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Golden delicious

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Similar to many of the players currently taking part in the 2009 Canucks Prospects Camp, Matt Butcher idolized a hockey star growing up. He collected trinkets and memorabilia hoping one day to be just like him.

Unlike many of the prospects taking part in the second day of camp on Tuesday, Butcher’s hockey hero was his father, former Vancouver Canucks defenceman Garth Butcher.

The agitating blueliner, who was drafted by the Canucks 10th overall in the 1981 Entry Draft, played over nine seasons in Vancouver recording 140 points and 1,668 penalty minutes in 610 games.

Butcher was a constant physical presence in his own end and although his offensive numbers don’t pop out, he was crafty with the puck scoring a few timely goals.

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree in that Matt, the oldest of five Butcher children, is physical and creative offensively.

On the other hand, one could argue this Golden Delicious fell and bounced miles away because as Garth puts it, “He’s a helluva lot better than I was.”

Although Garth’s opinion may be a pinch biased, the thought of another Butcher someday donning a Canucks jersey is a promising one.

Vancouver took its first step to making that a reality four years ago by taking Matt in the fifth round, 138th overall, in the 2005 draft.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward, who was just coming off a 57-point season with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs and would up the ante with a sensational 101-point outburst the following season, flew into Canucks Prospects Camp making a name for himself as an up and coming centreman with great vision and a grinding style of play that helped him quietly thrive at both ends of the ice.

As Matt’s career progressed to the NCAA level and Northern Michigan University became home base, injuries also crept into the picture.

It started during his freshman year when the hip problems that had nagged him his entire life, although not severely, began to plague him on the ice.

During the off-season Matt had his hip checked out but tests came back clean as he had waited until after the year to have them done and the hip healed itself enough that it was no longer an issue.

That is, until it became so unbearable during his sophomore season that he didn’t even practice during the week, instead resting his body for action on the weekends.

Enough was enough and after Matt completed a stellar 8-goal, 15-assist season, doctors dug deep into his hip and discovered a bump near a socket that had torn off the  labrum and cartilage.

After surgery finally corrected the problem, Matt didn’t give his body enough time to heel as he rushed back to action forcing him to miss another four months because of soreness in the joint.

Finally feeling refreshed and ready to play, he returned to the ice only to have luck turn on him.

“During first game back I broke my collarbone,” Matt said Monday afternoon following a pair of on-ice workout sessions.

“It was a clean hit and everything, it was just completely unlucky so I had surgery on that and now I have a plate in there.”

The six-inch scar Matt has on top of his left collarbone serves as a constant reminder of the incident, yet surprisingly there are no mental scars to be found from all the injuries he’s suffered through these past few years that had forced him to miss the last couple prospects camps.

There are a lot of perks to your dad having played in the NHL and one of them is that when it comes to hockey, the old man’s been there, done that and probably written the book on almost every thinkable situation, including how to get through tough injuries.

“I remember I was pretty upset the night before I had to stop skating to have the first surgery and I talked to him and he just reassured me that everything was going to be fine,” Matt recalled.

“It was more fatherly advice than anything, but it still meant a lot because of his hockey stature. That calmed me down a lot because he played through a lot of injuries and was always really positive about them and that helped me stay on the right side of it all.”

Garth, who has remained a staple in hockey rinks since retiring from the NHL in 1995 by following Matt, his daughter Carly, 16, and son Ben, 14, from rink to rink for the last decade, recognized that Matt’s injuries could set him back so he was quick to offer up advice.

“It’s one of those things where obviously you have to take sports seriously, but at the same time you sometimes have to let it go mentally to get through it, just knowing that there will be a better day,” said Garth, nose pushed to the glass like a Garfield window cling taking in Matt’s every stride on Monday.

“In a young guy’s life it seems like a big deal, but if you make the best of it when you get back then it can really just be a blip on the radar screen. He’s got lots of time ahead of him and lots of hockey ahead of him.”

Matt is entering the most important chapter of his hockey career with his final year with the Northern Michigan Wildcats on the horizon.

After playing only 14 games last season, Matt simply wants to stay healthy and get back to contributing however possible.

“I know that if my overall game is good, that the offence will be there again for me. I’m not going to force anything, I’m feeling really good now and am just excited to be back playing at a high level.”

If he continues down that path, odds are good that Matt will end up at the level Garth once performed in, carrying on the Butcher legacy with the Canucks.
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