at Buller twice during a game -- many believe that Hy was never the same after the incident. Buller always claimed that the years in the minors had taken a toll on his body and that he did not retire out of intimidation. Buller remains a sports hero to New York's Jewish community.
Buller played defense in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings from 1943-1945, and with the New York Rangers from 1951-1954.
5'11", 183 pounds
In the NHL:
Penalty Minutes: 215
Use links below to navigate through the hockey section of Jews In Sports.
Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League, edited by Dan Diamond, James Duplacey, Ralph Dinger, Igor Kuperman, and Eric Zweig (New York: Total Sports, 1998)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)