Wisconsin assistant coach Bill Butters (center, gray jacket) coaches his final game from the Badger bench Saturday. - Larry Radloff/INCHWriters.com
Wednesday brought the shocking news of assistant coach Bill Butters' resignation, which has created what head coach Mike Eaves called the Badgers' 'perfect storm.'
After two seasons of subpar play that resulted in the Wisconsin hockey team not making the NCAA tournament, the pressure was on the Badgers coming into the 2012-13 campaign.
Things certainly haven't exactly gotten off to the best start.
The hits started coming even before the Wisconsin played its first game this season. Blue-chip freshman Nic Kerdiles was suspended for the first 10 games of the season by the NCAA for a violation of the amateurism code.
Things continued to worsen when star top line center Mark Zengerle broke a finger on his left hand Saturday night and will miss the next 4-to-6 weeks.
The Badgers' play on the ice has left much to be desired as well, as their 1-4-1 start to the season shows.
Then on Wednesday came the shocking news of the resignation of assistant coach Bill Butters, which has created what head coach Mike Eaves calls Wisconsin's "perfect storm."
"This is our version of the perfect storm Sandy," Eaves said. "I mean, how does that happen where all that stuff comes together and hits New York, and all those people? This is our version."
"We've got the Nic Kerdiles (suspension), the Mark Zengerle (injury), the coach Butters (resignation) just happening at the same time. We, too, will survive, and we'll carry forth."
Adversity can help a team come together, and Wisconsin will try to use this as a chance to band as brothers heading forward.
"Seems like we're going through a number of untimely things right now," Eaves said. "This is not ideal, but neither were those other two things (Kerdiles & Zengerle). That's life. We will look at what our options are, and control what we can control and move forward."
No one has been happy with Wisconsin's start to the season, but certainly no one saw this coming, including Eaves.
"It was a surprise, there's no question. Never being one just to roll over, I challenged [Butters] a couple times," he said. "Throughout our discussions it became clear where his heart was, and what he needed to do."
Butters came to the Badgers in fall 2010, along with former Badger Gary Shuchuk when the program was forced to replace two assistant coaches. At the time, Mark Osiecki left to take the head coaching job with Ohio State and Kevin Patrick left to take the head coaching job with Muskegon in the USHL.
Prior to his time on the Badgers' bench, Butters was an assistant coach with his alma mater Minnesota starting in 1985 and ending in 1995.
Between his stints as a college hockey coach, Butters worked with Hockey Ministries, where he was an advocate for athletes looking for an outlet to discuss their faith.
Butters said on Wednesday that he feels that role is his true calling, and that's where he needs to focus his time going forward.
"This is about my calling on my life," Butters said. "In 1980, I felt called by God to get into ministry, to tell players about faith, or share faith with them.
"I did that for a number of years, and that's where my true passion lies."
Butters talked about an experience he had while speaking to a group a few weeks ago and noted that this decision has been ongoing for the past four weeks.
"I spoke in Eau Claire a few weeks ago and it reminded me where my passion really is," Butters said. "It's about helping men know they can be men. That they can be true to their wives, that if a marriage is failing, that God can restore that marriage. It's about telling hockey players about faith."
The decision to leave now seems precarious given the Badgers' 1-4-1 start, but Butters feels that the decision is best for the program.
"Why after a 1-4-1 start? Because I don't want us to go 1-8-1," Butters said. "I thought if my passion isn't with helping guys have one hand on their stick and bending their knees, then they better get a guy in here that has that passion."
"And not that I wasn't doing that, but I didn't know how effective I was doing that. And I know that I'm effective sharing my faith in God."
Wisconsin's defensive core has been up and down at times early this season transitioning out of the Justin Schultz era, but Butters feels like the team needed to make a change.
"I think I was making an impact, but not as much as needed to be," Butters said. "We have a young defensive core, and they just need a guy who is going to get them better, quicker.
"In the long run, my passion is telling my faith story."
Eaves will start looking for an interim coach immediately, and he informed the team this afternoon of Butters' decision. Obviously, the team was surprised.
"We as a program, we shared it with the boys this afternoon," Eaves said. "Definite shock in their faces. Like most things, like losing a player in the middle of a game you have to carry on."
"We will go to the next step of looking for an interim coach. Start putting together a short list of people. It's never as easy as that process, as there are things that have to be met and are required, but we'll start working towards that now."
Obviously it's going to be tough to replace Butters at this point in the season, as most coaches already have jobs at this point.
"We'll create a short list, and we'll follow up with resumes," Eaves said. "Most people are going to have jobs right now, for one thing. It's not going to be an easy process."
Eaves noted that it's important that they find the right guy, not just anybody to replace his long time friend.
"We feel comfortable handling the duties moving forward," he said. "We're not just going to find a person, we're going to find the right person and get them on board with us."
Butters is confident that the Badgers can move on from this and come out ahead.
"If you watch the practices, if you watch the games, Mike Eaves is a capable coach, and so is Gary Shuchuk," Butters said. "Mike Eaves is a quality coach. I've been in hockey my whole life, and he's the most well prepared coach there is. Gary is a young coach, but he's a great coach and he has tremendous passion for the sport."
While some may consider the timing of the move unnerving, Butters thinks the move is in the best interest of the program.
"I don't think I'm leaving them in the lurch," Butters said. "I think this is a necessary ending for the betterment of the team. Sometimes necessary endings are tough, but I have to answer this call in my life."
Butters noted that the coaches and his daughter made attempts to talk him out of this decision, but it's something that he felt he needed to do.
"I'm at peace with this decision," Butters said. "I'm answering the call of my life, and hopefully you guys can understand that."
Butters may have played and coached at Minnesota, but he has really become part of the Badger family over the past two-plus seasons in Madison.
"I've always had the utmost of respect for this program because of the fans and they way they run their program," Butters said. "But being an insider here and seeing the passion that Gary and Mike have, and the passion that fans have, and the band has, and the college atmosphere, this has truly been the greatest experience as a coach that I've had."
If Butters' heart isn't in coaching at Wisconsin anymore, you can't blame him for being man enough to step away so that someone else with more desire can make an impact.
"That's where I feel my calling is," Butters said. "It's not to tell hockey players about slap shots, but it's to tell them about Jesus. That's where my passion is."
Eaves certainly seems to believe that this move is in the best interest of both the program, as well as Butters.
"In the end, I believe in my heart that he's doing the right thing."
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