The New York Islanders - along with every other NHL team and many other businesses - have temporarily suspended operations due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. The Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have strongly advised the public to practice self-quarantining and avoid close contact and crowds to limit the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gather in a virtual space and talk about old hockey players.
As long as the Islanders are on pause, we’ll run this series to give folks a place to chat, reminisce, and generally relieve the stress of the times.
The selections for this series are totally at random. I try to pick players that don’t get talked about a lot (or at least, I don’t think they do...) across various eras in Islanders history. Other than that, there’s no rhyme or reason behind them. I am keeping track of suggestions, so some of them will appear eventually.
But sometimes, a name just magically appears out of nowhere and begs to be included, even if one of his ex-Islanders teammates was already written about this week. It was as if the hockey gods themselves decided to suggest an Islander of the Day candidate and manipulated time and space to put him into my head. So what if he played with Brad Isbister?
I had not thought about defenseman Sven Butenschön in many, many years before Wednesday, when he appeared in none other than Elliotte Friedman’s indefatigable 31 Thoughts column. Friedman spent the majority of the time talking to Junior players about their seasons that got cut short, including goalie Rylan Toth of the University of British Columbia. Going into overtime after blowing a lead and with a Canada West Conference title on the line, Toth and his teammates listened to the wise words of their coach, one Sven Butenschön.
“Sven was the first one in our room, during the intermission. He told us, ‘We’re gonna have some bad bounces along the way. Why can’t we win this?’ His approach is about positivity, one of the most caring and genuine people you’ll ever meet. He wants the best for you, wants to do anything he can to help. That goes a long way.”
Auston Vetterl scored at 12:52 of overtime to win it for UBC.
Butenschön has actually been the head coach of the Thunderbirds since 2016, and led them to their first conference title in forever. That’s pretty cool. But that wasn’t the only Sven Butenschön mention of the week.
In his “The Best Players to Wear Every Jersey Number in Islanders History” article, Arthur Staple named Butenschön as the best No. 64 in team history. No disrespect to the big man with the small beard, but the competition for that title couldn’t have been all that stiff...
Butenschön actually wore three numbers for the Islanders: 64, 44 and, perhaps most memorably, 52. That amount of jerseys is one more than the amount of goals he scored in an eight year career for four different teams.
The Islanders were Butenschön’s third stop. Drafted by the Penguins in the third round of the 1994 draft, the German-born defenseman had grown up in Winnipeg and had a standout junior career for the Brandon Wheat Kings. The 6’-4” defender wasn’t a big offensive producer, but could be a handful in front of the net. Starting in 1997-98, he spent four seasons getting called up to Pittsburgh for a few games before heading back to the AHL. In fact, here he is squaring off with Islanders legend Mick Vukota in an IHL game from 1998.
In March of 2001, Butenschön was traded to the Oilers for ex-Islanders draft pick, Dan LaCouture, and again was a first call-up type and not yet a regular NHLer.
He signed with the Panthers as a free agent in 2002, but was traded shortly thereafter to the Islanders for former defensive prospect Juraj Kolnik and a ninth (!) round pick. I have no actual memory of that trade, only that one day, Howie Rose kept saying “Bootenshonnn” during games and made him sound like kind of a big deal.
Turns out, it was more of a big deal for Big Sven than anyone else. It was with the Islanders that Butenschön got the most regular NHL shifts of his career, even if he was often either playing for the Sound Tigers or a healthy scratch. He played 37 games in 02-03 and 41 in 03-04, both career highs when they happened. After collecting just four assists in his first season as an Islander, he picked up a goal and six assists in Year 2. Butenschön’s 11 points as an Islander are the most he had with any team. By, like, a lot. His only four playoff games also came in an Islanders uniform, in the 2004 first round series against the Lightning.
Interestingly, for a large man who was defensive defenseman and who wasn’t shy about fighting, Butenschön wasn’t a frequent collector of penalty minutes, and topped out at just 86 PIMs in 140 career regular season games.
That said, here he is in another fight, this time with frequent Islanders killer Ryan Malone.
With the NHL in Lockout II, he signed with Adler Mannheim in Germany for the 04-05 season. When he returned to the NHL it was with Vancouver, where he signed as a free agent. But after just eight games as a Canuck and a ton with the Manitoba Moose, Butenschön returned to Alder Mannheim and would spend the next five seasons with them. He also played for Germany in the 2010 Olympics and two World Championships. His last two seasons were spent with a German team called the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers, which sounds like a solo album by the rhythm guitarist of Accept.
Because this is the 21st century, there is, of course, a tribute video to Sven Butenschön on YouTube. But be warned: this might have the worst music I’ve ever heard in my life playing in the background.
When I read the name Sven Butenschön, I invariably hear it said in Howie Rose’s voice. It’s cool knowing that Butenschön’s voice is resonating with some potential players of tomorrow, even if the man himself didn’t resonate a ton in the NHL.