Brown Bears’ Butcher named MVP of NAHL

The workout plan of Alec Butcher for the summer sounds a lot like his trajectory as a North American Hockey League player.

A quick ascent to the top, then enjoy the view.

The postseason plaudits kept on coming for Anchorage’s Butcher on Wednesday, when he was named Most Valuable Player and Forward of the Year in voting by the NAHL’s coaches.

That comes on the heels of Tuesday, when he was named to the Midwest All-Division team and the All-NAHL team.

Butcher, son of Laurie and Allen Butcher and billet son of Lisa and Dan Zulkanycz, is the first player in franchise history to get All-NAHL, Forward of the Year and MVP honors.

Committed to play Division I hockey for Sacred Heart University next year, one couldn’t help but think about Butcher’s path as a Brown Bears player when he talked about his training program for the summer.

Butcher wants to get on what he called the Conor Deal program — named after his mountain goat and Mount Marathon veteran teammate — and climb plenty of mountains to improve leg strength.

But don’t expect to see him toeing the line with Deal on July 4 in Seward.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “It’s more for recreation and fun. I like to climb mountains to enjoy the view at the top. I don’t want to get to the top and say bye.”

When Butcher arrived in Soldotna in November 2012, he was merely a hiker stepping from the car and craning his neck upward to peer at the day’s journey.

He had success in high school, scoring the most points on a West team that won the state title his sophomore year. He spent his next two seasons with the Pikes Peak Miners in Colorado, getting first-team all-league honors in 2011-12.

But Butcher’s career stalled the next season in Canadian junior hockey before he came to the Bears.

Butcher said the main thing the Bears gave him was opportunity. Last season, he played with future Division I forwards Alex Jackstadt and Albin Karlsson and put up 10 goals and 20 assists in 41 games, finishing plus-11.

This season, his main line was Karlsson and another future Division I forward, Sebastian Fuchs, and he had 24 goals and a league-high 42 assists in playing all 60 regular-season games. His 66 points also led the league, and he finished plus-20 as the only Kenai River player to appear in every game.

Butcher said his improvement this season was due to mind-set and offseason work aimed at strengthening his legs.

Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant agreed, harkening back to a talk he had with Butcher upon being named head coach in the summer of 2013.

“He kept saying that he was going to be the guy, not that he wanted to be,” Beauparlant said. “He was going to be the guy the staff could rely on in any situation, whether it was penalty kill or down a goal with a minute left.

“He wanted that pressure. When you set those types of goals, you take a lot on, and don’t have a choice but to succeed.”

When Beauparlant shuffled the lines to try to get secondary scoring, Butcher still was able to get points without the help of Karlsson and Fuchs.

“Whatever line he played with, he made the guys around him better,” Beauparlant said.

The Bears had a tough schedule, with 21 of 60 regular-season games coming against teams that would make the Robertson Cup final.

Sixteen of those games came against the regular-season champ Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Butcher had four goals and 13 assists against Fairbanks, in all probability keeping the Ice Dogs from sweeping the four major awards Wednesday.

Fairbanks was the Organization of the Year, while Trevor Stewart was Coach of the Year and Rob Proffitt was General Manager of the Year.

But Beauparlant pointed out that each coach in the league gets a vote, so Butcher had to do more than just produce against Fairbanks.

“Because it’s a leaguewide vote, he impressed a number of coaches along the way, not just in our division but outside the division, whether we were in Texas or the Midwest,” he said. “That speaks to his consistency.”

Butcher also had to overcome injury to play in all 60 games, including getting struck under the eye by a puck and getting struck on the wrist by a slap shot.

“He said it best with a couple of his injuries, ‘If it’s not broken, I want to play,'” Beauparlant said. “It comes down to mind-set and mind over matter.

“He was not going to get caught up in it and take a day off. I don’t think he ever took a day off on the ice.”

Butcher thanked his teammates for the role they played in the award, and said the award was good for the Kenai River organization.

But he left no doubt what he really wanted, and what would have been better for the organization — beating nemesis Fairbanks in the first round of the playoffs.

“Obviously, this award is good for the name (of the Kenai River organization),” Butcher said. “But I would have rather won a playoff series and be in the position to compete for the championship.

“I’m tired of being in the position of being the little brother.”

Kenai River lost the series in five games, with Butcher keying a Game 2 victory with a hat trick. Butcher had three other assists in the series and was plus-4.

The Bears lost Game 5 3-2 in overtime, and a measure of Butcher’s competitiveness is he left no doubt the series still has left a bitter taste in his mouth as the Dogs gear up to host the Austin (Minnesota) Bruins in the Robertson Cup finals Friday.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t win the playoff series in overtime or with three seconds left,” Butcher said. “We were right there. We really were.”

While the Bears are tired of being the little brother of Fairbanks, they are optimistic about the little brother of Butcher. Alec will be gone next season, but there is a chance Evan Butcher, with a 1996 birthdate, could make the team.

Evan had two goals in two games as an affiliate player with the Bears this season.

“We’ve spoken with Evan about being his own player,” Beauparlant said. “He’s not gonna be Alec and Alec is not gonna be him.

“He’s up for the challenge and has an exciting opportunity to try out for next season.”

Alec has the same opportunity at Sacred Heart.

“My speed, puck sense and ability to make plays all have to quicken up for Division I hockey,” he said.

Bears notes: Bears goalie Kris Oldham of Anchorage has been invited to the Warren Strelow National Team Goaltending Camp. Beauparlant said this means that Oldham is one of the top handful of goalies with a 1997 birthdate in the entire country. … The pre-draft camps for the Bears are approaching. There are camps May 16 to 18 in Littleton, Colorado, and Columbus, Ohio. The Anchorage camp is May 30 to June 1 at the Subway Sports Center.

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