Heart racing. Palms sweating. Hands jittering. Legs quivering.
How did the Vancouver Canucks comfort Dustin Butler, the University of Calgary goaltender who was called up on an emergency basis Wednesday afternoon, as he stepped onto the ice for pre-game warm-up in his first ever NHL game?
They didn’t. They did the opposite. They let the 25-year-old Alberta native skate out alone.
It’s the oldest trick in the book, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely hilarious every single time.
“I didn’t know that was the plan,” laughed Butler post-game. “I saw Calgary going and they made me go first, I thought that was nice of them, then I looked back and there was nobody there, so I was kind of puzzled.”
Butler, a fifth year Calgary Dino studying in the Faculty of Arts, found himself in Canucks colours late Wednesday afternoon after word came out that Cory Schneider was unable to dress because he was ill. This moved Roberto Luongo, who had backed up Schneider for the previous 11 games, into the starting roll, leaving a vacancy behind him.
University of Calgary men’s hockey coach Mark Howell called Butler around noon and informed him of the opportunity of a lifetime, which led to quite the hectic afternoon for the goaltender.
Having taken advantage of practice ice in Red Deer of late, Butler didn’t have his equipment on hand and had to hightail it 90 minutes each way there and back in his Jeep. He made it to the team hotel just in time to hop on the team bus and before he knew it, a Butler #30 jersey was hanging in the stall next to Roberto Luongo.
Butler played it cool all day, never letting the urge to jump up and down like a kid on his way to Chuck E. Cheese's overcome him. He kept to himself and took it all in.
“I just watched and saw what they were doing,” he said. “I stayed out of their way, didn’t want to get in their way or interrupt their pre-game habits. It was just interesting to see how they all get ready for the game.
“At the end of the day it’s a hockey game, but you see all these guys on TV every morning and night, so it’s kind of actually nice to come in and see what they’re like away from the cameras and get to know them a bit.”
Butler faced a few shots in warm-up and the boys didn’t go easy on him as Ryan Kesler and Jannik Hansen (his WHL Portland Winterhawks teammate in 2005) both sniped pucks past him with ease. When warm-up ended, he assumed the backup position and plunked down on a wooden stool at the back right side of the Canucks bench.
That was almost the end of the story.
With the Canucks comfortably ahead by a pair of goals with less than three minutes to play in the third period, Vancouver went on the power play. The team’s play with the man advantage hasn’t exactly been stellar this season, so the Canucks on the bench made a little bet with Butler – they score, he goes in.
With 2:33 remaining in regulation, Daniel Sedin put the Canucks up 4-1 with a power play goal.
Here we go again: heart racing. Palms sweating. Hands jittering. Legs quivering.
“After they scored they all started yelling at the coach to put me in. It was all right by me just to sit and watch.”
Had there been a whistle during the last two minutes of play, coach Alain Vigneault said he might have actually put the youngster in.
Butler reiterated he was fine with not having entered the game, and, considering the memories and memorabilia he left with, that's understandable.
Dan Hamhuis grabbed the game puck and presented it to him post-game, while Alex Burrows passed around Luongo’s stick for everyone to sign. The #30 Butler jersey was his to keep as well.
Wide-eyed and full of adrenaline, Butler was asked if he’ll be able to sleep later on.
“Probably not,” he replied, “I’ll be up all night finishing a history paper I have due in the morning.”
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