Detroit — It’s been several months after the fact and a new hockey season for Shai Buium is on the horizon.
But that doesn’t matter when you win an NCAA championship.
The emotion is still fresh, probably always will be. Ask Buium what it was like to win the Frozen Four with the University of Denver last season and there’s an added jump in his voice.
“It was incredible,” Buium, the Red Wings’ 2021 second-round draft pick (36th overall), said during last week’s development camp. “We had a special group and we did special things. That was probably one of the best times in my life.”
What made it doubly special for Buium was how much he contributed, though only being a freshman. Buium had three goals and 15 assists in 39 games, with an impressive plus-20 rating.
The lanky 6-foot-3, 209-pound defenseman worked his way into the lineup early in the season and his presence grew on a veteran team that played its best hockey down the stretch.
Buium devoured many valuable lessons during the national championship season, mostly while watching the older, veteran teammates who had worked hard for that magical moment.
“I learned how hard it is to win,” Buium said. “The older guys, they put their hearts into the game. We had guys on the team who were there for five years and just watching them win was pretty incredible. You learn how to mature your game and build a respect for the game.
“My game (has) matured a lot, especially learning from older guys. We had a couple of 24-, 25-year-old guys and they really showed us the way. They were good veterans and teach you how to be a pro player.”
Interestingly at Denver, Buium developed a friendship with Pioneers forward Carter Mazur, a Jackson native and 2021 third-round draft pick by the Red Wings. The two were also roommates.
Both were impactful as freshmen last season and are hoping to build on those resumes this season.
“We’re really good friends,” Buium said. “We started rooming together in the summer last year going into our freshmen year. We got close that way. He’s an incredible person.
“Carter is a great player. He’s really skilled and gritty at the same time. He can kind of do it all. Without him, winning is hard.”
But the Pioneers can say the same thing about Buium, an offensive defenseman whose defensive game improved noticeably last season.
Buium credits the coaches and players surrounding him at Denver for his development.
“I’m really happy with the way I developed my defensive game. The coaches and all the other D-men on the team helped me a lot, especially at the start, learning the college game and getting used to it,” Buium said. “My goal was to get better defensively and I think I did a good job doing that.”
Heading into his sophomore season, Buium is hoping to pass some of that experience and knowledge along.
“I want to be a role model for the freshmen,” he said. “We have two incoming defensemen and I want to show them the way and hopefully pick up a bigger role and try to do the same thing (win a title).
“It’s hard to win, (but) we’ll try to do that again.”
What made the recent Red Wings development camp special for Buium was the ability to work with Niklas Kronwall, the former Wings star who coached the defensemen in camp.
“Working with Niklas Kronwall is pretty awesome,” Buium said. “He’s obviously an NHL legend. He teaches you a lot of things. I’m just trying to work them into my game, like learning how to walk the blue line, playing defense.
“I was pretty intimidated at first, but he’s a really good guy and pretty easy to talk to. He communicates well with us. It’s pretty surreal because he’s an NHL legend.”
Overall, the development camp was a good way to get comfortable with the Wings’ program, along with getting ready for the upcoming hockey season.
“It’s really an educational camp,” said Buium, who is familiar with the Detroit area given his younger brother is in the Plymouth Township-based United States National Team Development Program (brother and mother live in Novi). “Met a lot of different guys I bonded with, so it’s real good.”
Not to forget, just walking into Little Caesars Arena, working out at BELFOR Training Center, taking advantage of the spacious locker room and weight room facilities, and realizing this all could be in your NHL future.
Buium admits it is motivation.
“Everything they have here is to help you become a better pro,” he said. “Yes, I could walk into this place every day. That would be pretty incredible.”