Canuck sons carry on family legacy
Ben Butcher, Jaret Babych honing their hockey craft under Harvey Smyl
VANCOUVER — A generation ago, timing deprived the Vancouver Canucks of a potential blue-line pairing of Dave Babych and Garth Butcher.
Butcher, the ferocious stay-at-home defenceman who spent nine National Hockey League seasons in Vancouver and is second only to Dave Williams in Canuck penalty minutes, was sent to the St. Louis Blues on March 5, 1991 in the blockbuster trade for Cliff Ronning, Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso and Robert Dirk.
Three months later, the Canucks replenished their defence by acquiring Babych from the Minnesota North Stars for Tom Kurvers.
Babych played the next seven seasons for the Canucks and was part of their Stanley Cup Final team in 1994.
Combined, Butcher and Babych logged 2,092 games, 929 points and 3,272 penalty minutes in the NHL. Between them, they had everything: size, toughness, skill, character. They would have made a dynamite pairing in the NHL.
“I don’t know how Dave would have felt about it, but I wouldn’t have minded at all,” Butcher, 50, said Thursday. “I could have protected that little guy.”
Babych, 52, who is 6-2 and played at about 225 pounds, laughed.
“Oh, I think it would have been pretty good,” he said. “I played with someone similar (to Garth) for a few years in Gerald Diduck, so I think we’d have been good.”
Twenty-two years later, there is hope for a Babych-Butcher partnership but not, to the former Canucks’ mock indignation, on defence.
Ben Butcher, 19, and Jaret Babych, 18, are forwards for the Chilliwack Chiefs and finished the B.C. Hockey League pre-season as linemates.
On Thursday, Jaret scored the winner in a 3-2 exhibition win against the Surrey Eagles. Ben drew an assist.
“Yeah, it’s pretty funny,” Ben said of the Canuck Connection. “We’ve both kind of lived this our whole lives (being the son of a Canuck) so it’s not too big a deal to us. I kind of knew Jaret through friends of friends, but didn’t really meet him until this season. He’s a really good guy.”
Ben, a 6-2, 190-pound centre, joined the Chiefs after playing last season in Langley, where he had 18 points in 54 games.
Jaret, a 5-10, 190-pound winger who had 17 points in 49 games last year, is starting his third season in Chilliwack.
The Chiefs are coached, as they have been for 16 years, by Harvey Smyl, the younger brother of Canuck legend Stan Smyl.
“I can relate to (Ben and Jaret) a little bit with an older brother who was an NHLer,” Harvey, 51, said Friday. “I know they’re very proud of their fathers and it’s incredible the support they get from their fathers. The boys really understand the game.
“These kids are all about wanting a chance to play; it’s not about getting a push from the parents. It’s a support thing more than anything.”
The Canuck alumni kids are trying to earn U.S. college scholarships for next season, which is why the Bauer BCHL Showcase tournament next weekend is as important as any league’s season-opening games.
The event, Friday to Sunday at Chilliwack’s Prospera Centre, features all 16 BCHL teams and last year drew 200 pro scouts and college recruiters. The Junior-A league has long been a pipeline to U.S. college hockey and last season, 151 BCHL players committed to programs.
“I definitely want to go to school and get a degree while playing hockey, and then we’ll see after that,” Jaret said. “As you get older, it really depends on what you do and not what happened (in hockey) in the past or who your family is.”
Jaret was four years old when his dad retired from the NHL in 1999. He has a few hazy memories of Dave playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. Ben was born the spring Garth retired from the Toronto Maple Leafs, in 1995.
Jaret grew up in North Vancouver and played minor hockey at the North Shore Winter Club. Dave works for the Canucks in their player-development department.
The Butchers are from Bellingham, Wash., where Garth moved his family after retiring. Garth coached Jaret in the tiny Whatcom County Amateur Hockey Association.
Incredibly, Jaret and Ben are each the fourth of five children in their families.
“And they all were forwards,” Babych said of his five boys. “I keep using this line — and none of them like it — but none of them were smart enough to play defence.
“These kids are making names for themselves and it just so happens that their dads played in the NHL. I’m proud of my son and I know Garth is the same. It’s great that they get to play with each other and Harvey, Stan’s brother, is the coach. So there’s all kinds of, I guess, family ties.
“People think these kids should be superstars (because of their names). Jaret didn’t make a triple-A team until he was in midget hockey. Nothing has been handed to him; he has worked his butt off for this. He has worked for everything himself and, for a parent, that makes this even more special.”
Ben Butcher, like Jaret, is his own player.
“Ben is more of a skill guy; I hate to admit it,” Garth joked. “He’s a forward with a good skills set and is going to be a big guy when he fills out. But he’s not as dirty a player as I was. He grew up in a small minor hockey association. He was a little guy who grew a whole lot in the last couple of years. I guess he’s a guy you would describe as a late bloomer, but he’s got a lot of potential with his hockey sense and his hands.”
Although they were never teammates, the dads established a friendship through the Canucks alumni association and from years of playing against one another.
There is a whole lot of NHL experience and hockey know-how peering over Harvey Smyl’s shoulder at the players’ bench.
“You get to know people, get to know parents, and I can honestly say with Garth and Dave I have no worries,” Smyl said. “They’re very, very supportive. We can go to them and get any kind of information or instructions we need. They’re not crazy hockey parents.”
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