St. Louis Blues prospect Michael Buchinger is working hard to make a statement on and off the ice as a proud Indigenous role model
Michael Buchinger has worked hard to make a statement on the ice.
Currently a defenceman for the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm, Buchinger made his way through minor hockey, landed with the GTHL’s Toronto Jr. Canadiens in his last four seasons before moving up to the major junior ranks. As the 24th overall pick in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection, Buchinger swapped the bright red for Guelph’s crimson. After two seasons, Buchinger got the attention of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, becoming a third round (88th overall) pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Less than a year later, Buchinger turned his draft selection into a three-year entry-level contract with the Blues in March 2023.
“It was a dream come true,” Buchinger shared of his NHL draft day. “It was a stressful day for sure, for me and my family, but to go to an organization like St. Louis was awesome, and being there, the whole experience, was really cool. I’ve been dreaming about that since I was a kid so it was an amazing feeling when it finally happened.”
Putting pen to paper rounded out Buchinger’s proudest accomplishment to date.
“There are a lot of things in hockey that I’m pretty proud of, but I think getting drafted and signing with St. Louis has been a lifelong dream and goal for me, so to accomplish those things is pretty amazing.”
With full credit to his parents, especially his dad, hockey has always been a part of Buchinger’s life – from putting on skates at the age of two, to jumping into the game at four years old.
Despite a young hockey career early in its progress, success is all over Buchinger’s resume – even in the early years.
“My time with [the Jr. Canadiens] was awesome – we won some big tournaments, won a few GTHL championships, won the Silver Stick at [the Under-14 level],” the Markham, Ontario native said, recounting some of his favourite minor hockey memories. “But honestly, it was the team, all the guys were really close – it was the everyday practices and the team that were the great memories.”
Along with the memories came an important lesson, too.
“I think playing on a really good team like JRC at that time, I was humbled pretty quick,” Buchinger explained. “The GTHL has a lot of really great players and I think I learned quickly that you’re not the only good player out there – that you’re going to have to work hard for what you want to achieve, it’s not just going to be given to you because you’re there.”
“Playing in the GTHL really taught me work ethic and working towards what you want to achieve. I think those four years on JRC really helped me learn that.”
The Jr. Canadiens connection came full circle after Buchinger heard his name called by the Blues when another Jr. Canadien alumnus gave him a call.
“It was really cool,” Buchinger said of then-Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly calling him after getting drafted. “He’s an established player and a star in the league, so I think for him to reach out and to come from the GTHL too, was amazing. Getting drafted to that team and having the captain at that point reach out was exciting.”
Beyond the on-ice success, perhaps Buchinger’s biggest statement – as a proud member of the Ojibwe (Ojibwa, Ojibway, and Chippewa) and Wikwemikoong community – stems from his roots.
“Growing up with my family and being Indigenous, I’ve seen everything that goes on and it’s a big part of myself and my family,” Buchinger said. “[My roots] are very important to me and to see kids coming from reservations and playing hockey is really cool as well, so just to be a role model in that sense and help kids do what they love means a lot to me.”
The Ojibwe are an Indigenous community in North America who are part of a larger cultural group known as the Anishinaabeg. By the early 1600s, the Ojibwe were a well-established community in and around Sault Ste. Marie. Today, the Ojibwe are the second largest First Nations population surpassed only by the Cree.
Wikwemkoong Unceded Territory is a proud, progressive, and prosperous First Nation steeped in the Indigenous culture and language of the Anishinabek. Their home is centered on Odawa Mnis and the surrounding islands in Lake Huron.
For Buchinger, a significant part of his roots is an Anishinaabeg woman from Manitoulin Island and a residential school survivor: his grandmother. In 2020, Buchinger’s grandmother sadly passed away at the age of 74 but is remembered through all the lessons and teachings she left behind.
Now, Buchinger hopes to leave Indigenous youth with advice his own.
“Work hard for what you want. No one can stop you from working as hard as you can and just putting your best foot forward. It’s doing what you love that’s really the most important,” Buchinger shared, adding that he remembers looking up to Indigenous NHL players such as Jordin Tootoo and current player Zach Whitecloud. “Everyone wants to make the NHL, but hockey teaches you so much – when you work hard at something and you learn how to do something you love, you’ll learn a lot of life lessons, no matter what happens.”