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Butler's hockey career is a family affair

by A.J. Atchue /
"All in the Family" most commonly is known as the title of a famous 1970's television show, but Bobby Butler could take that phrase and apply it directly to his progression as a hockey player.

The 23-year-old Butler is making quite an impact through the first two months of his pro career with the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators, leading the club with 15 goals -- tied for third in league -- and adding eight assists through 26 games.

Among first-year AHL players, his 15 goals rank first and his 23 points second. It's been an impressive beginning, to be sure.

As the son of a longtime Massachusetts high school hockey coach, though, sticks and skates have been in his blood from the start.

"Ever since I remember, it was always my goal to become a professional hockey player," Butler said. "I probably would have been a very different kid without hockey."

A native of Marlboro, Mass. -- about 45 minutes west of Boston -- Butler first took the ice at age 3, playing with a bunch of high school kids. That's a unique introduction to the game of hockey for a youngster, but not so out of the ordinary under these circumstances.

Bobby's father, John Butler, has been the hockey coach at Marlboro High School since 1986, amassing more than 300 victories and numerous conference titles over that span. As soon as Bobby was able to, he was out skating, following his dad's practices.

"My dad is definitely the one who got me going playing hockey and got me on the ice," Butler said. "I still have pictures from when I was real young of his old high school players skating me around the rink after practice."

Fast-forward several years, and naturally, there's Butler suiting up for his father as a forward with the Marlboro Panthers. He played five seasons at Marlboro, including his eighth-grade year, and father and son capped it by winning a state championship together in Butler's senior year, in 2005. Butler led the way with 4 goals and an assist in the title game.

He moved on to the college ranks and increased his point total in all four seasons at the University of New Hampshire, but Butler's output as a senior in 2009-10 represented the most significant jump. That season, he led the nation with 29 goals and posted a team-best 53 points in 39 games, and he was named a finalist for the prestigious Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player.

"I just came in knowing it was my last year there and I was a leader, the captain, so I wanted to come in and play well," Butler said. "I had more of an opportunity to shoot the puck as much as I could."

Unlike high school, though, there would be no storybook ending to Butler's college career, as New Hampshire was upset by Rochester Institute of Technology in the NCAA Tournament's regional finals.

Despite that disappointment, it didn't take long for Butler to embark on the most exciting chapter yet of his life in hockey. Passed over in the NHL Entry Draft, his progress at UNH attracted the attention of more than one club at the sport's highest level.

"My season ended, and I had been talking to a few (NHL) teams," he said. "I went home that Sunday morning right after we lost on Saturday, just sat on my couch and started a movie. It took about eight hours to finish the movie because my agent kept calling to try and figure out which was the best opportunity, and it turned out that was Ottawa."

Butler signed with the Senators the next day, and within a week he was in Ottawa and in the lineup, making his NHL debut against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"It was crazy," Butler said. "The whole experience really didn't hit me until the middle of the summer, but it was a great opportunity to join the team at the end of the season and then catch the playoffs, just to see what it was all about."

The 6-foot, 180-pound Butler played in two games for Ottawa late last season, and his appetite for more was established.

He embarked on a slightly different summer routine from his norm, skating less frequently and focusing on getting his body ready for the marathon that is the professional season -- double the number of games than he was used to in college.

It's paid off in a big way so far.

Butler tallied a goal in his first game for Binghamton on Oct. 8, scored again the next night, and ended October with goals in five of nine games.

"Seeing the ice and shooting the puck hard are the things that I really do well," he said. "I'm playing with good guys and shooting the puck a lot, like last year. When you shoot the puck, sometimes it finds its way in."

When Butler says he likes to shoot the puck, he isn't kidding -- he's averaged nearly four shots per game thus far, and his total of 96 shots is 18 more than anyone else on the Senators and seventh-most in the AHL.

He's blossomed in the early going while playing primarily on a line with veteran Corey Locke, a four-time AHL All-Star and former Calder Cup champion. The duo has combined to form one of the AHL's most lethal scoring threats this season.

"He's a great guy on and off the ice," Butler said of Locke, "and he makes plays when he's got the puck. He can definitely make the guys around him much better."

Though he appeared to make a seamless transition from college to the AHL, Butler points to a pair of games as clear benchmarks in his feeling comfortable and confident at the pro level.

The first was an Oct. 29 contest against the Charlotte Checkers. Senators coach Kurt Kleinendorst sent Butler out for a 4-on-3 power play in overtime, and the rookie responded by banging in a cross-crease pass from Locke for the first of his league-leading 5 game-winning goals on the year.

A week later against Syracuse, Butler scored twice in the opening period and then completed his first pro hat trick on the power play with just 29 seconds left in regulation.

"I think (my confidence level) progressed, but the game I had a hat trick was pretty key," he said. "I just felt comfortable, and then the third one I scored with a few seconds left. It felt great to see that go in."

The hat trick was part of a monster November for Butler, as he racked up 9 goals and 15 points in 14 games en route to being named the Reebok/AHL Rookie of the Month.

The brass in Ottawa took notice, and a couple of weeks ago Butler earned his first recall of the season, appearing in four NHL games. He went pointless with a minus-3 rating and three shots, but it's a place where the rookie forward sees himself earning a permanent home in the not-so-distant future.

"It was a great experience, definitely a good taste to get in a few games," he said. "I felt comfortable seeing the ice and getting open, but it's just the grinding in the corners, battling for the puck that I still need to work on a little.

"I know I can play there -- I just need to get a little stronger."

When Butler does reach the pinnacle of full-time NHL duty, it may come at a perfect time. This is John Butler's 25th and final season coaching at Marlboro High, which conveniently will free his winters to watch his son and former player compete at the pro level.

All in the family, indeed.
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