Hutch in the clutch

Robin
Robin Short
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Michael Hutchinson doesn’t say much. He’s soft-spoken, a bit reserved and not especially quirky, unlike most goalies.
Oh, he’ll put the left skate on first all the time, and if he’s in a real wild and crazy mood, he’ll put the right on next instead of the left goalie pad.

Michael Hutchinson doesn’t say much. He’s soft-spoken, a bit reserved and not especially quirky, unlike most goalies.

Oh, he’ll put the left skate on first all the time, and if he’s in a real wild and crazy mood, he’ll put the right on next instead of the left goalie pad.

But that’s about it. On the far-out scale, Hutchinson takes a back seat to his brother, who decided one day he wanted to move east, so he up and moved away from Barrie, Ont. to go landscaping in Halifax. He’s still there.

No, Hutchinson is pretty much the regular guy, son of a welder and education assistant teacher from north of Toronto. He might be mistaken for an accountant, or what your paperboy will look like in a few years’ time.

What separates Hutchinson from others, of course, is the fact he’s a professional hockey player, and a darned fine one at that. He also happens to the key ingredient in what could be a recipe for Calder Cup playoff success for the St. John’s IceCaps.

Hutchinson played only 1,300-odd minutes in goal for the IceCaps this season, not enough to have his sparkling line — 17-5-1 record, 2.30 goals against average, .923 save percentage — counted amongst the official AHL goalie leaders.

Regardless, there’s a real argument to be made that Hutchinson is the IceCaps’ MVP this season.

Through the second half of the 2013-14 American Hockey League season, the IceCaps were among the league’s hottest teams, winning 26 of 36 games.

It’s no coincidence that streak came about as Hutchinson was recalled from the ECHL. In fact, following a particularly embarrassing 6-0 home ice loss to the Manchester Monarchs on Jan. 18, Hutchinson got the start the next night and shut out the Monarchs in his first appearance at Mile One Centre. He went on to win another five straight games.

And in February and March, when St. John’s won nine straight games, it was Hutchinson in goal for eight of those starts.

It got better late in the year, when injury felled Al Montoya in Winnipeg and Hutchinson was recalled to the parent Jets.

He got his first NHL start, and very nearly beat the Minnesota Wild, allowing only a single goal in a 1-0 loss. Clearly impressed, Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice gave Hutchinson another two games, and the sub delivered, beating the Boston Bruins and the Calgary Flames in the Jets’ final two games of the season.

Michael Hutchinson might not say a whole lot, but he’s made a big statement.

Pretty good for a free agent who didn’t have a whole lot of offers on the table last summer.

Cut loose by the Bruins, he wasn’t crazy about a one-year deal Winnipeg was offering, and less thrilled the Jets were basically telling him he’d open the season with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign.

But Hutchinson signed and just as he figured, was off to California to start the year.

By all accounts, he had himself a very good training camp, even appearing in an NHL exhibition game against Ottawa. But the Jets organization was hell-bent on getting a look at Jussi Olkinuora in St. John’s. Olkinuora is a Finnish goalie who played U.S. college hockey in Colorado and was signed to a free agent contract.

Now, there are worse places to spend the winter than outside Los Angeles. But if you’re a hockey player, looking to get back to the AHL after two years with the Providence Bruins, the ECHL is not on your list of destinations.

“A lot of players, when you have those meetings at the end of training camp, telling them that we’re going to send you down to Team A or Team B, the usual response is, ‘I’m going to go down there and work hard,’” IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge said.

“But whether they do it or not, or more importantly, whether they know how to do it, is a whole other story.

“Michael was real positive in our meeting. He didn’t just go down there and bide his time, waiting for something to take place in St. John’s. He forced the issue of getting himself back into the American league by the way he played.”

At the time of his recall, Hutchinson was twice a winner of the ECHL’s goaltender of the week award, and was leading the league with 22 wins. His 2.08 GAA was third-best in the ECHL.

“There were a couple of times when you’d get frustrated, and wonder what more you could do to get a chance in the American league,” Hutchinson said.

“But the only thing you can control is how well you play. Everything else is out of your control, and that includes the business side of hockey. All I focused on was working each day, and improving my game and I was fortunate that I got to play a lot of games in a row. When you’re playing well and winning games, the rest usually takes care of itself.”

Drafted 77th overall by Boston in 2008, Hutchinson was pushed out of the Bruins system by Niklas Svedberg and 20-year-old first round draft pick Malcolm Subban.

So here he was, 23 and out of work.

“I really think it comes down to development, and how some players take a little longer than others,” McCambridge said of Hutchinson’s recent success after three nondescript years in Providence.

“It doesn’t make a difference if we’re talking about forwards, defencemen or goaltenders.

“Michael is at that age where he’s still learning as a goaltender. And when I look at where he is now, and why he is catching everyone’s attention, it’s just a matter of growing and developing as an athlete.”

Hutchinson will be a restricted free agent in July. Montoya is slated to become an unrestricted free agent, and there are some rumblings Hutchinson could be in line for the backup job to Ondrej Pavelec in Winnipeg next season.

Of course, he well he does in these Calder Cup playoffs will go a long way in determining how that all plays out.

“I have the mindset that if you have success at the NHL level, you should have success in the American league,” he said.

“But you can’t psyche yourself out, either, that this is the playoffs. It’s still the same game. But there’s no doubt the NHL was kind of a little preview for me as to what the AHL playoffs are going to be like

“And it’s really exciting going in knowing I’ll be playing.”

And, IceCaps fans hope, winning, too.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

Organizations: U.S. college, IceCaps, American Hockey League NHL Boston Bruins Monarchs Minnesota Wild Calgary Flames Jets organization

Geographic location: California, Winnipeg, Barrie Halifax Toronto Ottawa Colorado Los Angeles

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  • gary
    April 26, 2014 - 07:21

    Best of success to Michael and hope he's signed and in a Jets uniform next season. He appears calm in the net and sure seems to be a very sound tender making difficult saves look academic. Good luck Caps in the play-offs and will be cheering from the Peg!