By Tim Schmitt<br><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">E-mail Tim</a>
LEWISTON — Although Dwyer Arena is a new home for the Buffalo Sabres’ developmental camp, little about the experience seems unfamiliar to defenseman Chris Butler.
The University of Denver product has already met and spent time with coaches and teammates at last year’s camp. When he sees South Buffalo native Tim Kennedy striding down the wing, there’s also a sense of deja vu. The pair spent two seasons with Sioux City of the United States Hockey League.
And even though Butler hasn’t played in Dwyer, he’s well acquainted with the Purple Eagles, who came to Denver for a series in early 2007.
The Pioneers swept Niagara in a two-game set between then-ranked opponents, although the first contest was a thriller. NU goalie Juliano Pagliero stopped 52 shots, but the hosts got a goal late in overtime to score a 2-1 victory.
“All I remember about that series is their goalie stood on his head,” Butler said of Pagliero.
But college is in Butler’s past. The 6-foot-1 blueliner signed a deal with the Sabres after a solid three-year career at DU, and was named a second-team All-American at the conclusion of his last season.
Although Butler had just 17 points last year, a drop from the 27 points he posted as a sophomore, he was the best defenseman on a team that entered the NCAA Tournament ranked fourth in the country, blocking a team-high 110 shots and leading the team in minutes played.
“He’s the ultimate two-way defenseman. He can and does provide offense, but he does it with minimal risk to his game,” current RPI head coach and former DU assistant Seth Appert told Inside College Hockey. “When he contributes offensively he does it by making great decisions. Chris is a rare defenseman that runs the first power play, but can also match against the other team’s top line.”
Butler probably would have been a team captain if he’d returned to Denver, and it’s likely he would have been on the map for the Hobey Baker, college hockey’s most valuable player award.
But although he’s leaving early, he said the experience is one he wouldn’t trade.
“There’s good and bad about both,” Butler said about the different routes of major juniors and college hockey. “But I really enjoyed my time in Denver. It’s a special place and a great town.”
Now, at another Sabres’ rookie camp — which continues today with sessions open to the public at Dwyer Arena from 3 to 5 p.m. — Butler finds himself preparing not for a season in Western Collegiate Hockey Association, but most likely with the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League.
“This is all about getting ready to compete for a job,” he said.