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Top 10 Unsung Heroes: Kelly Buchberger (1)

There are many reasons why Kelly Buchberger is an easy choice to occupy the top spot on this Unsung Heroes list. Anybody who saw Bucky play knows what they are. His willingness to work harder than the next guy. His willingness to play a role, to step in and defend his teammates, even when it meant taking a beating for doing so. By leading with actions, not words. They are common characteristics for players on this list. Buchberger had those in spades, of course, but there’s more.

Buchberger displayed all those traits longer than anybody I know. He never once, at least not that I saw, got complacent or figured he’d proved himself and could relax, slack off or take a shortcut. Do you know how many of the 252 players selected in the 1985 Entry Draft played more NHL regular season games than Buchberger, taken 188th overall? One. Joe Nieuwendyk, selected 27th by the Calgary Flames, played 1,257 games. Buchberger played 1,182 — 795 of those with the Oilers. He never took one of them for granted.

Kelly Buchberger

Right Wing
Born Dec 2nd, 1966 — Langenburg, SASK
Height 6.02 — Weight 210 [188 cm/95 kg]

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Drafted by Edmonton Oilers

Round 9 #188 overall 1985 NHL Entry Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

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G

A

PTS

+/-

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PIM

S%

ATOI

1987-88

21

EDM

19

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1

0

1

-1

81

10.0

1988-89

22

EDM

66

5

9

14

-14

234

8.8

1989-90

23

EDM

55

2

6

8

-8

168

5.7

1990-91

24

EDM

64

3

1

4

-6

160

5.6

1991-92

25

EDM

79

20

24

44

9

157

22.2

1992-93

26

EDM

83

12

18

30

-27

133

13.0

1993-94

27

EDM

84

3

18

21

-20

199

3.2

1994-95

28

EDM

48

7

17

24

0

82

9.6

1995-96

29

EDM

82

11

14

25

-20

184

9.2

1996-97

30

EDM

81

8

30

38

4

159

10.3

1997-98

31

EDM

82

6

17

23

-10

122

7.0

1998-99

32

EDM

52

4

4

8

-6

68

13.8

11:49

1999-00

33

TOT

81

7

13

20

-36

152

9.2

16:05

1999-00

33

ATL

68

5

12

17

-34

139

8.9

16:21

1999-00

33

LAK

13

2

1

3

-2

13

10.0

14:43

2000-01

34

LAK

82

6

14

20

-10

75

9.1

14:26

2001-02

35

LAK

74

6

7

13

-13

105

15.4

10:21

2002-03

36

PHX

79

3

9

12

0

109

9.4

9:59

2003-04

37

PIT

71

1

3

4

-19

109

2.9

10:21

12 yrs EDM

795

82

158

240

-99

1747

10.0

11:49

3 yrs LAK

169

14

22

36

-25

193

11.2

12:40

1 yr PHX

79

3

9

12

0

109

9.4

9:59

1 yr PIT

71

1

3

4

-19

109

2.9

10:21

1 yr ATL

68

5

12

17

-34

139

8.9

16:21

Career

1182

105

204

309

-177

2297

9.9

12:17

PLAYOFFS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S%

ATOI

1986-87

20

EDM

3

0

1

1

0

5

0.0

1989-90

23

EDM

19

0

5

5

2

13

0.0

1990-91

24

EDM

12

2

1

3

-3

25

16.7

1991-92

25

EDM

16

1

4

5

2

32

8.3

1996-97

30

EDM

12

5

2

7

-1

16

26.3

1997-98

31

EDM

12

1

2

3

0

25

7.7

1998-99

32

EDM

4

0

0

0

-4

0

0.0

10:06

1999-00

33

LAK

4

0

0

0

-1

4

0.0

8:56

2000-01

34

LAK

8

1

0

1

-1

2

20.0

9:58

2001-02

35

LAK

7

0

0

0

-3

7

0.0

8:48

Career

97

10

15

25

-9

129

12.2

9:27

WHY HE MAKES IT

It’s not surprising, even a little bit, that after taking over as head coach of the New York Islanders last spring (when the interim label was dropped), former Oiler Doug Weight wanted Buchberger on his coaching staff. While Weight, as you’d expect, had plenty of good things to say about Buchberger when he hired him last summer, here’s what he had to say in 1999, when No. 16 went to Atlanta in the expansion draft (Weight took over as Edmonton captain when Buchberger joined the Thrashers).

