Cameron Butler nhl debut

There would be no stops at the Lodi outlets or Grandpa’s Cheesebarn on this trip down Interstate 71.

There was music playing, a call to the parents, and a lot of road signs blurring by as Cameron Butler raced down the highway to get to Columbus on Saturday night.

The Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate in Cleveland had a 3:15 p.m. game and Butler was a healthy scratch, but as the Jackets started to arrive for their 7 p.m. start in Columbus, captain Boone Jenner informed the team he was unable to play against Pittsburgh because of illness.

With the CBJ decimated by injuries and no extra healthy bodies available, there weren’t many options for the Jackets. But there was a forward sitting in the press box two hours up the road, and in Cleveland, CBJ director of player personnel and Monsters GM Chris Clark grabbed Butler for a quick walk and talk.

The message – you're making your NHL debut tonight. Grab your gear, grab your sticks, and get to Columbus as quickly as possible.

“I don’t remember any of (the car ride),” said Butler, who at least had the good fortune not to get pulled over as he raced down I-71. “It went by pretty quickly. I had music going, but I wasn’t really listening to it. I was just focused on the road trying to get here as quickly as possible. I was just not trying to think about (the game) at all. I was just thinking, go enjoy the moment.”

In the end, Butler arrived at Nationwide Arena with a few minutes to spare – thanks to the pregame ceremony recognizing Jeff Rimer, the game started about 10 minutes later than usual, giving him an extra buffer – and hit the bench before opening faceoff of what would turn into an intense 4-3 win over the Pens.

Without a warmup skate or frankly any meaningful discussion of strategy with coaches, the 21-year-old wing watched the entire first period from the bench but finally took the ice early in the second period for an offensive zone draw.

In the end, that would be the only shift he took, but the Blue Jackets had two shots on goal in his opening 54 seconds in the NHL. Butler joked “I would have stayed out there if they let me,” but when he first stepped on the ice, the moment finally hit him. He was in the NHL.

“I think it was my first shift,” he said. “Getting on the ice for the faceoff, it really sunk in.”

Considering how hectic the day was, head coach Pascal Vincent wasn’t going to turn to Butler too often, and the coach wasn’t going to put him in a position he might not be ready for. At one point, Vincent called for Butler’s line to take the ice but then changed his mind when Pittsburgh sent Sidney Crosby over the boards.

Finally, with 12:57 to go in the second period, the Penguins fourth line on the ice and the Blue Jackets having an offensive zone draw, Butler got the call along with center Brendan Gaunce and wing Carson Meyer, two players he’s spent much of the season with in Cleveland.

“It was an exciting moment for him,” Vincent said. “I told him, ‘Listen, I don’t even know if you’re gonna play.’ It was just in case and depending on the score and how the game was going to be played. I had no plan for him; it was depending on how the game went. But he had one shift and he was excited after the game. It was a nice experience for him.”

Butler said having many of his Cleveland teammates in the locker room helped calm his nerves, and his first pro season with the Monsters has been a solid one. Signed after a strong season a year ago with Oshawa of the OHL that included a career-high 27 goals, Butler was inked because he brings size – he's listed at 6-4, 210 – and a physical presence to the table.

This year in Cleveland, he’s skated in 46 games with two goals, eight points and 63 penalty minutes – he's dropped the gloves four times with the Monsters – while playing a bottom-six, defensive-oriented role.

And now, he can say he has an NHL game under his belt. It didn’t come in normal circumstances, but it still counts.

“I didn’t really have any expectations coming in here,” he said. “I just came in to help out and worked hard on my shift and I think it went pretty well.

“It’s definitely not the way I imagined (my NHL debut), but I’m happy it happened. It couldn’t have happened in a better way.”

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