Michael Hutchinson is 29, married and a devoted new dad.
He is most well known, however, as the most scrutinized and sometimes villified No. 2 goaltender in the NHL. He backs up Toronto Maple Leafs all-star Frederik Andersen, which means the pressure from media and fans is intense when he gets a rare start.
Early in 2019-20, it didn’t go well.
Hutchinson lost his first five starts with a save percentage dipping below .900, and was shipped to the minors to improve his form. With the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, he proceeded to go 3-0-0 with an .942 save percentage and 1.95 goals-against average.
Since being recalled in late November, Hutchinson has lost once and cracked the win column twice, including a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 21.
Despite the recent progress, Hutchinson insists he’s always been able to filter out the background noise and focus on the work.
"I really didn’t think about it too much," says Hutchinson of the criticism. "When I wasn’t getting those wins... With Steve (Briere), the (Maple Leafs) goalie coach, we do a great job of breaking down the videos and breaking down the chances. I wasn’t letting in bad goals, I was making other teams have to make good plays to score goals. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t getting the results.
"So, that was frustrating in that sense but it was easy to stay positive because I was doing the right things."
The birth of his daughter, Lilah, has also been an inspiration.
"It’s amazing how having a child puts everything into perspective," says Hutchinson, who spent five seasons in the Winnipeg Jets organization and made 102 appearances for Winnipeg in the NHL over that span.
"It’s been fun coming home — good game, bad game — she wakes up in the morning with a smile on her face when she sees you. Really, it makes you think of the world differently... You enjoy moments more because she’s coming up on nine months. But when you look back on it, where did the time go?"
Hutchinson and his wife Jenna have also benefited from a newborn that is a sound sleeper and he says the lifestyle adjustments he has made have all been positive.
"It’s been the best thing ever," says Hutchinson. "You have to change your time management. But my game has always been pretty easygoing. On game days, whether I’m playing or not, it was pretty easy to not get too flustered or have to change my routine too much. But my wife does a lot."
Jenna Hutchinson splits her time between Toronto and Winnipeg, where she is the co-owner of Jenna Rae Cakes, a local bakery with locations on Academy Road and at The Forks.
"We’re very fortunate being in Toronto that it’s a short flight and she is able to do both as much as possible," says Hutchinson. "It’s been a good situation."
Now in his 10th pro season, Hutchinson admits a career that has included three stints in the ECHL, has prepared him to weather the storm he’s going through now.
"Even early on in my career if I had gone through that, I wouldn’t have handled it the same way," says Hutchinson. "You learn from your own experiences. I had a ton of experiences with the Jets where there were times things didn’t go well. I was healthy scratched here for a while... You learn from past experiences how to better handle other unfortunate situations that come up. The younger me probably wouldn’t have been able to handle it in Toronto. As you’re older and having a kid, you have that perspective."
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has been encouraged by Hutchinson’s play, even if the sample size is small.
"He hasn’t been in the net a great deal, of course, so there’s not a lot of examples there but in terms of his practices and his demeanour and the fact that when he has gotten in the net recently, our team’s played better in front of him and he’s made saves at key times," says Keefe. "And he’s gotten over that hump of his first win, all those types of things, so we feel good about where he’s at."
NOTEWORTHY: Jets head coach Paul Maurice reported that defenceman Nathan Beaulieu suffered a lower-body injury, the result of blocking a shot against the Colorado Avalanche, and will be lost to the club for at least a month. Carl Dahlstrom took his place in the lineup Thursday against the Maple Leafs. The Jets also recalled defenceman Sami Niku from the Manitoba Moose while reassigning left-winger Joona Luoto to the AHL team.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Thursday, January 2, 2020 at 9:11 PM CST: Fixes typo