“Everything he did, on and off the ice, was about being a leader,” Weight said. “The way he played the game, the way he prepared, the way he treated his teammates and their families. He had respect for not only the authority of the coaches, but the organization. He was very loyal. As a fan, you could see his game, the blocking shots, his will to win, but I saw leadership in every aspect of his life. Every young player who played with him not only had the utmost respect for him, but learned a lot.”

With the big names from the Stanley Cup era gone by the time he arrived late in the 1992-93 season, Weight would become the Oilers’ best player. It was Buchberger, who’d done whatever it took to stay on the roster with all those future HHOF players in the late 1980s, who became the glue guy. The same qualities that got Buchberger to the NHL — willingness to work, to do whatever was needed — remained. Buchberger never got “comfortable.” Weight, and a lot of young players, watched and learned. They were tough lessons on some forgettable teams.

THE FINE PRINT

Buchberger sipped champagne from two Stanley Cups with the Oilers and he paid for that privilege with as much sweat and blood as has ever been shed in Edmonton silks. As a bottom six forward, Buchberger crashed and banged, skated and fought — no matter how ridiculously overmatched he was. Bob Probert. Dave Brown. Chris Simon. All told, Buchberger had more than 200 NHL fights. Winning them came up a distant second to showing up. That’s a damn tough gig.

During the lockout season of 2004-05, I got an up-close look at what had made Buchberger successful as a player while he was cutting his teeth as an assistant coach under Geoff Ward with the Edmonton Roadrunners of the AHL. Let’s be real. Bucky was never going to teach the talented kids on that team how to score. Not in his wheelhouse. What he taught them was how to work, to be prepared, to be in shape and how to get the most out of whatever tools they brought to the table. What worked for him.

While some fans got miffed that Buchberger seemed to survive all the turnover in the Oilers’ coaching staff during the Decade of Darkness — they put it down to that Old Boys Club thing — it’s no stunner that his old friend and teammate came calling with a job offer last July. Weight knows all about what made Buchberger the player he was and he wanted some of it on his coaching staff. Why wouldn’t he?

The List:



    • hagar

      I was just going to type that and was blown away to see it already. I am sure lots of people like him, but I didn’t think anyone else would have him as their favorite oiler ever! Awesome.
      I grew up until early teens in the vancouver area before moving to alberta. Took a few years to warm up to the oilers over the canucks, and Kelly was the number one reason I did.

  • ubermiguel

    Bucky is one of my favorites all time for his toughness and effort; he never shied away from blocking a shot, although I wish he’d used his legs more and his face less (not even joking, he used his upper body to block shots more than anyone I’ve ever seen). How tough and persistent was Bucky? A quote from Guts and Go Overtime: More Great Saskatchewan Hockey Stories By Calvin Daniels: “When Buchberger was seven, his one leg and foot were burned in a fire, leaving his foot tender enough that whenever he wore a skate it would bleed. It was a situation he simply persevered through for a long time before he “learned how to wear my skates so my foot and leg wouldn’t bleed.” Buchberger never saw the situatlon as limiting. “It happened at such a young age it was just something I dealt with my whole life to play the same.” “

  • Spaceman Spiff

    I’ll never forget the season when he scored 20 goals. It was … amazing.

    Lord-oh-lord-oh-lord, could the Oilers ever use a guy like him in their bottom six right now.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Robin’s absolutely right – Bucky’s work ethic, heart and willingness to answer-the-bell, even for fights against people he had no business fighting, will always be what we remember about him.

    But, one other thing that got him in the league, and kept in the league for a long time was his skating ability. He was an excellent skater – powerful and fast. I remember when Bucky broke into the league thinking that he was probably the best-skating tough-guy I’d ever seen. I really believe his wheels were what allowed him to become more than just a puncher.

    I can remember a feature in either the Journal or the Sun in the late-1980s or early-1990s with one of the Oilers’ skating instructors. I can’t remember her name, but she said the two best skaters, from a technical point of view, on the Oilers, at that time (this was after Coffey left) were Mark Messier … and Kelly Buchberger. In fact, I think she even suggested that Buchberger’s skating stride and style were almost a clone of Messier’s. Bucky wasn’t quite as fast, but if you saw them doing cross-overs coming out from behind the net, you could see what she was talking about.

    Make no mistake – his heart and soul and work ethic kept him in the league. But so did his feet. He was an excellent skater.