It seemed that it was only a matter of time before the Winnipeg Jets gave Michael Hutchinson his first career NHL start in goal. The 24-year old has been biding his time for the club, after a call-up three weeks ago from the AHL’s St. John’s Ice Caps.
When the Jets were finally eliminated from the playoff race on Thursday, the day was near; It was evaluation time for Jets’ prospects, and there seemed no better opportunity to start a rookie goaltender in a game that would only be a footnote on the Jets’ season.
The day finally came on Monday night, when Hutchinson led the Jets out on to the ice against the Minnesota Wild in Winnipeg. In front of him were three of his IceCaps teammates: Zach Redmond, Eric O’Dell, and the recently recalled Carl Klingberg. The Jets certainly didn’t ice their most formidable lineup, missing captain Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, and first-pairing defenseman Zach Bogosian due to injury, along with others.
Nonetheless, Hutchinson stood tall in the crease, in what turned out to be one of the most boring games of the year. The two teams combined for 41 shots, the amount the Jets alone put up on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It would turn out to be a classic goalie battle, pitting Hutchinson against one of the hottest netminders in the NHL, Ilya Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov won the battle, as the Jets couldn’t find the net in a 1-0 victory. He would be named the game’s First Star, and following up was who else, but Michael Hutchinson.
Hutchinson made 17 saves on 18 shots, worth a .941% save percentage. He seemed calm and collected from puck drop, uncharacteristic for a rookie goaltender. His lone goal against was allowed on the penalty-kill, a Charlie Coyle shot that found its way through the five-hole and in the net for the game-winner just 65 seconds into the second period.
After the game, Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice was signing Hutchinson’s praises:
“Good for [Hutchinson], I thought two good things happened. He looked solid and comfortable, and I thought the guys in front of him gave him a chance to get into the game.”
After the game, Hutchinson had this to say on his first NHL experience:
“I thought I played pretty well, there was some times when nerves get the best of you and you start over-thinking certain situations, but overall I think I gave the team a chance to win the game.”
For a player who started the year in the ECHL with the Ontario Reign, it seemed that 2013-14 wouldn’t be the year to make it to the NHL. However, with injuries forcing a call-up to the AHL, he never looked back, posting a 15-5-1 record. When Ondrej Pavelec went down with a lower-body injury in mid-March, it was Hutchinson who got the call first.
Now, with Al Montoya injured and likely not to return to the lineup this season, Hutchinson could see one more start, in the Jets’ final game against the Calgary Flames on Friday, in the second game of a back-to-back.
With another disappointing season almost over, Hutchinson’s success story is a silver lining for Jets fans, and one that could continue into 2014-15, with the Jets’ goaltending issues afoot.
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