As the younger brother of 2013-14 North American Hockey League Most Valuable Player Alec Butcher, it’d be tempting to think Evan Butcher’s spot on the Kenai River Brown Bears was practically a given.
That thinking would be wrong, ignoring that Evan was actually cut from Dimond’s junior varsity team as a freshman on the fourth day of tryouts.
“I woke up at 5 a.m. and got to the rink at 6 a.m. to skate, and I was cut right there,” said Butcher, 19, of Anchorage. “It hit me in the face. It was a good reality check.
“I can’t complain about how it turned out. I ended up with the Brown Bears.”
It’s not like the Dimond coaches didn’t know the pedigree of Evan, son of Laurie and Allen Butcher. Alec had been a part of a West team that defeated Dimond 2-0 in the 2010 state final, and Allen had played hockey for the University of Alaska Anchorage.
But all that didn’t matter when the Dimond coaches saw Evan on the ice. Butcher would end up playing his freshman and sophomore years with the Tier I AAA Las Vegas Storm.
“I always had the talent, I just didn’t have the size,” said Butcher, listed at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, on the Bears roster. “At the (Dimond) tryouts, I was the smallest player on the ice.
“I knew when I went down there, I had to find a way to get bigger. I tell that story to guys that come in here. I tell them never to give up on their dreams.”
As a junior, while Alec was putting up MVP numbers in the NAHL, Evan moved to the Pikes Peak (Colorado) Miners and head coach Greg Vanover. Butcher began getting the attention of Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant.
“When Evan went to Pikes Peak, coach Vanover worked with Evan on his game and helped him get to a level where he could compete in the NAHL,” Beauparlant said.
Evan proved that when he played in two Brown Bears games as an affiliate player in 2013-14.
In an only-in-Hollywood moment, Evan scored on his first shift with the Bears, assisted by Alec.
It was an unforgettable moment for the brothers that had grown up skating each day after school on Delong Pond with, among others, Kenny and Christian Hausinger.
The Hausingers are playing in the Tier I United States Hockey League this season and are committed to join Alec at Division I Sacred Heart University next season.
Evan said that first NAHL goal is something he won’t forget.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “We looked at each other like, ‘Holy crap.’
“My mom was crying in the stands. I think it had more of an impact on my parents than it did on me.”
Despite the quick start in the NAHL, Butcher learned how tough the league could be last season. He was limited to 36 games by shoulder and jaw injuries, getting three goals and nine assists.
“I knew I had to put on more weight, get in better shape and get more physical so I could last longer on the ice,” Butcher said on what he learned in his first full season. “I came in with a different mentality.”
Butcher has now worked out for four years at Elite Sports Performance in Anchorage, which is operated by University of Alaska Anchorage hockey assistant Louis Mass.
As someone with a Division I goal, Butcher said it’s clear he needs more strength when he sees Dax Lauwers, a former Northeastern skater and current pro, cleaning 250 pounds like it’s nothing.
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot stronger being around good hockey players and seeing what they do,” Butcher said. “I do what they do and try and pick up good habits.”
Butcher also gets in on the summer pro skate in Anchorage that includes players such as Scott Gomez.
“It’s cool going on the ice with those guys, but you’re definitely holding your stick a little tighter,” Butcher said. “It’s only going to get you better.”
Beauparlant said all of that work has allowed Butcher to emerge this season, particularly in the last month.
“He’s a guy that’s worked very, very hard,” Beauparlant said. “It’s not easy playing in your brother’s shadow, especially on the same team where your brother was the league MVP.
“He’s really coming into his own as to who he is as a person and his identity as a player. Because of that he’s performing better and is taking the pressure off of himself.”
Butcher has four goals and four assists in 21 games, but also has three goals and two assists in his last eight games.
Both Beauparlant and Evan agree that Evan’s strength is playmaking, while Alec is a goal scorer.
“He creates opportunities with his feet and stick play,” Beauparlant said of Evan. “He has very good vision when he does get the puck on his stick.
“He knows he needs to continue to work on his shot, shot accuracy and his strength.”
Butcher, the billet son of Dawne and Ski Kitowski of Kenai, said he is enjoying his time on the Peninsula. He said he will spend a lot of his summers here as well, hanging out at a friend’s fish camp and skating at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility.
He has one more season of junior eligibility left after this season.
“The last month or so, he’s really taken steps forward to becoming a young man,” Beauparlant said. “He’s only 19, and a young 19 because he’s got an October birthday, which makes a difference.
“He’s definitely coming into his own and it’s exciting to see him doing that.”