It’s been a long time since Stan Butler had to move to coach junior hockey.
After two years as head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals, Butler, a resident of Scarborough, relocated to northern British Columbia and assumed the same position with the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League, taking them to the Western Conference final in 1996-97.
Butler returned east after his lone WHL season to become the Brampton Battalion’s first and only director of hockey operations and head coach. He’s been commuting ever since.
But after the Troops conclude their 15th and final season in Brampton, Butler will pack up and move to North Bay, where the Battalion begins play next season as the first OHL team in the city since the Centennials moved to Saginaw and became the Spirit after the 2001-02 season.
“It’s an evolution for me,” Butler said before a recent practice. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get enough fans to support the team in Brampton. It will be a new chapter for me, leaving my roots in the Toronto area.”
Butler has made several trips to North Bay since the move was announced in November, performing tasks such as investigating school options and overseeing the acquisition of billets and medical staff.
“I’ve been managing the team here and at the same time making sure everything is getting done so we’re ready to go next year. I’ve been up to North Bay a fair amount, and there’s a lot of work to be done. I think when it’s all done it’ll be pretty exciting for the kids who are going. It’s a town that’s really excited to get junior hockey back. The renovations to the arena should be great. From what I can see, North Bay looks like a beautiful city to live in.”
Butler said the move to a smaller community will bring more scrutiny for the players.
“They’ll learn there’ll be a lot more pressure on them on a daily basis. There’s a daily newspaper and TV and radio. There’ll be a lot of people there with a lot of passion for the game, and it might seem like a miniature NHL for the kids.
“With pressure come expectations, and a lot will depend on how our guys handle that. I know when the teams in North Bay were good, the support was very strong, and when they didn’t have good teams the support wasn’t as strong. We need to put a good team on the ice every season and, if we do that, I’m sure the people up there will be very happy. If we don’t do that, we’ll be opening ourselves to criticism.”
The presence of hundreds of North Bay fans at three Battalion road games against the Sudbury Wolves since the move was announced heralds the resumption of a spirited rivalry between the Northern Ontario centres.
“The rivalry with Sudbury will be huge and something exciting to be a part of,” said Butler. “The fan interest from both sides will be pretty high.”
Butler said he’ll be sad when the final whistle blows on the Battalion’s time in Brampton.
“I’ve spent many years here; it’s been a big part of my life. There have been a lot of players who have gone through here. There are a lot of great memories in this place. Everyone in Brampton has always treated me well.
“Am I excited about going to North Bay? Yes, I am, because it’s the start of something new, but I’ll be extremely sad to see it end here. I feel bad for the people here since it didn’t work and they’re going to lose out on a very good brand of hockey.”