Thunder Bay·Audio

NHLers reflect on their teenage hockey days in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton and New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood are in town to take in the Telus Cup. They say the hockey they played around the ages of 15 to 17 really helped them learn the game.

Carter Hutton and Mackenzie Blackwood are in town for the Telus Cup

Mackenzie Blackwood plays goal for the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League. He used to play for the Thunder Bay Kings. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Two National Hockey League goaltenders say their experience playing hockey as teenagers in Thunder Bay, Ont., helped shape them into the players they are today.

Carter Hutton of the Buffalo Sabres and Mackenzie Blackwood of the New Jersey Devils were back in the northwestern Ontario city Wednesday to take in the Telus Cup match-up between the Thunder Bay Kings and the Toronto Young Nationals. 

"It's awesome to be back here," Blackwood told CBC while watching the game from the stands. "It brings back lots of memories of good times and back when you started to play the game for fun."

"Hockey's so important to our community," Hutton added, "and for me, I'm so grateful for the people that have helped me along the way. There's so much hockey knowledge in this city that has helped many of the guys to move on out of this city to have success, whether it's scholarships or playing professional."

Hutton was already dreaming of NHL success during his teen years in Thunder Bay, he said, while Blackwood was taking things one step at a time and focusing on a junior career, he said.

The hockey they played as 15 to 17-year-olds — the age of most Telus Cup participants — is the hockey that first shaped them as players, they said. 

"I've been a goaltender my whole life, and a lot of the things you learn at this age are still the same things you do," Hutton said. "The fundamentals of goaltending don't really change."  

Hutton also learned important interpersonal skills such as how to be a good teammate, he added. 

"It really just basically taught me how to be a hockey player," said Blackwood, who previously played for the Kings. "It was all about what it takes to have hard work, to develop your skills, to have fun doing it."

Some things have changed over time, though, Hutton said, such as how he takes care of himself as a player. 

"I used to eat a lot more Kraft Dinner and hot dogs at this age and got away with it," he said, "but I think, you know, as you grow up you learn the right ways to take care of your body, because an 82 game season's a grind."

Asked what advice they had for the 2018-2019 Kings team, Hutton replied, "Just play in the moment. I think sometimes playing in front of a home crowd can add a little bit of pressure, especially [with] a lot of eyes on them."

"Have fun, number one," Blackwood added. "Work hard. Enjoy the moment and just try and cherish it, because stuff like this doesn't happen too often."