By Robin Short
Telegram Sports Editor-Cedar Park, Texas
Glenn Stanford, the St. John’s IceCaps’ governor and chief operating officer, was asked Monday night after the IceCaps’ 2-1 win over the Texas Stars if he’d even seen a goaltending display like the one Michael Hutchinson had just delivered.
“Yeah,” said Stanford, who’s been around the American Hockey League as long as anyone, “Carey Price.”
Price was the playoff MVP in the 2007 post season, when the Hamilton Bulldogs won the Calder Cup championship with Stanford holding a similar position with the club.
To be even mentioned in the same breath as Price is pretty heady stuff, but that’s an indication of how Hutchinson played Monday night, making 49 saves as the IceCaps evened the AHL final 1-1 with Game 3 back at Mile One Centre Wednesday night.
They were the most stops in a Calder Cup final game since 2003 when Ty Conklin had 83 saves and Johan Holmqvist made 79 in a game that featured four overtime periods.
“He was exactly what we’ve had all season and in the playoffs, especially,” said St. John’s coach Keith McCambridge of Hutchinson, who improved to 12-6, lowered his goals against average to 1.77 while upping his save percentage to .943.
The performance by the 24-year-old Barrie, Ont. native came 24 hours after he allowed three goals on four second-period shots in a 6-3 Game 1 loss at the Cedar Park Centre.
Granted, Hutchinson didn’t exactly receive a lot of support from teammates in that game, but he wasn’t at his best, either.
No so on Monday as Hutchinson was especially brilliant in the third period as the IceCaps were outshot 20-8 by the AHL’s top regular season team, a squad McCambridge says is the best the IceCaps have faced this season.
On at least three different occasions, Hutchinson foiled Kevin Henderson, Travis Morin and Brett Ritchie with saves that could all be dubbed game-savers, or of highlight-reel material.
“Without a doubt, that’s up there in top three,” McCambridge said when asked where that performance ranked from what he’s seen during a 19-year playing and coaching career in the pros, which included Dwayne Roloson, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Manny Legace as teammates, and Cory Schneider in Manitoba where McCambridge was an assistant.
“It wasn’t even a rebound game for me,” McCambridge said. “He played a strong game last night, and we left him out to dry a couple of times. Tonight, he just played the way he has all playoffs.
“You need that kind of goaltending this time of year and he was definitely our best player.”
Hutchinson clearly wasn’t happy with his performance in the first game, and poured over video with goalie coach Dusty Imoo into the wee hours of Monday morning at the team’s hotel.
It’s that type of preparation, McCambridge said, that he’s grown accustomed to seeing from his goaltender, who started the year in the ECHL and finished the regular season playing for the Winnipeg Jets.
“Dusty and I went over all their scoring plays and all my touches on the puck,” said Hutchinson. “I was able to see what they were doing on their attack, and I was more confident coming in knowing I was better prepared.”
Blair Riley’s second goal of the playoffs, 1:13 into the second period, stood as the winner. It came right after Brendan Ranford scored 29 seconds into the middle frame to tie the game.
Kael Mouillierat scored his fifth just over four minutes into the first period.
“People kind of questioned Hutch’s game last night, maybe unfairly because we didn’t play well in front of him,” Riley said.
“But he bounced back tonight, and it was incredible, especially in that third period. We sat back a little more than we wanted, and they’re a good team that put a strong push on, but Hutch was the story, absolutely.”
Wednesday’s Game 3 is set for 7:30 p.m. The series than takes a break for four days before resuming Monday, with Game 5 scheduled for Tuesday. If necessary, the final returns to Texas for Game 6 Thursday June 19 and, maybe, Game 7 Monday, June 23.