Bobby Butler became an overnight sensation when a video the Milwaukee Admirals shot of him surprising his father with the news he had been selected for the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team went viral. More than one million views followed, and Butler’s story wound up splashing over countless social media timelines across the country.
Of course, overnight sensations are rarely ever that, and the video merely serves the greater good of exposing the world to a hard-working 30-year-old Marlborough native and veteran of 130 NHL games who’s still earning a great living while playing hockey in the American Hockey League.
Before going on to play at the University of New Hampshire, Butler grew up playing in the Triboro Youth Hockey program, followed by playing for his father at Marlborough High School (“State champs, 2005!,” he says proudly) plus midget hockey with the Boston Jr. Bruins where he won a junior championship two days later in 2005.
Now, Butler, a former Hockey East Player of the Year, Hobey Baker finalist and three-time AHL All-Star, can look forward to one of his career's crowning achievements: wearing the red, white and blue at the Olympic Winter Games.
“It's exciting,” Butler says. “There are a lot of things that go with it, but I'm fortunate enough to be part of the experience.”
Throughout his career, hard work has been a hallmark of Butler's success. And as a witness to so many players who have succeeded and so many players who have not, he sees a handful of traits that help pave a path to almost impossible achievement.
Here are Butler’s 5 keys to becoming a great player.
The ability to overcome failures will help keep players trained on where to go and grow from those failures.
“I think it's important to be able to battle, whether it's highs or lows, to continuously try to get better,” Butler says. “Just trying to prove people wrong, to have that chip on your shoulder, I think that's a really important thing to have. A lot of people had a knock on me, my skating, when I was figuring out where to play college, and I kind of used that – that they didn't think I was good enough.”
Of note, skating wasn’t Butler’s favorite thing to do as a young player.
“When I was little, I didn't enjoy the skating because there were no pucks and I wasn't able to shoot,” he says. “I told my dad I didn't want to do it. My dad made me work on it. Looking back, I should've done more of that.”
Yes, talent is required -- but not always in terms of physical gifts.
“I think a lot of that comes from working,” Butler says. “My summer day wasn't complete unless I worked out and shot pucks or did some speed work. I wasn't happy with my day until I broke a sweat and shot my hundred pucks and worked out.
“So you keep your talent, and you grow your talent. You have to do something every day, because there are kids out there who are doing something. If you go a day without getting something done, someone else out there is working a little harder than you.”
Success often comes from belief that success is possible. And it doesn’t have to mean creating anything but a positive environment.
“There's a fine line between arrogance and confidence,” Butler says. “And I think if you can stay on the confident side, it's just going to help you develop your game and help you get better – when you have a little swag. The more you practice, the more effective you're going to be. You don't have to be arrogant about it, but working out hard and working on speed and doing everything, you're going to be confident. And you see yourself getting better. Confidence is a big part of the game.”
If you hadn’t yet noticed, work ethic is the thread running through Butler’s career.
“Work is everything,” he says. “You need to work hard to be where you want to be. People with God-given talent, there's only a handful of those guys, so I think hard work separates boys for men. And that’s something I've worked with kids on during the summers when I train…The kids that are working hard and want to get better, those are the guys I see get better in front of my eyes. I think it’s something special.”
Even today, Butler, as one of the older players in the AHL, will not rest on his résumé.
“I'm 30-years-old and I still shoot pucks in my house like I'm 12-years-old,” he says. “I'm still getting my hundred pucks in a day. I still have goals over the summer. I'm still working out like I was when I was 12 or 13 or 14…The harder you work, the better off you are.”
Joy for the game
Butler was fortunate enough to grow up with his dad as a local legend, having coached the high school team for a quarter century. Young Bobby was hooked early, and he’s never really had to let go. And for that, he’s doubly fortunate.
“I was around the rink a lot,” he says. “I loved it. It's something special. I played a lot of hockey growing up, and I’m still fortunate to say that I haven't worked a regular job yet. All the hard work I've put into it when I was 12 is paying off now. And I tell the kids I talk to that their work will open doors at the next level. I was able to get a college education and still get to play hockey and live it. It's pretty special.”