The Opening Ceremonies for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang take place tomorrow night. There will be a few former Admirals making that walk. Stefan Elliott with Canada. Martin Erat with the Czech Republic. Jani Lajunen for Finland as well as an 18-year old Eeli Tolvanen who could be a future Admiral in time. Peter Ölvecký with Slovakia. Both Magnus Hellberg and Viktor Stålberg will make the walk with Sweden. The Admirals last Olympian, Simon Moser, will once again represent Switzerland. And Bobby Butler, Jonathon Blum, and Ryan Zapolski will walk out for USA.
“When you say it it sounds pretty cool,” is what Butler told CBS 58 this past week when hearing his name an the term ‘US Olympian’ attached to it. At 30-years of age the eight-year pro has seen and experienced a lot to reach this big of a stage. His final scheduled game before leaving for South Korea was Tuesday night and he managed to record a goal for his 200th career AHL point. He helped contribute to the Admirals snapping a six-game losing streak and earning a 3-2 shootout win over one of the best teams in the league this season, the Manitoba Moose, and did it all hours before he took flight. His focus is on the here and now. And now it is time for a dream to be realized.
Butler’s career in this game started back at Marlborough High School. You’ve already heard Tyler Kelleher tell the story of seeing one Butler make a splash at that early of an age. And it signaled the lengthy hockey career that has followed.
“Hilarious story, actually. I was in like third or fourth grade and Butler was the big senior in Massachusetts playing high school hockey and everyone knew who he was. He was playing against my town in the state semi-finals for high school hockey. My town is Longmeadow and all over the papers this kid Butler is committed to [University of New Hampshire]. He has like a ridiculous amount of points. And he’s coming to Springfield to play against Longmeadow. The fans were all over him all game. And I was watching him all game because, obviously, he’s probably the only guy in high school hockey who ever went to college the next year and played [Division I]. He got an empty net breakaway at the end of the game and he went on his knees, did a spin-o-rama, put it in the net on his knees, and then jumped in our student section.”
It’s moments of flash such as that which has followed Butler throughout his career. When he made it to the University of New Hampshire what would follow was a four-year career in which he played 153 games and produced 121 points (61 goals, 60 assists). In his last season at UNH he would captain the team and produce a Hobey Baker Award finalist campaign that put him on the NHL radar of the Ottawa Sentaors. He was never drafted but instantly joined the NHL ranks out of college to make his NHL debut on 4/1/10 at the then named Scotiabank Place against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Butler’s first full season of professional hockey within the Senators organization, 2010-11, was one split between the NHL and AHL. His time with the Senators wasn’t bad, at all. He was able to generate 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 36 games. Yet, he would still spent the bulk of his time in the AHL. That would prove to be a massive boost for the Binghamton Senators. They entered the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference picture but would manage to win that season’s Calder Cup. Butler scored 17 points (13 goals, 4 assists) in the 23 game sprint to that Calder Cup triumph.
Along the way, Butler has had his share of running between the NHL and AHL. After taking part with the Senators organization he has since played for multiple other North American teams: New Jersey Devils (NHL), Albany Devils (AHL), Nashville Predators (NHL), Florida Panthers (NHL), and San Antonio Rampage (AHL). When the 2014-15 season came to an end it looked like it was time for Butler to take the adventure across the pond and tackle the European scene. 2015-16 was spent in Sweden with MODO Hockey. 2016-17 was spent in Russia’s KHL with two different teams, Medvescak Zagreb and Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. Yet, with the 2018 Winter Olympics looming and NHL players being excluded from competition. The idea of a North American return was on the mind. And it was something discussed with former University of New Hampshire teammate -and current Admirals captain- Trevor Smith over the past off-season.
“That was our goal,” smiled Smith on seeing Butler make it to Team USA. “We had a golf tournament this summer. That’s when he first told me that was what he was going to try to do this season. And that’s what we set out to do the first half of this year. Extremely happy for him and his family to go over there and represent USA. It’s a big accomplishment for him.”
What Butler has been for the Admirals this season is all about the word consistency. It’s exactly that which makes the coming weeks without him that little bit worrying. Butler suited up for each and every game of the season for the Admirals right up until the final hour that he could do so. He leaves as the Admirals leading scorer with 34 points (21 goals, 13 assists) in 46 games. He is one of only eleven players in the AHL at this time to have scored 20 goals or more and ended his time before the Olympics by spiking #21 on the season. His career best at the AHL came back in the 2014-15 season with San Antonio when he scored 27 goals in 68 games. He could still very well surpass that when he returns.
Butler’s first outing with Team USA’s Men’s Hockey Team will come in less than a week’s time when they see Slovenia in the preliminary round of the competition on 2/14/18. Team USA’s schedule can be viewed in full right here for both Men’s & Women’s Hockey.
Bobby Butler, thank you for the time to chat before the trip out to PyeongChang and best of luck in your time representing Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics. This might not be the “All-Star” level squad of Olympics with the NHL athletes not allowed to compete but Butler was someone who signed an AHL contract with aspirations of making Team USA and being in this position to compete on an international stage at this point in his career. They might not be the superstar level names but this is their moment. And the last time Team USA won a gold medal in hockey came back in 1980 with a rag tag group of players that shocked an elite and expected to win Russian side. History has a funny way of repeating itself. I would love it for Butler, and his family, to see Team USA go the distance.
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