Hutchinson gives IceCaps, fans a reason to smile

Brendan McCarthy
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Goalie a big part of St. John's six-game winning streak

When the St. John’s IceCaps step onto the ice at Mile One Centre for their pre-game warmup skates, the music is never mellow.

St. John's Ice Caps goaltender Michael Hutchinson (33) as well as players Ben Chiarot (18) and Andrew Gordon (10) watch the flying puck with Binghampton Senators player Matt Puempel (9) during their game at Mile One Centre Saturday night. The IceCaps earned a 1-0 victory, to extend their current winning streak to six games. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Think Motley Crue, which means it is a high-energy and it is loud and it’s a little bit angry.

But considering what goaltender Michael Hutchinson has done for the team in the last seven weeks, there may be a case to be made for the playing Bobby McFerrin’s laid-back and cheerful “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Because that’s exactly the message Hutchinson — through his play — has delivered to IceCaps fans.

Eddie Pasquale will undergo season-ending hip surgery in Toronto today.

Given Pasquale entered the 2013-14 American Hockey League season as the unquestioned No. 1 goalie for the IceCaps and was a workhorse in the role, starting 30 of St. John’s’ first 39 games, his loss might have been a huge issue for the team two months ago.

Hutchinson, recalled from the ECHL in early part of January has made sure that it hasn’t been, going the distance in 16 of the IceCaps’ last 18 games, and posting a 12-3-1 record over that stretch. That includes two weekend wins over the Binghamton Senators at Mile One Centre, topped off by a 1-0 decision Saturday, with Hutchinson stopping 42 shots.

The first-star performance happened to come on the eve of Hutchinson’s 24th birthday, but it was the Barrie, Ont., native who bowtied a present for his teammates and the Mile One faithful as he willed St. John’s (39-14-4) to a sixth straight win.

Through the first five games of the winning streak — including a 6-2 victory over Binghamton Friday — St. John’s benefited from a potent offence, scoring 27 goals. But on Saturday, it was a different story.

The IceCaps struggled offensively, their power-play was unplugged and the Senators — the highest-scoring team in the AHL — came out strong, obviously determined to take more than sweaty gear back with them to Binghamton.

Hutchinson made sure the visitors were disappointed — and that their luggage was light by a point or two — thwarting them on numerous occasions, with some of his best stops — including a diving game-saver on Cole Schneider — coming in the last minute of the game when the Senators were on the power play and had their goalie, Andrew Hammond, on the bench for an extra attacker.,

“It was all him. He bailed us out numerous times,” said St. John’s had coach Keith McCambridge about Hutchinson.

The goalie seemed happy to oblige.

“These games are always fun to play, especially against a team with as much offensive power as Binghamton has,” said Hutchinson, who was also solid Friday night as St. John’s began a seven-game home stand.

“You know you’re going to get the shots and the chances against. You know you’re going to be relied on to keep your team in the game.

“Ever since I got here, our offence has been going pretty well. But every now and then, (it) isn’t going to be up to par and I just have to be ready and give us a chance.”

That he did on Saturday, making Eric O’Dell’s first-period goal stand up to the end.

With the IceCaps exactly three-quarter of the way through their schedule, they can only hope for more of the same down the stretch when the need arises.

“We love Eddie to death. He’s done great things for us and we wish him the best for next year,” IceCaps veteran forward Andrew Gordon. ‘But Hutch has done a great job filling that void … and it was a big one with Eddie gone.

“He’s stepped right into that role. He wants it. He wants to start every night.”

With 19 games left on the IceCaps’ schedule, could Hutchinson do just that — start every game the rest of the way?

“In my mind, I know how we would like to move … but there are so many elements in play when you try to determine whether you can go with one guy or not,” said McCambridge.

“You look at the schedule. You look at travel. You look at his workload on any given night. I look at the quality of shots he’s faced … and not just shots. I also look at the quality chances he faces because he’s working hard then, he’s expending energy there, too.”

But he did seem to give a little clue when asked about the importance of finding playing time for backup netminder Tyler Beskorowany.

“You do your best to keep the other goaltender sharp,” said McCambridge, “but there comes a time of the season when that thought process isn’t as much in the front of your mind.”

Know this much: Hutchinson, who came to the Winnipeg Jets organization after spending three years as a No. 2 goalie with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, won’t be asking for any nights off.

“I’m excited to finally get an opportunity after three years of backing up — a long three years,” said Hutchinson, who was signed as a free agent on the off-season. “I’m excited to be able to play a bunch of games and run with it. You come to realize that goaltending becomes a lot easier with the more games you play.

“And after being on the bench so much for three years, I’ll never complain about (getting) too many starts.”

Before being recalled to St. John’s, Hutchinson played in 28 games for the ECHL’s Ontario Reign, with a 2.02 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Add in 18 total games with the IceCaps, for whom he has a 2.23 GAA and .929 save percentage, and that’s 46 appearance already. This also happens to the most games he’s ever played in one season; he got into 46 contests with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights in 2009-10.

“It’s kind of uncharted territory for me,” said Hutchinson of what is sure to be the heaviest workload of his career, “but the way I look at it, it’s just more excitement.”

Notes: St. John’s 72 points are two more than the Senators, but Binghamton officially remains in third place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings, with the IceCaps in fourth. That’s because the Senators lead the AHL’s East Division, and the division leaders in each conference occupy the top three spots in the standings, regardless of record. St. John’s is in second place in the Atlantic Division, eight points behind the conference-best Manchester Monarchs. The IceCaps have three games in hand on the Monarchs. … On Saturday, St. John’s used the same lineup as it had on Friday, which meant defenceman Cody Lampl and forwards Ryan Schnell, Josh Lunden and Austen Brassard are scratches, along with goalie Eddie Pasquale and defenceman Kris Fredheim, both injured. … The IceCaps had seven power-play opportunities Saturday, but didn’t generate much offence with the man advantage, include a one-minute, 42-second five-on-three chance in the opening frame. Binghamton went zero-for-six on the PP. In fact, some of the best scoring chances in the two games came from penalty-killers on both sides. … St. John’s continues its home schedule with games against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (the farm team of the New York Islanders) Friday and Saturday … The Molson Canadian three stars Saturday: 1. Hutchinson 2. O’Dell 3. Binghamton forward Stephane Da Costa … The Mary Brown’s hardest-working IceCap: Julian Melchiori.

Organizations: IceCaps, American Hockey League, ECHL Motley Crue Binghamton Senators Winnipeg Jets organization Ontario Hockey League Monarchs Bridgeport Sound Tigers New York Islanders Molson

Geographic location: Binghamton, Toronto, Barrie Atlantic

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