© — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
St. John’s IceCaps goaltender Michael Hutchinson stops a shot as the Albany Devils’ Stefan Matteau (18) tries to get a stick on the rebound while the IceCaps’ Kris Fredheim defends during Game 4 of the teams’ American Hockey League Eastern Conference quarter-final series Friday night at Mile One Centre. Hutchinson posted a 1.51 goals against average in the four-game series.
St. John’s puckstop who started his year in the ECHL keeps impressing in post-season
Michael Hutchinson came out of nowhere this season — aka the ECHL — and provided the St. John’s IceCaps, and later the Winnipeg Jets, with superlative goaltending.
He’s proven through the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs he’s no fluke.
“In the playoffs,” IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray said, “you need to win the one-goal games. That’s what it comes down to.
“Every series we play, we’re going to be playing against a great goaltender, and we just have to hope our goaltender is just as good, or better, than theirs.
“And so far, I’d match up Michael Hutchinson against anybody.”
The unflappable Barrie, Ont. product stopped 39 of 40 shots Friday night as the IceCaps advanced to the second round of the American Hockey League’s post season with a 4-1 win over the Albany Devils at Mile One Centre.
St. John’s now plays the Norfolk Admirals in the second round beginning Tuesday night at Mile One.
A free agent signing by the Winnipeg Jets last summer, Hutchinson started the year with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign, and lit up that circuit. He was recalled to the IceCaps in January and fit in like a glove when Eddie Pasquale underwent season-ending hip surgery.
At the end of the year, when backup Al Montoya was sidelined to injury, Hutchinson was recalled to the Jets and got his first NHL start, losing 1-0 to the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild.
He got another two starts, and registered wins over the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames.
Through the first round of the AHL playoffs, Hutchinson has picked up where he left off, registering a 1.51 goals against average and .952 save percentage in four games.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” coach Keith McCambridge said. “But I will say, why he’s putting up such strong numbers and having the season he’s having, in my view, is because of the developmental curve.”
Players develop differently than others. You see it all the time with minor hockey players and junior hockey players. Some are keeners who catch on quickly, others take a little while.
Put Hutchinson in the latter category, who, at the same time, has been given the opportunity to play some heavy minutes after arriving in St. John’s.
“One hundred per cent,” McCambridge said in agreement. “It takes time, in some cases, for some players to develop, for the young players to understand the way they need to play to have success at this level. And that catches the attention of management and the National Hockey League.
“It’s cliché, but the time frame is different with every player. What you’re seeing, not only with Michael Hutchinson, is a portion of this group of guys starting to turn the corner here - Hutchinson, Carl Klingberg, Patrice Cormier, Eric O’Dell, Zach Redmond, Ben Chiarot.
“All those players are, over the three years they’ve been here, starting to develop into real strong candidates for the National Hockey League, and that’s a big reason why we’re here, why we’re in this developmental league and it’s obviously benefitting us.
“And,” he added, “we’re winning, too.”