Alec Butcher of the Kenai River Brown Bears was named the Easton Hockey North American Hockey League Forward of the Month on Monday by the league.
Butcher is the first Brown Bears player in the organization’s seven-year history to earn a montly honor, whether it be forward, defenseman or goalie.
“I’m excited and very happy the league chose me, and I’m very humbled by their choice,” said Butcher, 19, of Anchorage. “I couldn’t have done it without the team around me.”
Butcher said the award would not have been possible without the team’s success.
Before losing twice to the Austin (Minn.) Bruins last weekend, the Bears had the most points in the league. They are currently 12-5-0, good for 24 points and second place in the Midwest Division.
“He’s played very well for us and he’s been a leader,” Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Anytime a player earns an award like this, it’s a cumulative effort of not just one guy but his linemates and the success of the organization thus far.
“When you do well as a team, individual stars usually shine, and that’s what Alec has done the first two months of the season.”
Butcher leads the league with 23 points on 10 goals and 13 assists. He has been so consistent that he was runner-up for Forward of the Month for September.
Beauparlant said Butcher has a point in 15 of 17 games, and has only been a minus in three games.
In October, he tallied 11 points and was plus-10, making him plus-14 for the year.
“He has improved his all-around game since last year,” Beauparlant said. “He’s better in the defensive zone, more responsible, and that leads to offensive chances.”
Last season for Kenai River, Butcher had 30 points in 41 games and finished plus-11. In the offseason, Butcher said he worked on his skating and on being the smartest player on the ice.
Beauparlant said he thought Butcher could raise his game to another level after last season, and was happy to see Butcher came into training camp thinking the same way.
“Right from the start of training camp, he was in good shape and he focused on small goals week to week to keep his mind focused,” Beauparlant said.
Oliver David, the head coach of the Brown Bears last year, often lauded the chemistry between Butcher and fellow Anchorage forward Alex Jackstadt last season.
With Jackstadt off in the United States Hockey League this year, Butcher has answered questions about how he would play without his Anchorage running mate.
Butcher gave the credit to Swedish linemates Albin Karlsson (6-12—18) and Sebastian Fuchs (6-9—15).
“I think that I’m surrounded with equal talent, if not better,” Butcher said. “Albin and Sebastian are great players.”
Added Beauparlant: “When you lose a high-end player like Alex Jackstadt, you never know how other players will react. Alec took it as a challenge to show he could be a solid player no matter who he was playing with.
“His work ethic, whether at the gym or at the rink, elevates the games of all the players. He demands so much of himself.”
Last season, Butcher, who led West High to a state hockey title as a sophomore, came to the Brown Bears after playing in the British Columbia Hockey League.
At the time, Butcher said he was not producing a lot in the BCHL because he was not playing center.
This season, Butcher often has not played center on the Bears’ top line, but is still producing.
“He can play any three of the forward positions and be just as effective,” Beauparlant said. “I firmly believe that.
“He’s an all-around hockey player. He’s developed that piece of his game. He’s going to end up being a fine college hockey player.”
When the West Division did not have enough teams to compete, the Bears joined the Midwest Division this year. While that has meant more travel, Butcher said playing in the Midwest has made a difference in getting noticed by colleges.
“I’ve talked to a few schools,” Butcher said. “I’m trying to find the program that is the right fit for me, whether that’s next year, the year after, or whether I ever go at all.
“I just want to keep playing hockey and working hard. That’s my No. 1 focus.”
Beauparlant said Butcher’s honor is another milestone for the organization.
“From the top down, our priorities are community, college and competition,” the coach said. “That’s foremost in all our minds, whether it’s the staff, volunteers or players.
“A lot of people forget we’re still a young organization relative to others in the league. We’re learning to provide better value for the players and that is starting to show through.”