Anyone associated with the present-day American Hockey League owes a debt of gratitude to Jack Butterfield.
His passion, innovative talent and fiscal know-how solidified the 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 Aug. 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. As AHL President, 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. His reputation was such that his opinion was often sought by the NHL Rules Committee.
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. Butterfield has been the chairman of the AHL Board of Governors since his 28-year tenure as President ended in 1994. He was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980, twice won the James C. Hendy Award as the league’s outstanding executive (1971, 1984) and was a winner of the Lester Patrick Award for service to hockey in the United States (1985).
Since 1984, the most valuable player of the Calder Cup Playoffs has been awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy. And in 1998, Butterfield was named the inaugural recipient of the Thomas Ebright Award for outstanding contributions to the AHL in a career that has now spanned parts of seven decades.
Butterfield remained active in the Springfield community after his retirement, serving on the Board of the Springfield Shriner’s Hospital and serving as vice-chairman of the Springfield March of Dimes.
He passed away on Oct. 16, 2010, at the age of 91.