TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Jeremie Biakabutuka was born in the hockey-crazed Canadian Province of Quebec. But that doesn’t mean hockey was the sport of choice in his home.
He is the nephew of University of Michigan and NFL running back Tshimanga “Tim” Biakabutuka. That took precedence.
“We are a football family first. Hockey’s like a second sport in our family,” the young Biakabutuka said. “But my father didn’t really like the contact aspect. You can get injured really bad with a concussion. So I played hockey, and I was pretty good at it. So I thought why not just keep going in that sport.”
That decision is paying off for Biakabutuka because he is currently a Detroit Red Wings free agent invitee defenseman at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. He opened up the tournament with two assists in a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
— Joe Chapp (@DetroitJoeChapp) September 16, 2022
Disappointing fans in Columbus is nothing new for young men named Biakabutuka. Twenty-six years ago, Tim Biakabutuka had his best day as a Michigan player, amassing 313 yards rushing to lead the Wolverines to a 31-23 upset over the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes in Ann Arbor.
Ohio State was undefeated coming into the game. The Buckeyes had Eddie George. He was supposed to carry that day. Instead, the running back from the Democratic Republic of the Congo ended Ohio State’s national championship ambition.
“It was not really something I had in mind,” the younger Biakabutuka said, but he said his dad replied, “Oh, that’s good” when he told him he would be playing a tournament in Michigan.
“(He said) that’s the same state where your uncle went to college,” Biakabutuka said. “…everyone here knows my uncle. It’s pretty funny.”
Jeremie was a QB
The “Biakabutuka” on the back of his jersey did cause some conversation in the stands as people wondered if he was Tim’s son.
Jeremie Biakabutuka’s football career was over quickly. He thinks he was nine or 10 when he decided to concentrate on hockey. But he certainly has memories.
“I was a quarterback and a safety and a kicker,” he said. “I was everything. My dad was the coach, too. It was pretty funny.”
But today, he is all hockey. He is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman for the Charlottetown Islanders in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He has gone undrafted, meaning he would be an overage player if he returns to junior hockey.
He’s playing in this tournament with the hope of signing with the Red Wings or getting noticed by other NHL teams. He didn’t get invited until a week before the tournament started.
The Red Wings have a collection of skilled young defensemen already in the pipeline, but they must see potential in him or he wouldn’t be here.
“I’m a big defenseman with good mobility an speed,” he said. “So obviously they want to see me play good defensively, see me finishing my check, be physical. Using my speed to join the rush. I have a good shot, too, so take shots on the net. I consider myself a two-way defenseman, so doing all that and not creating a turnover every shift. Just be hard to play against and join the rush when I have a chance to.”
He’s only played one game and it was a learning experience.
“Everybody’s working hard, so you have to work hard,” Biakabutuka said. “You cannot be the guy who doesn’t skate. Everybody is trying to have a spot on the team, on the roster. Everybody’s trying to have a good impression. It’s not junior hockey anymore, it’s pro level. You have to work hard and every detail counts. That’s probably what I’ve learned most.”
He definitely has a plan.
“Obviously in the future you cannot control everything but if you have a good attitude and you work hard, and you play your game, someone is going to see you,” Biakabutuka said. “That’s what I’m trying to do here.”