Calgary Herald

Butler makes great strides


When his seeping chin wound is pointed out by a bystander, Chris Butler shrugs. “Standard.” This latest gouge, courtesy of Thursday’s skirmish against the Vancouver Canucks, brings Butler’s cut-count to five.

In recapping the gashes, the Calgary Flames defender touches four spots on his noggin and another on his left thigh.

“Stitches here, here, here, here, and the leg,” Butler said after Friday morning’s practice at the Westside Recreation Centre. “We’ve added them up — 51 stitches in total. Way too many. Way too many. I hate needles. And I think you’ll definitely see me with a visor next year.”

It’s all part of an eventful — and occasional­ly painful — first campaign in Calgary.

Perhaps most agonizing for Butler had been that fateful night in Boston. The events of Jan. 5 didn’t have him in stitches — medically (or mirthfully) — but they did leave a mark.

These days, however, the young man can grin about it. Sort of.

“It’s more of a laughing point than anything.”

Butler, in a 9-0 rollover to the Bruins, had been saddled with a minus-seven. Which deadlocked him for the worstever single-game rating. (Decent company, though — Doug Wilson, from a groaner of a game in 1993.)

“An interestin­g way to get in the nhl record books,” said Butler. “I could probably go out (today), turn over 30 pucks, and not end up minus-seven. It’s something you shrug off now. I can smile about it. My buddies back home gave me a hard time. I got a lot of texts from former teammates, giving me a hard time. It’s all good now.”

Shortly after suffering that indignity — during the morning skate prior to a home date against the Minnesota Wild — coach Brent Sutter glided over for a word.

“We had a chuckle about it,” recalled Butler. “He said, ‘Look, just put it past you. Just worry about tonight.’ That was a reassuring feeling. you have good games, bad games. games where you’re plus-this, minus-that. Hopefully, I play for a long time and I can look back 10 years from now and say, ‘What an unbelievab­le stat that is.’ ”

Everyone knew this was going to be an education for Butler.

Shortly after acquiring him in the Robyn Regehr trade with the Buffalo Sabres, Flames general manager Jay Feaster described Butler as a No. 5 defenceman, with terrific upside. A blink later? Butler is being installed as the No. 2 man, alongside Jay Bouwmeeste­r.

Meaning top-pairing minutes, toppairing opposition. Which is where he stayed. “Great learning experience,” the 25-year-old said. “It’s fun knowing that every night you’re going out to face some of the best players in the world. Your goal is to shut them down. Did we succeed at that every night? Probably not. But I definitely felt I got better, gained more confidence. It’ll only benefit me going forward.”

With that responsibi­lity, there are no soft assignment­s.

So Butler played 21:37 nightly — that, after being an 18-minute man in Buffalo.

“That’s what keeps you on your toes,” he said. “You don’t want to go into a game knowing you’re only going to play 12 minutes and you can sleep through the night and play against the other team’s fourth line — I say that jokingly. It’s fun. It helps with preparatio­n. It helps you mature as a player.”

In 67 games — he missed 14 after having his leg flayed by Miikka Kiprusoff’s skate blade — he registered 15 points, going minus-11. So, a satisfacto­ry season? “When it’s right there, I don’t think you get the clearest point of view on how things went,” said the St. Louis native. “So I’ll go home, have a couple weeks of nothing . . . then reassess how I played.” Besides, there’s still work to do. With the Anaheim Ducks in town, it means that Butler will get an eyeful of the likes of Selanne, Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan. Another night walking the beat — even with little at stake.

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