It isn't difficult to see how a hockey player can identify with a soldier. Take away the obvious parallels of their hard work and dedication and you still have a comparable scenario in an individual heading into battle every night as part of a unit.
Perhaps that's why a member of the Buffalo Sabres defense corps has so readily connected to the military as a whole. Or maybe the St. Louis native simply appreciates the troops as a fellow American.
In any case, Chris Butler is showing his gratitude unlike any NHL player before him and along with more than a dozen athletes from around the League is set to join American forces this summer overseas.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," Butler said of heading to the Middle East. "Even doing the Tickets for Troops this year when the guys would come in the locker room and they'd tell me how they stay up until 3 a.m. over there just to watch the games - you develop an appreciation. It's kind of cool."
Butler began his initiative last season, donating a pair of tickets for Sabres home games to local military and their family. After talking to his own parents, and a cousin who has served with the United States, he decided to take that to the next level and began to do some research.
"It's funny because I've become good friends with [former Buffalo Bills guard] Brad Butler - oddly enough the same last name - and he had done a trip over there," he said. "I just asked about it and he said it was an unbelievable experience, to kind of see the joy on their faces when you come over."
I look at the sacrifice these people make, to defend our country, and they basically ask for nothing in return. It's kind of inspiring to me when you look at it that way. - Chris Butler
Butler ultimately decided to make the trip and it wasn't long before he had company. Among the first to join was teammate Steve Montador, followed by former Sabres Pat LaFontaine and Rhett Warrener. Atlanta's Zach Bogosian and Jim Slater, as well as Sean Avery, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Chris Clark, Jared Boll, Justin Abdelkader and Dave Steckel also signed up. The list also includes former NHLers such as Ken Daneyko and Dan Hinote.
The group is set to depart on July 25 from Washington, DC and will make the 12-hour flight to Kuwait, visiting bases around the country until August 2. Butler said they will likely stay on base or in US Embassy palaces along the way, taking a helicopter to each location.
"Other than that I have no idea what to expect as far as accommodations, whether we're on or off the base, what the food is going to be like - but then again that's kind of why I'm looking forward to it," Butler said. "I figure it's a once in a lifetime deal so why not?"
Regardless of what's in store for him, Butler believes the trip will offer a new perspective on things.
"I look at the sacrifice these people make, to defend our country, and they basically ask for nothing in return," he said. "It's kind of inspiring to me when you look at it that way. I think I'm so fascinated with not only the army, navy and marines, but your special forces; navy seals, delta force - people that basically push their body to unknown limits. I kind of use that as a motivating factor. When I'm tired from a hockey game or tired from a workout, it's like look at these guys; one guy has a bullet in his arm or something like that and he's not complaining about it. I've always been fascinated by that."
"The way I look at it, this could be a life-altering experience to get to see what these men and women deal with every day; the hardships they deal with. Like I said, I already draw a bit of motivation from them. Maybe getting a chance to see them will motivate me even more to be a more positive person, to battle and work harder. I don't know what else, but I'm sure it will be worth it."