They are the “Three Caballeros” of Bruins rookie camp.
They’ve been together as a trio of goaltenders at previous rookie, development and training camps, and have gotten to know each other well on and off the ice over the last couple years.
But if Adam Courchaine, Matt Dalton and Michael Hutchinson didn’t feel like they were in a three-way battle for a large prize during the first three days of rookie camp, starting tonight they’ll be on notice that everything is on the line every time they take the ice.
The Bruins’ rookie game with the New York Islanders will be the first chance for two of the three goaltenders attempting to earn the open spot on the Providence (AHL) farm club’s roster to strut their stuff in a highly competitive environment against an opponent from a different dressing room.
“They need to realize too, to do the math and there is a strong competition to be our No. 2 or to share the job with Nolan Schaefer,” Providence Bruins coach Rob Murray said earlier this week about his three young netminders. “There’s going to be a little bit of an evaluation and we’ll wait and see who emerges as that guy.”
Each of the three goaltenders came to camp with different levels of past experience on his resume and dreams of making this year the year he takes the next step in his career. There’s no far-off teenager who’s definitely ticketed for junior hockey in this group. While the battle might not capture everyone’s attention the way Tyler Seguin’s fight to make the NHL or Tim Thomas’ attempt to supplant Tuukka Rask will, it’s still an important positional fight for each individual’s career and the Bruins’ organizational depth chart.
At 20 years old, Michael Hutchinson is eligible to return to London (OHL) this season. However, the ’08 third-round pick isn’t thinking about being in the Knights’ crease right now.
“I feel like my game really developed in junior this last year,” said Hutchinson, who was 32-12-2 with a 2.86 goals-against average in 46 games last season. “My goal is not to be back in the OHL this year and I feel I’m ready to move on and hopefully the Boston organization feels the same way and I’ll be playing somewhere else.”
If Providence isn’t the answer, Reading (ECHL) could be. Of course, the 6-foot-3, 192-pound Hutchinson is probably at a slight disadvantage in this fight because of his eligibility. Nonetheless, he has improved and matured in each season since he was claimed by Boston. And some have compared his positional play and lanky frame to a younger Rask. If last year was his last in London, Hutchinson made the most of it.
“Just getting the playing time in London really helped me work on some things and parts of my game. I realized that playing a lot of games, you really have to take care of yourself on and off the ice,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I still need work on my consistency, but I tried to work on that a little bit last year and I thought I made some improvement.”
Hutchinson also won’t be intimidated this camp, be it from his competition or the crowds at the Garden. Playing in London gets a guy used to being in the spotlight.
“You’ve got just over 9,000 fans at night. It was great playing in front of that atmosphere and getting used to it,” he said. “A couple weeks into the season, you didn’t really notice the crowd. So it was good to get adjusted to that, I think it’ll help me down the road.”
Adam’s been around
Adam Courchaine earned a contract with the Bruins in the fall of 2007 after attending development camp as a free agent. While he has spent most of his time in the OHL (plus four games with Providence) since that time, he has attended every possible Bruins camp since inking that deal. He knows the organization inside and out and, as Murray said earlier this week, it “seems like he’s been around forever.”
Well, now it’s time for the 21-year-old Courchaine to stick around somewhere at a level higher than the CHL. The 6-foot-2, 191-pound puck-stopper, who split last year between Sarnia and Erie, says he’s ready to take the next step.
“I take something different out of every camp, and every year getting to know everybody differently. A lot of different players have come through since I’ve been here. But this is the year my contract starts and I’m finally ready to put a charge on and try and take a job here,” said Courchaine, who’s scheduled to start the first rookie game. “It’s been a rough couple years having to go back every time and keep coming back in the summer for camp and coming back in the fall. But it’s what you’ve got to do. As long as I get to get up and come to the rink every day and play hockey, I’m happy.”
With the help of numerous goaltending coaches and more playing experience, Courchaine has refined his game.
“I think the speed of the shots and finally being able to really adjust and watch where the puck goes and react to it as opposed to just trying to get a piece of it,” he said about the improvement in his game. “I know when I first came in here, it was just I didn’t want to get scored on and do anything I can. Now it’s more of actually trying to make a save, put it to the corner, catch a puck, cover it, play more of an athletic game.”
Courchaine said he worked his “ass off” this summer, and it showed. He fared well on the camp-opening run test and even earned praise for his fitness from general manager Peter Chiarelli. Whether Couchaine’s hard work will pay off remains to be seen in the weeks ahead.
Dalton’s dealt with disappointment
The other two goaltenders have both said that they don’t think Matt Dalton’s full year of pro hockey in 2009-10 gives him too much of a leg up on the competition. And he tried to downplay it as well.
“Everyone’s good here and hopefully the experience helps, having a year of pro,” said Dalton, 24. “But you’ve still got to go out and play, and play well. Everyone here is capable of doing that, so I’m just going out to play hard and enjoy the experience.”
The Reading Royals found out just how capable Dalton is last season, as he played in 46 regular season games and posted a 22-20-4 record with a 3.47 GAA and one shutout. In 16 playoff games, Dalton posted a 3.02 GAA and it looked like his development might head into the summer on a high note. However, Dalton and the Royals squandered a 3-0 series lead (where have you heard that before) in the league semifinals.
“I try not to think about it and stuff,” said Dalton, who can obviously sympathize with his Bruins teammates who suffered the same fate last spring. “For a while after it, I was wondering what just happened. You lose Game 7, 1-0 … it’s tough. But it’s part of the game and you just move on from it and get ready for this year. I hope that those kinds of experiences help me throughout my career.”
Taking out the ending, Dalton is able to reflect on the 2009-10 season and appreciate the growth he’s enjoyed since coming out of Bemidji State.
“It was good experience. It was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me, going down there. … I really got to experience what the pro life’s like – playing three-in-threes and stuff like that, riding the bus,” he said. “There were points where I kind of got comfortable with my teammates and everything like that, and kind of got into a groove and played pretty well. We had a pretty good little playoff run.”
Dalton, Hutchinson and Courchaine are all different ages, from different places, play different styles and possess different amounts of experience. The battle to be at Providence, Reading, Finland (maybe) or London (in Hutchinson’s case) when training camp ends should be a barn-burner. By all accounts, the camaraderie between the three has been great, which might change as things get more serious.
But in the end the Bruins as a franchise will benefit most from this dogged battle.