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'It's really a dream come true'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Five days ago, Bobby Butler was wearing a University of New Hampshire hockey jersey. Thursday night, he suited up for the Ottawa Senators in his NHL debut against the Carolina Hurricanes (University of New Hampshire photo).
Jesse Winchester couldn't help grinning widely as he recalled the day he'll never forget.

Watching intently and taking in every word that his new teammate spoke, Bobby Butler contemplated a night that he's sure he'll always remember.

Just five days after his college hockey career at New Hampshire came to an end, Butler will suit up for the Ottawa Senators tonight at Scotiabank Place against the Carolina Hurricanes (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). It still seems surreal for the 22-year-old Butler, who is just hours away from making his National Hockey League debut.

"I’m sure it’ll hit me right when I get on the ice," said Butler, who led all NCAA Division I goal scorers with 29 during his senior season at New Hampshire . "It's been a whirlwind the last couple of days and I'm definitely happy and excited."

Butler's parents, John and Wendy, and his two brothers made the long trip from Marlborough, Mass., today for the big moment. Much as he'll try to tell himself to prepare the same way he always has for a hockey game, Butler knows this one is completely different.

"I've just got to get ready like it's any other game out there," said Butler, one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA Division I hockey. "But it's obviously not just another game. I'm definitely nervous.

"It means everything. It's everything I've worked for since I was a little kid. It really is a dream come true."

Nobody knows that better than Winchester, who two years ago went from college rinks at Colgate to the NHL in just a matter of days. He doubts he'll ever erase the memory of that game on March 29, 2008, at the TD Garden in Boston against the Bruins. Not that he ever wants to, despite the 3-0 loss the Senators suffered that afternoon.

"I remember everything about it," said Winchester, a native of nearby Long Sault, Ont. "I remember warmup, I remembering seeing (Bruins defenceman Zdeno) Chara for the first time. I remember starting the second shift of the game. (Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza) started the game and I watched that so closely.

"I've just got to get ready like it's any other game out there. But it's obviously not just another game. I'm definitely nervous. It means everything. It's everything I've worked for since I was a little kid." - Bobby Butler
"I was so nervous and then I watched them and said ‘I can do this.’ First shift, I made a nice play to (Wade) Redden and we almost scored ... My brothers drove through the night — it was an afternoon game, 1 p.m. — and they made it down with a couple of buddies from home. It was an exciting day, for sure. I’ll never forget it."

Winchester will get to share Butler's moment tonight — they'll be linemates with Nick Foligno — and no doubt he'll remind his new teammate to take in every little bit of it.

"It’s pretty exciting," he said. "One week you’re battling it out with your buddies that you spent four years with (at university) and the next one, you’re in a room with superstars and you’re like ‘what’s going on?’

"I’d just tell him to have fun and soak it up and try to make the most of it. You deserve to be here. It’s one of those things you dream about your whole life and then for it to happen one week out of university is … well, I said it was a dream come true and I’m sure thinks that, too."

As a matter of fact, he most definitely does.

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