Anyone associated with the present-day American Hockey League owes a debt of gratitude to Jack A. Butterfield, the long-time executive who was born 100 years ago today.
During a 28-year term as league president, Butterfield’s passion, innovative talent and fiscal know-how solidified the American Hockey League when faced with the twin threat of NHL expansion and the emergence of the World Hockey Association in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. His efficiency and demeanor earned Butterfield a host of admirers, none more important than NHL president Clarence Campbell.
Born August 1, 1919, the native of Regina, Sask., played amateur hockey until a back injury suffered while serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II took him off the ice for good. Butterfield became a public relations executive and part-time trainer for the AHL’s New Haven Eagles, working for his uncle, Eddie Shore.
After stints in United States Hockey League and the Pacific Coast League, Butterfield returned to the AHL to serve as the rink manager, concessions manager, trainer, coach and eventually general manager of the Springfield Indians, overseeing the only back-to-back-to-back Calder Cup champions in AHL history (1960, 1961, 1962).
Butterfield joined the administration of the AHL in 1957 as the Indians’ alternate governor and became league president nine years later. In that role, Butterfield took on several arduous tasks, most significantly the restructuring of the league’s joint affiliation agreement with the NHL to allow AHL teams to better develop prospects for their corresponding NHL parent clubs. This arrangement prevented the AHL from succumbing to the loss of players to the expanded NHL, and put it in a stronger position when the WHA began signing players in the early 1970’s. Butterfield also revised the original AHL constitution and by-laws to reflect the constant growth and development of the league and the sports landscape as a whole, and his reputation was such that his opinion was often sought by the NHL Rules Committee.
Jack Butterfield was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980, the first person so honored based on his body of work in the American Hockey League. Butterfield also was a recipient of the Lester Patrick Award (1985) for service to hockey in the United States, and was part of the inaugural class of inductees when the AHL Hall of Fame was created in 2006. And since 1984, the most valuable player of the Calder Cup Playoffs has been awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy.
Following his retirement in 1994, Butterfield remained the chairman of the AHL Board of Governors and continued to be active in the Springfield community, serving on the Board of the Springfield Shriner’s Hospital and serving as vice-chairman of the Springfield March of Dimes.
Butterfield passed away on Oct. 16, 2010. He was 91.