Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 04/8/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Winning is normally the only thing that matters but when you're out of the playoffs and still playing, well, other goals can be supported.
And for the Winnipeg Jets Monday night, a win-win sidebar presented itself -- give a loyal foot soldier his first NHL game and help to get him sharp for the important AHL playoffs coming up.
And so 24-year-old Michael Hutchinson was given the net to face the Minnesota Wild, and in the 1-0 defeat he certainly did enough in head coach Paul Maurice's eyes to merit yet another opportunity.
"He looked solid, square, comfortable and he gave his hockey team a chance to win the game," Maurice said in the post-mortem. "I will think you'll see Michael one more time, maybe two. One more time for sure."
-- Jets coach Paul Maurice, on Michael Hutchinson's first NHL start
The Jets have games left on Thursday here against Boston and Friday in Calgary.
Beyond that, they won't play anymore this season.
But Hutchinson will be returning to the St. John's IceCaps for the Calder Cup playoffs that start in the third week of April, and sharpness was very much on the Barrie, Ont., native's mind as he soaked up his first big-league game on Monday.
"It's definitely nice to get back into that competitive mode, that mindset," Hutchinson said. "I'm enjoying every second I have up here but in the back of your mind, every single one of us who's up here from the IceCaps, when we're together we talk about the playoffs and how excited we are for it.
"It's definitely something you keep in your mind, especially every day during practice, doing extra work so I am ready when I do go back. You want to step in without taking a step backwards."
He's been with the Jets since mid-March, filling in as backup when both Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya have been sidelined with injuries. And between then and now, it's been the longest non-playing stretch of a busy year for the former Boston Bruins draft pick.
Monday was Hutchinson's 51st game of the season. He played 28 times (22-4-2) for the ECHL's Ontario Reign in the season's first half, then joined the AHL's IceCaps near Christmas and has been in 22 games with them (15-5-1).
"This has been great," he said. "When you don't play for a while, you don't get that competitive drive every single day. You try to motivate yourself every single day in practice but it's not the same competitiveness. It's nice to get that back, get back in that groove."
Monday, Hutchinson stopped 16 of 17 shots from the Wild. Only Charlie Coyle's power-play goal from the slot 65 seconds into the second period beat him -- it was the only goal of a pre-season-like game.
He didn't see his first shot until nearly five minutes in, but said he appreciated the approval from the MTS Centre crowd.
"I thought I played pretty well," he said. "There were some times when nerves get the best of you and you start overthinking situations, but overall I think I gave the team a chance to win the game. The team battled hard all night but it was just unfortunate we couldn't pull out that win."
He was especially appreciative of Maurice's side chat after Monday's morning skate.
"(Maurice) pulled me aside and just told me to enjoy it," he said. "It was definitely something nice for him to do, just to tell me to take a second to take it all in, because you only have one first game."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 8, 2014 C3
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