For the first time since the 2004-05 season, the University of Denver Pioneers will be playing in the Frozen Four, the NCAA men's ice hockey national semifinals. Denver faces the North Dakota Fighting Hawks at Amalie Arena on Thursday with a berth to the national title game at stake.
Colorado Avalanche prospect Will Butcher is making the trip to Tampa, Florida, with DU in hopes of moving on to play in the championship contest on Saturday.
|Will Butcher |
Butcher, a 5-foot-10 defenseman, was drafted by Colorado in the fifth round (123rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft and is in his junior season with the Pioneers. He leads all rear guards on the team with 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) and a plus-22 rating in 38 outings.
He has demonstrated noteworthy improvement from his first two years with the University of Denver. Butcher registered 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) and a minus-3 rating in the 2014-15 campaign and 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) and a plus-6 rating in 2013-14.
“Just looking at the program, my defensive game has gotten way better,” said the Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, native. “Just this year, I have been able to take on a little bit more responsibility, and they have given me a little more leeway to play the type of game that I want to play. I think it has helped my growth as a player to do that.”
Before the season started, Butcher was given more trust and authority when he was named an alternate captain of the team.
“I am not a big rah-rah guy. I am more of a guy who just goes out there and does his role and plays and tries to lead by example,” he said of his title. “I have helped [captain Grant Arnold] out a lot with getting the guys ready for practice and getting ready for the games. That is kind of what I have here as a leadership role, and also helping out the defensive end.”
In addition to helping lead the team, the young defenseman brings a high level of professionalism and focus to the college team. When asked about going to Florida and taking in the moment, he was quick to bring attention to the main reason of trip.
“It’s a business trip. You got to go down there and be professional about it,” Butcher said. “You got to be prepared to play hockey games. There are going to be a lot of distractions, so we just got to keep our mind as to why we are going down there, and it’s to win a national championship.”
Part of the reason why he is capable of concentrating on the task at hand during such a significant game is because of his involvement with the United States National Team at the 2014 and 2015 World Junior Championships.
Butcher played for Team USA at the 2015 World Juniors in Canada. He registered one assist in five games played and was named the team’s top defenseman of the tournament. Butcher also represented the red, white and blue at the 2014 tournament in Sweden, where he tallied five points (two goals, three assists) in five contests.
“My last year in World Juniors, playing against Canada in the New Year’s game at the Bell Centre, it was a huge crowd of 18,000,” he recalled of his time in the international competition. “It’s going to be similar to that down in Tampa, with a great atmosphere and fans coming down to watch us, so [the experience] definitely helps.”
Looking back at this season, Butcher is pleased with his accomplishments but knows the season is not over and there is still more for him and his team to achieve.
“It’s good to set goals for yourself and succeed and try to get better every year,” he said. “You want to progress every year, and you want to be better every year. So to have some goals set before you start the season is a good thing. My goal this year was to be a 30-point getter, which I actually reached, so I was very proud of myself for that. But, my other goal was to win a national championship. So hopefully we will get two-for-two on that.”