In a game that had little to cheer about, there was one bright spot that shone through following the Winnipeg Jets 1-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild Monday night.
That silver lining was the play of rookie goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who made his NHL debut in front of a sold-out crowd at the MTS Centre.
With goaltending sure to be atop the Jets’ summer wish list, it was safe to say all eyes were on the new guy.
It took more than five minutes for the Wild to register their first shot on net and even though it came in the form of a dump in from half, that didn’t stop the 15,000-strong in attendance from rising to their feet in a collective, and appreciative, roar for Hutchinson.
“It was definitely something really cool and it took [me] by surprise a little bit,” said Hutchinson of the home crowd.
“I wasn’t expecting it, especially cause it was a dump in from the red line, but that’s amazing. The fans here are incredible.
“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get the win but for a first game I’m pretty happy with my performance.”
Earning his keep
Hutchinson, 24, made 16 saves in the game, and finished with a 1.03 goals-against-average, and a .943 save percentage in the debut.
Not bad for a guy who started the year in the East Coast Hockey League.
“Everyone hopes to play a game in the NHL every single season but realistically I didn’t think it would be possible,” said Hutchinson after the game.
“I’m very fortunate that I was in some good situations and was able to play well this year and I’m just happy I got a shot.”
Hutchinson’s journey to the NHL is a unique one. The native of Barrie, Ont., started the 2013-14 season with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign. There he was able to turn some heads, posting a 22-4-2 record.
His consistent play would land him a spot on the St. John’s IceCaps — the Jets’ AHL affiliate — after the team’s No.1 'tender, Eddie Pasquale, was sidelined with season-ending hip surgery in early February.
From there, it didn’t take long for his presence to be felt. Prior to the Jets calling his number in mid-March, Hutchinson boasted a 15-5-1 record with the IceCaps.
Once in Winnipeg, however, Hutchinson was limited to mostly practice — filtered into the lineup as a backup while regulars Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya swapped in and out of the rotation in order to nurse injuries.
A waiting game
It would be weeks before he would get the nod and fulfill a lifelong dream of playing in the NHL. But the wait was well worth it.
“I’m very fortunate that I was in some good situations and was able to play well this year,” said Hutchinson of his journey this season.
“This was the longest break I’ve had in between playing games so there was a little bit of nerves from not playing for a couple weeks. You just go back to your basics and go back to your own routines and that kind of helps settle the nerves.”
It wasn’t the busiest of games for Hutchinson. The 17 shots allowed were the fewest by the Jets this season. But that didn’t stop his new teammates from sharing the praise.
“Hutch has come in here from day one and worked really hard every day,” said Jets forward Jim Slater. “We really wanted to get this one for him. I thought the guys played really well in front of him … but he made the saves when he needed to.”
Head coach Paul Maurice was also impressed with what he saw from Hutchinson’s game.
“He looked solid, square, comfortable, and he gave his hockey team the chance to win the game,” said Maurice. “I was happy with him.”
Good news for Jets fans: they won’t have to wait long to see him again. Maurice said Hutchinson would play one of the Jets final two games.
“I would think you’re going to see Michael one more time,” said Maurice. “Maybe two. “
Slater celebrated his 500th career game. The Jets fourth-line centre has played all of his nine seasons with the Thrashers/Jets organization. In those games, he has 62 goals and 63 assists for 125 points.
Ilya Bryzgalov recorded his second straight shutout, stopping all 24 shots in the win. Bryzgalov has now gone more than 142 minutes without allowing a goal. Since arriving in Minnesota on March 4, Bryzgalov is 6-0-3 in 10 games, with a 1.67 goals-against-average and a .929 save percentage. Oh, and if you were curious – he’s a free agent at the end of the season.
Monday’s loss marked the 45th game the Jets have played that’s been decided by a single goal. Winnipeg is 21-14-10 in those games.
First: Ilya Bryzgalov, MIN
He stopped all 24 shots aimed his way to record his second consecutive shutout. The Jets didn’t challenge him often, but when they did, he was there to shut the door.
Second: Michael Hutchinson, WPG
As Maurice echoed in his post-game interview, Hutchinson did everything he could to give his team a shot to win. He stood tall, finishing with 16 saves in the loss.
Third: Charlie Coyle, MIN
Coyle’s power play goal 1:05 into the second period was all the Wild needed in this one.