For most players, hockey is a family affair and Nashville Predators Bobby Butler skates right into that category. At 26 years-old, the Marlborough, Massachusetts native has found success on the ice, but all success needs a beginning.
Like many of his NHL peers, Butler grew up watching and loving Joe Sakic. But it was the off-ice support in the form of his father that ultimately gave Butler the drive to play.
“Off-ice, my Dad,” said Butler in regards to his biggest inspiration. “He got me into hockey.”
When your father is a coach, it seems like a natural progression for a son to play the sport, Butler found himself hitting the ice at just three years-old.
“My dad was a high school coach in our town,” said Butler. “I used to go out on the ice with all of the high school players.”
Commuting to the rink long before the sun rises forges memories in a players mind. After all the early morning ice times are just another part of the game.
“My teammate Mike O’Brien and I,” said Butler. “We used to drive into Boston on Sunday mornings with his Dad and he’d crank the heat in his mini van. We’d both be on each heater on either side of the car, it was pretty funny,” laughed Butler. “5 in the morning, you gotta stay warm.”
It’s the early mornings, a fresh sheet of ice and a love for the game that mold a player. Many fans outside the region may not realize the impact, and opportunity that New England holds for a hockey player. For many, hockey is a staple and the sheets of ice are endless – endless for those willing to put in the work, an ethic that Butler skates with to this day.
“Work hard,” commented Butler. “You’re only going to get as far, as how hard you work.”
Those native to New England are probably familiar with the Boston Junior Bruins of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, an American league that has helped give the start to many professional players. The Junior Bruins allowed Butler a lot of ice time and an opportunity to hone his skills. However, it was the four years with the Wildcats at collegiate hockey powerhouse University of New Hampshire that furthered Butler to a career within the American Hockey League and ultimately National Hockey League success.
“Playing at UNH was what got me to the next level,” said Butler. “It was a great school, great place to play and great coaching,” he continued. “Can’t forget a great group of guys that I went through my four years with.”
While some people may forget their roots, in the world of hockey your roots just continue to branch and you never forget where you’ve started or how far you’ve come. Part of that mindset is staying up to date and supporting the teams, players and programs that you’ve grown with.
“I followed UNH all this year and sent an email to them right before the playoff games during the regionals, talked to Coach Umile who is a great guy and a lifelong friend,” said Butler. “It’s not just hockey there, it’s a family.”
Post collegiate career found Butler within the Ottawa Senators organization, where he saw ice time with both Ottawa and their American Hockey League affiliate Binghamton. Time spent in Binghamton resulted in winning the Calder Cup Trophy, where Butler notched 13 goals and 7 assists during the 23 game playoff run. Following that fantastic run, Butler struggled during the 2011-12 season with Ottawa, ultimately leading to him being put on waivers. Perhaps a frustrating situation, Butler signed with the New Jersey Devils in August 2012, but found himself again with the AHL affiliate in Albany after the NHL locked out. Despite an earlier than anticipated departure from the Senators organization, Butler harbored no ill feelings toward the club and wasn’t surprised by the success of the team during this seasons’ NHL Stanley Cup run.
“I knew they had a young team, but they have guys who have been through the post-season at the AHL level,” said Butler. “It was still something that helps you become a better hockey player and helps you battle and learn how to put teams away, and that’s what they did the first round and had great success. I wasn’t surprised at all.”
A short stint with New Jersey once the NHL season officially began, Butler was again placed on waivers. But this time, claimed by Nashville in a move that has proven beneficial for both the organization and Butler himself. Registering three goals and six assists, Nashville has provided a hockey environment that Butler hopes to continue to be a part of.
“I’m excited, the fans are great, loud and into the game. It’s a great atmosphere, everyone is so friendly down there,” said Butler. “It’s an awesome environment, you look forward to going to the rink everyday to play and you have fun doing it.”
A positive end to the regular season allowed Butler the opportunity to represent USA in the IIHF World Championships, which placed the forward in Europe for a three week stint.
“It was an awesome experience, something that I’ll always remember,” said Butler. “Just being in Europe, I’ve never been, so it was definitely fun. It was good to have a little change in the bigger ice, kind of neat to have a different and fun experience.”
Just returning from Worlds has placed Butler a bit behind on his usual off-season workout regime.
“I’ll start working out on Monday. I’m a little behind on working out cause I was gone for three weeks with the world championships,” said Butler. “I won’t start skating until the end of July, but I will certainly be doing some pickup games here and there on Thursday nights.”
With a summer ahead of him, fans in Nashville won’t see his continued diligence both on and off the ice until training camp in the fall. But it’s a safe bet that should he make the opening roster, his kind hearted, friendly personality will make him a fan favorite among a legion of Predators.