|Barrie Colts goaltender Michael Hutchinson has
backstopped his team to an opening round playoff series win over the favored Brampton Battalion.
Hutchinson was rated No. 18 among North American goaltenders in NHL Central Scouting's mid-season rankings released in January, but it's a safe bet that his stock has taken a dramatic rise during the past two weeks.
The 18-year-old goaltender from Barrie, Ont, backed his hometown Colts to a five-game upset win against the Brampton Battalion in the opening round of the OHL playoffs.
"I'm feeling pretty good right now," Hutchinson said. "I'm on a pretty big high. Our guys played great defensively."
The seventh-place Colts grabbed the first two games of the series before the second-place Battalion stormed back with a 5-1 win in Game 3. Both teams knew that Game 4 would go a long way in deciding the series. If Barrie won, it would take a commanding 3-1 lead, but if the Battalion won, they would have tied up the series and were heading home for Game 5.
Hutchinson stepped up and turned in what is being described as the greatest goaltending performance in his team's history, making 62 saves, including 16 in overtime, in a 2-1 victory for the Colts.
One save in particular stood out.
Hutchinson looked down-and-out on a scramble in front of the net in the extra frame but he reached up through the crowd and snared a shot by Kyle DeCoste that kept the score tied. DeCoste left the shaking his head, but Hutchison's teammates were pumped.
"I saw it at the last second and shot my glove up," Hutchinson said. "I was as surprised as anybody that I had it in my glove."
Rookie Daniel Michalsky scored his second game-winner minutes later to give the Colts an insurmountable lead in the series.
"He's the reason we were in that series," said Michalsky, who also scored the overtime winner in Game 2. "The way he's playing just gives us so much confidence all over the ice."
"This was one of the biggest games of the series and we knew that we had to come away with the win," said Hutchinson, who was named the OHL's Player of the Week for his performance last week.
Hutchinson finished off the series in fitting fashion, stopping all 34 shots he faced in a 2-0 win.
In the series, he allowed eight goals on 229 shots, holding the Battalion to two or fewer goals in all but one game in the series.
"He was as good as I've seen from any goalie in the playoffs," Battalion over-ager Graham McNabb told the Brampton Guardian after the series finale. "He stood on his head."
Hutchison turned in a mediocre 12-15-2-2 record with a 3.02 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 32 regular season games. He won four of five starts to close out February but managed to win just one of four starts heading into the playoffs in March.
Hutchison accepted Barrie coach Marty Williamson's challenge to raise his game for a post-season run.
"It just gives your team so much confidence," Williamson told the Barrie Examiner. "When you see a goaltender perform like that, you just see the confidence level of your team go through the roof. We felt we could win low-scoring games, we only needed a few goals and Hutch was going to shut them down."
Hutchison faced an average of 46 shots in each game in the opening round and said that he wasn't afraid of the extra work.
"When you feel the puck a lot during a game, you just get more into it and into the zone," Hutchinson said. "That happened in this series and it turned out great."
|Michael Hutchinson had a losing record heading into the OHL playoffs, and was challenged by Barrie coach Marty Williamson to raise his game.
"Out of the top four teams, we felt that we matched up the best against Brampton," Hutchinson said. "We got lucky to get matched up against them and we just practiced hard all week and got prepared for it."
Hutchinson, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder, was the Colts' fourth-round pick in 2006 from the Markham Minor Midgets. He split last season between the Orangeville Jr. A team and the Colts, posting an 8-3 record with a 2.11 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
He started this season as an understudy to all-star Andrew Perugini, but when Perugini was shipped to the Sarnia Sting along with over-age sniper Vladimir Nikiforov, the reigns were handed to Hutchison and rookie Peter DiSalvo.
The Colts were expecting to be in a rebuilding year, but Hutchison's efforts in the playoffs to date have them on an accelerated program.
Despite facing a lot of shots against the Battalion, Hutchison said that his team's defensive strategy has made his job a lot easier.
"We knew that they had a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net," Hutchinson said. "But all season, our mentality has been defense-first and we used that in this series. I got a ton of shots, but our D did a great job of keeping a lot of them to the outside and our forwards blocked a lot of shots, too."
Hutchinson and the Colts have an even bigger task ahead. They open the conference semifinals against first-place Belleville on Wednesday.
"We have to start looking forward to Belleville and preparing for them," Hutchinson said. "It's nice to get a bit of rest before the next round."