*This article is from the MB Herald archives, originally published March 19, 1993, in the column “Christian Mind.” Author Walter Unger (1936–2018) served the church as a teacher, administrator, and board member.*
Sports was his life. Already as a ten-year-old lad, he excelled in every sport he played-softball, hockey, track and field. At the school field days, h e would win everything. So they called him “Buster” – because he was “busting” all the records. His real name was Russell Ambrose Brayshaw. On February 26, 1993, in his seventy-sixth year, he went home to be with the Lord he loved.
Buster Brayshaw made his mark in hockey. The Edmonton Journal called him “a legend in junior hockey coaching”. He played minor and junior hockey in Saskatoon. He was first noticed by an NHL scout at the age of 15 and was told h e would have a bright future as a professional. After playing some senior hockey in Moose Jaw, Vancouver and Victoria, he signed a contract with the Chicago Black Hawks. His dream to play on the same ice with his heroes – Bill Mosienko, Earl Siebert, Rocket Richard and others – was fulfilled.
He told of visiting the fabulous Montreal Forum for the first time. His assignment was to check Maurice Richard.
After two periods, the Rocket was pointless, and Buster started bragging. “I told Billy Mosienko in the dressing room, ‘He’s nothing. I’m going to get a couple of goals myself.’”
In the third period the Rocket took off, and Brayshaw couldn’t stop him. “It was Richard three and me nothing!”
With his entry into professional hockey came Buster’s first drink, first cigarette and first drunk. He felt he became an alcoholic with that first drink. His hockey suffered, his family suffered, and he suffered.
“I got caught up in the bright lights and all the sin that went with them,” he shared in a testimony. “It never dawned on me that this easy come, easy go, sinful, high living life at some point had to end.”
After 11 years in professional hockey as a player, Buster began a highly successful coaching career. In the 1960s, he took the junior Edmonton Oil Kings to six consecutive Memorial Cup finals, a record which still stands. He won the coveted trophy twice. During these Edmonton years, he coached such hockey notables as Pat Quinn and Glen Sather.
1971 found Buster in Abbotsford, B.C., at the Kinghaven Treatment Centre –a home for recovering alcoholics. He was invited to coach the Columbia Bible Institute hockey team, which he did for two years. He began attending Bakerview Mennonite Brethren Church in Clearbrook. But for the next 15 years he coasted along spiritually, until God finally got through to him.
It was pain, God’s megaphone, which got his attention. He testified that within a span of six months in 1986 he had to undergo two major surgeries. Few expected him to come out of the second operation alive.
When he realized God had spared him, he knew he had to respond. “In early 1987, I started to go to a Bible study and attend Bakerview Church regularly, and I can honestly say for the first time I started to get serious about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ… I felt there was something missing in my life, so one afternoon I went down to Bakerview Church and had a good talk with Pastor Harry Heidebrecht, and it was then I decided to turn my life over to the care of God.”
In 1987 Buster was baptized on the confession of his faith and became a member of the Bakerview Mennonite Brethren Church.
In his later years, Buster often related that his glory days in hockey were re- ally not that important to him. Th e church became the centre of his life. “I used to have six or seven close friends… but now I have hundreds of true, genuine friends…. Over the years, I have had a lot of fun, but that does not come close to the peace and joy and happiness I now have.”
Buster Brayshaw would resonate with another prodigal who also fin ally came home in his 60s – Malcolm Muggeridge. Buster would not only have agreed but would have said a hearty “Amen” to Muggeridge’s testimony, so much like his own:
“I may, I suppose, regard myself or pass for being a relatively successful man.
“People occasionally stare at me in the streets – that’s fame.
“I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue – that’s success.
“Furnished with money and a little fame, even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions-that’s pleasure.
“It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time – that’s fulfillment.
Yet I say to you – and I beg you to believe me – multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing – less than nothing, a positive impediment-measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.”
Buster Brayshaw drank of that living water and was never the same.
—Walter Unger is president of Columbia Bible College, Clearbrook, B.C., and a member of Bakerview MB Church.