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Butcher makes great case in USA Blue loss to Sweden

by Adam Kimelman

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- For the 43 players at USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp, Monday marks their final chance to showcase themselves and give coach Don Lucia and his staff a reason for them to survive the round of cuts that will be announced Tuesday morning.

For USA Blue defenseman Will Butcher, there wasn't much more about his game for him to showcase in a 4-3 loss to Sweden on Monday at Herb Brooks Arena.

Want to see his skating? Butcher went end-to-end to set up a goal in the third period. How about his shot? He showed touch and accuracy on a second-period shot from the point that floated past Sweden goalie Marcus Hogberg, and then brought the heat with a rocket from the top of the left circle that got past Hogberg in the third.

"I felt good towards the second half of the game, it was clicking for me," Butcher said. "I could see the plays being made in front of me. I think that was kind of how it went today. Hopefully it keeps going that way for the rest of camp -- if I'm lucky to stay."

Butcher certainly put his best skate forward in an attempt to remain here the rest of the week, as well as keep his name at the forefront of USA Hockey's thinking as the roster is formulated for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

However, Butcher said he wasn't going to spend much time worrying about something he can't control.

"I think I've shown enough," said Butcher, a 2013 fifth-round pick (No. 123) of the Colorado Avalanche. "It's up to the coaches and how they want to handle it, if I fit the right role they're looking for. I think it just falls into that. I played the game that I was brought here to play."

He stepped into that role at just the right time for USA Blue. Two power-play goals from Sebastian Collberg and a goal from Gustav Possler gave Sweden a 3-0 lead midway through the second period.

Then, on a faceoff in the Sweden zone, Brady Vail won a draw to his left to teammate Stefan Matteau. Matteau won a battle to get the puck back to Butcher at the left point. He threw a puck on net that somehow found its way past Hogberg.

"I didn't even know it went in," Butcher said. "I heard it hit the pipe and the guys were like, 'It went in.' It was a shock."

The next USA Blue goal was less shocking, but more impressive.

Moments after getting three shots during a five-minute power play, USA Blue got another man-advantage opportunity and this time made the most of it. Butcher picked up the puck in his end, went the length of the ice and set up Conner Carrick for a shot. Hogberg made the save, but Adam Erne was on the doorstep to bang it in with 43.2 seconds remaining in the second to make it a one-goal game.

While the period ended on a high, the Americans had to play the rest of the game without Matteau, the only U.S. player at the camp with NHL experience. Matteau, a New Jersey Devils prospect, was hit in the head by Sweden's Anton Lindholm. Matteau turned to receive a pass, and as he turned to skate up the ice, Lindholm appeared to hit Matteau in the head with his shoulder and arm. Matteau remained down on the ice for a few moments, but eventually was able to skate off the ice on his own. He did not return.

Lindholm was given a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct.

Sweden also lost two players to injury in the second. Collberg twisted his right knee and had to be helped off the ice, while Oskar Sundqvist collided head-first with the metal stanchion at the end of the Sweden bench in a play reminiscent of the injury sustained by the Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty in 2011. However, Sundqvist was able to get up on his own and walk to the locker room. Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said Sundqvist had head and neck injuries, but the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect was able to be treated at the rink.

Sweden pushed its lead to 4-2 in the third on a 5-on-3 goal by Alexander Wennberg, but USA Blue continued to push. In the waning moments, Vincent Hinostroza carried the puck down low in the Sweden end, beat two Swedish players in a battle along the end boards, went behind the net and fed the puck to Butcher above the left circle. Butcher was able to wind up and step into a one-timer that blistered past Hogberg at 17:43 to make it 4-3.

"I saw top left [corner of the net] and all I was trying to do was shoot as hard as I could," Butcher said.

With goalie Anthony Stolarz pulled for an extra attacker USA Blue kept pressuring. The best chance came when Daniel O'Regan got loose on the rush down the left side, but his shot went just off the outside of the net with 28 seconds left.

It was a memorable final impression for half the United States players in camp, who now await a phone call telling them they can stay or that it's time to go home.

When asked if he thought he had done enough to stay, Erne told what most of the players likely are thinking.

"I hope I made it tough on them to make a decision," he said. "Hopefully I made it easy for them to keep me [but] I can't control it."


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