Butler hockey team could be force in Class AAA this season
Expectations are high for the Butler hockey team.
With a bevy of young players, the Golden Tornado finished last year with a 10-12 record (its best since 2003-04) and reached the postseason — its first playoff berth in nearly 10 years.
After finishing with a 1-21 record two years ago, Butler's breakthrough 2012-13 campaign not only resurrected its program, it set the stage for the squad to take another step this year.
“I think we all saw it coming down the pike three years ago; we added up the numbers and we thought we'd have close to a dozen seniors,” Butler coach Mike Guentner said. “We knew it was going to be special just based on the age groups and who would filter up to be seniors all together.”
Guentner, in his second full season as head coach, set forth to build a strong program. It all started in the preseason, and the team has gone to Jamestown, N.Y., for a preseason camp the past two years.
“We didn't have preseason preparation before,” he said. “I thought part of building a winning culture was having a preseason camp and leaving town to get away for a bit and come together as a team. We went up there for three days in mid-August.
“They were some long days. We started at 5:30 a.m. and were done by 9 p.m. We were on the ice four hours a day and had some conditioning. We went bowling and swimming, too, but we wanted to expose these players to what it's like to play Junior A hockey. We are a developmental program; we don't talk about winning, but more about how to move these players on to the next level. That next level should be juniors. A big part of what we want to do is move them on and expose them to what all the levels look like.”
Butler also took another team trip to Western Michigan University, Guentner's alma mater, last weekend to check out some college hockey action.
“We went to see a game, toured the campus and locker room,” he said. “On the way back from Kalamazoo, we stopped at Kent State to see an ACHA game. We have 10 seniors and all are trying to find a hockey home.”
The Golden Tornado's preparation paid off as the team played for the St. Margaret Foundation Fall Faceoff tournament championship. While not part of PIHL play, the tournament offers a preview of what teams can expect. There were 20 squads from various classifications competing against each other at the tournament. Butler fell to Seneca Valley in a shootout in the title game.
“We had a good feeling; I don't think we'll surprise some teams. Most teams around the league knew we were going to be good,” Guentner said. “I know the benefits of winning a preseason tournament. I think it was actually a good thing to lose the way we did to see how we could respond to some adversity early in the season.”
Butler responded in a positive manner by overcoming a 3-0 deficit against Seneca Valley for a 4-3 triumph in the teams' PIHL opener. The Golden Tornado gained a spark by juggling its lineup. Normally, Troy Double, Nick Whann and Tanner Chuba are atop the team's first line, but Butler's players were all over the ice and may remain that way.
Butler then defeated State College, 5-3, in its second game behind two goals from Joseph DiMartino.
“We really don't have any set lines yet. We're playing with whatever works,” Guentner said. “Depending on who we see down the road, we may shake things up.”
The Golden Tornado returns eight of its top 10 scorers from last year and added other key players in Jordan Krajnikovich, Connor Scott and transfer Marcus McCall, who played for Ford City last season.
Logan Rothbauer is back between the pipes, while Jonathan Fair can be a force on a defense that includes Justin Wehrli, Dalton Scott, Chris Campbell and Dylan Rice.
“I argue we have one of the best defensemen in the PIHL in Johnny Fair, and he is only a sophomore,” Guentner said. “One of his goals is to be someone among the top seven point-getters for defensemen in Class AAA. He makes good decisions, sees the ice well, and he has a rocket of a shot.
“We just hope to continue working hard and doing the little things.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.