WILMINGTON, Mass. — Scrimmages are inherently unfair to goaltenders.
They’re only made more so when a player is awarded a penalty shot during one.
In today’s scrimmage on the fourth day of the Bruins’ fifth annual development camp at Ristuccia Arena, netminder Michael Hutchinson had to face forward Josh Jooris 1-on-1 after Dougie Hamilton took a penalty from behind.
Hutchinson reacted to Jooris’ move and flashed the glove to make the save. That play was one of several solid showings by 21-year-old Hutchinson in the scrimmage and throughout the camp, which concludes Monday morning.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot stronger and physically mature over the years,” says Hutchinson, who’s attending his fourth development camp since the Bruins used a third-round pick (77th overall) to selecte him in 2008. “I think that every year I’m at camp I just feel more confident on the ice, more comfortable. And I make more saves every year at camp. So I feel that my consistency through each camp’s just gotten a little bit better.”
After turning pro last season, Hutchinson endured an up-and-down year, literally and figuratively. He went from the Bruins’ Providence (AHL) farm club to their ECHL affiliate in Reading, then back to Providence, back to Reading and once again to the Ocean State. He enjoyed a five-game winning streak with the P-Bruins and a three-gamer with the Royals and finished with a 22-15-5 combined record.
Along the way, everything that goes along with a lengthy, travel-heavy pro season got to Hutchinson.
“I felt like at the start of the year I really played well. I’d been [Providence’s] player of the month for November and that was probably the highlight of my year right there,’ he said. “But by December I really started to feel the grind and I just mentally wasn’t prepared for that. That really didn’t help and made me get sent down to Reading to re-find my game, sort of take the pressure off myself and just play for fun. At the time, it was probably the best thing for me and it really helped me find my game. When I came back I felt a lot more confident and motivated. This year, it’s just one of those things where I know how long the season is. Eighty games, or whatever you play, it’s a long season.”
His confidence is back up where it needs to be. And after surviving 18 games in the run-and-gun ECHL with a 2.86 goals-against average and .918 save percentage, he knows he wants to stay in Providence the entire year next season.
“The American Hockey League was a lot more difficult than I expected. When you get in there, you have to perform every single night,” he said. “You can’t have nights off and expect to win. You really get exposed. At the American League level, you’re only getting three, maybe four good scoring chances a night. But those are top-end scoring chances that you have to make those big saves.”
If Hutchinson can put down roots in Providence, he could push incumbent No. 1 Anton Khudobin for playing time. New P-Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is confident that Hutchinson can stick around this year and provide combine to form a solid 1-2 punch with Khudobin.
“Every first-year player goes through [inconsistency],” said Cassidy. “It’s very rare you find a guy that has goes like this all year and climbs a little bit. There’s usually some peaks and valleys, and he had his. He’s a mature guy for his age, as far as goaltenders so. You hear all the time that goaltenders can be a little goofy, but I find him to be really mature for his age. He’s a pretty focused guy, a hard worker. It’s just a matter of that big body and developing his technique and his athleticism to a level it needs to be. I would assume he’s going to have a good year for us just because of what I saw last year. He’s a mature guy. He’ll get better.”
Having worked now for four camps with Bruins goaltending coach Bob Essensa, Hutchinson is learning to maximize his ability and his 6-foot-3, 192-pound frame.
“Just mostly positioning. Especially when you come up to the pro level, positioning becomes so much more important,” said the goaltender about his focus in drills. “You can have any style in the world but if you’re out of position, you’re going to make it that much harder on yourself. So just positioning and depth in the net are the biggest things we’ve been working on.”
Although he has 36 games of pro experience, Hutchinson said he didn’t think twice about wanting to attend another development camp. He figures there’s always more to learn and this camp can sort of serve as a launching point for a summer of workouts and then training camp in the fall.
Assistant general manager Don Sweeney sees decent progress in Hutchinson’s development.
“He’s a big kid, moves well … he does have good puck skills,” said Sweeney. “I mean as much as other teams get a book and shooters get a book, I think Bob’s got a real good feel for what Mike needs to work on and he’s starting to deliver that message. You know, it was a challenging year for Hutch last year. You know, he was up and down a little bit between there and just balancing out, getting him the ideal playing time, the number of shots that we wanted [him] to see. You’re not going to work on some of that stuff in practice, you have to play games. … For the most part, we’re happy with the year of development, but he’s got to continue to work on those areas that Bob and he have identified.”
Hutchinson was confident enough in his chances with the Boston organization to get his plain white mask painted up this offseason with a caricature of Gerry Cheevers’ “stitched-up” mask and Bobby Orr “flying” through the air in 1970. Hopefully he’ll get to wear that mask close to Boston for an entire winter in 2011-12.