RDC hockey Kings head coach Trevor Keeper had an idea of what he was getting when he recruited Tanner Butler prior to the 2014-15 Alberta Colleges Men’s Hockey League season.
“I watched him a lot in the Western Canadian (junior A) finals and the Royal Bank Cup, where he was one of the best defencemen there, and knew he was offensively gifted. What I didn’t know was how good of a defender he was, but that became apparent as soon as he got here,” said Keeper.
Butler joined the Kings after spending three seasons with the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League where he was the defenceman of the year in the 2012-13 season and top scorer among defencemen with 58 points.
‘That (award) helped me a lot, but it was still a little scary jumping into college. I was 21 coming into a league where you’re playing against guys 25 or 26. It was certainly different than junior, but as the years went on I developed into the player I should be,” said the 25-year-old native of Souris, MB.
Tanner felt it took time for him to develop, but not Keeper.
“Right from the beginning you could tell how good he was. Cody (associate coach Reynolds) was looking back the other day and saw by the end of the first month Tanner was in our top-four D-men.”
Butler was no stranger to playing top-four minutes.
“I was always in the top-two in junior … playing with the top players made me a better player. I felt I could be in the top-four here as well.”
He’s definitely one of the top defencemen on the Kings.
“He’s one of the more difficult players to play against one-on-one in practice,” said Keeper. “Guys will move to the back of the line, or switch spots so they can avoid him.”
As expected for a fifth-year player, he’s one of the team leaders.
“He’s a quiet leader. He doesn’t speak a lot but he’s respected and the guys look up to him,” added Keeper.
Butler played midget with the Southwest Cougars and was drafted in the 10th round (211th overall) in the 2008 WHL draft by the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“It would have been great to play there as Brandon is 30 minutes from my home town, but it didn’t work out,” said the five-foot-11, 185-pound Butler.
“I was hoping to go the college route and get a Div 1 scholarship to the States, but that wasn’t to be. But in the end it turned out great … I’m happy to play in Red Deer. I got comfortable here and we have a great group of guys.”
And playing five years?.
“That was the plan … play as long as I could.”
He got his kinesiology diploma and took a year of business.
“I wanted to play a year in the new facility, which is great,” he added.
While Tanner always had the offensive skills it took him a couple seasons to show exactly what he could do.
“It was a matter of getting my confidence,” he said.
Last season he was first team All-Conference and led the ACAC in scoring for defencemen with 33 points. This season he’s once again leading all D-men in scoring with 26 points on 10 goals and 16 helpers.
He’s now played more games (141) than anyone in RDC history and is second in team scoring with 108 points, behind only Erin Ginnell, who finished his four-year career with 157.
“I guess I’ll have to buckle down and catch him,” Butler said with a laugh as he Kings have only three regular season games remaining and three in his career,
“My career (here) is coming down the stretch, which is kind of sad, but still we’re in the playoffs which is exciting,” he said. “I would certainly like to leave with a championship.”
As for his future, that’s up in the air.
“I haven’t decided. If I get a chance to play at a higher level I’d take it, but we’ll see what happens.”
The Kings (15-7-1-1) have a shot at finishing in the top two in ACAC standing, but need to win today’s contest against the Grant MacEwan Griffins (18-5-1-0), which is set for 1:30 p.m. in Sylvan Lake. They finish their regular season with a pair of games on the road at Briercrest.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and Alberta Sports Hall of Fame member who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org