Carter Hutton isn’t the youngest skater on the Rockford IceHogs roster. In fact, the goalie turned 26 in December, making him the sixth oldest player in the Hogs current locker room.
While his age might be on the older end of the IceHogs roster, the fact that he’s in his second full pro season is much more typical among his teammates. Even there, Hutton isn’t average, though.
Unlike Blackhawks draft picks and second year skaters like Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin or Kyle Beach who have spent most of their young pro careers in Rockford, Hutton has backstopped three different American Hockey League teams. And the goalie has also made stops in both the NHL and ECHL already in his brief pro campaign.
The Road to Rockford
Following a season that included a call up from the Worcester Sharks to back up Antti Niemi in San Jose, Hutton found himself the odd man out in a goalie log jam.
“I just kind of got pushed out in San Jose. Because I was 24, turned 25, I signed a one-year contract. So my entry level deal was done and they had eight goalies already on contract,” Hutton said. “I could have signed an American league deal, but I didn’t know where I’d fit in the system.”
That’s when Chicago Blackhawks General Manager of Minor League Affiliations Mark Bernard had a conversation with Hutton’s agent.
After having a taste of the NHL life in his first pro campaign, the goalie was looking for a contract that would give him the best shot of making a return appearance. With only Corey Crawford, Alexander Salak and Alec Richards on contract with Chicago at the time – Ray Emery was signed in October – the Blackhawks organization appealed to Hutton.
“I knew I’d get an opportunity sooner or later, and that was like the biggest reason I came here. Up front, (Mark Bernard) was real honest with me and really helped me out with my decision and encouraged me,” Hutton said.
With Emery on the roster in Chicago and Alexander Salak joining the IceHogs as a result, Hutton was assigned to the Toledo Walleye (ECHL) in early October. But even in Toledo, IceHogs Developmental Goaltending Coach Andrew Allen liked what he saw from Hutton.
“When he did go down right away it was disappointing, as it would be to anybody, but I think he really stayed focused down there. I talked to him a lot and he was frustrated that he was there, but he was working hard while he was there and it really showed,” Allen said.
“I watched a lot of his games down there, and he’s at his best when he’s just reacting. And that’s what he brought up when he came. He didn’t think too much about it. He knew how to play in this league.”
Even though Hutton started preparing himself for a possible trip to the ECHL when the Blackhawks signed Emery, the move still wasn’t one he was happy about.
“Getting sent down kind of cuts you down a bit, but at the same time, you know that you can get back there and you just work hard and let the rest take care of itself,” Hutton said. “I think it really spring boarded me into my season to get into a rhythm and start playing well. It was tough because obviously the dream is to play in the NHL.”
In 14 games with Toledo this season, Hutton has compiled a .900 save percentage and a 3.15 goals against average. But it wasn’t smooth sailing for the goalie at the beginning.
“Early on I kind of struggled a bit,” Hutton said. “I think because I got sent down, because I didn’t want to be there, I was trying to force it too much. But then I found a rhythm, started playing well, had success.”
The Value of Hard Work
Hutton’s effort to make the most of his opportunities hasn’t been lost on his coaches or teammates, either.
|Photo courtesty of the Rockford IceHogs. |
“He’s a hard worker and he really is a great teammate,” Allen said. “I think the guys kind of rallied around that right away.”
IceHogs captain Brandon Segal is one of the guys Hutton credits with making his transition to Rockford easier. But the veteran winger gives the goalie credit for keeping the game in perspective, despite his changing surroundings.
“Right from camp he’s had a great attitude. He wants to be here and he’s shown that he deserves to stay. He’s a great team guy. I’ve never seen a goalie work so hard on and off the ice,” Segal said.
For Segal, watching a goalie put in that effort only adds motivation for the whole team.
“We want to make it a little easier on him, so we’re going to step up our play and try to do whatever it takes so he’s not getting peppered in net,” Segal said. “I’m really, really impressed with him. When he went down to Toledo, he stayed positive and worked his way back up.”
Hard work is nothing new for Hutton, though.
Growing up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Hutton watched his father, a sheet metal worker, travel four hours outside of town for work.
“I’ve just kind of seen the way my dad works,” Hutton said. “You respect everything that you had growing up and how hard he worked for us and stuff like that, so that’s why you want to be successful in whatever you do.”
Even though he’s afraid of heights, Hutton joined his dad to do some roofing one summer when he was looking for a job after the conclusion of his season in juniors. But it was more than just the height that bothered Hutton when he got to the job site.
“I wasn’t used to 10 hour days, so I was tired. I could do all the labor and stuff like that, but it was hard work. I definitely realized how much harder I wanted to work at hockey after doing that for a little while,” Hutton said.
When it came to balancing the demands of a job that by its very nature required him to face his fears, Hutton’s solution was simple: stay away from the edge.
“I wasn’t working the edge too much. It was flat roofs, though, so it wasn’t too bad. It was at a mill and there were flat roofs and they had this tar you had to lay down,” Hutton said. “I think I had more stuff on me than I had actually on the ground.”
That same work ethic served Hutton well when it was time to make the jump from juniors to college.
“We had to work for what we had. My parents were great to me. I was spoiled growing up, but at the same time I learned some discipline,” Hutton said. “When I went to school I was a little more focused on getting my education because I had seen what you could do with school.”
THEY SAID IT...
"He’s proven that he can play at this level and he’s got NHL aspirations. He’s the type of goalie that guys want to play for."
-- Developmental Goaltending Coach Andrew Allen
A self-admitted “late bloomer,” Hutton found himself just growing into his craft at the junior level at the age of 19, past his prime for playing major junior. So at 20 years old, Hutton was at the end of his junior career and had yet to talk to a school.
With UMass Lowell the only scholarship offer, Hutton picked the River Hawks without ever visiting campus.
“My last resource was Lowell and it ended up kind of saving my whole career and changing my life for sure,” Hutton said.
Hutton recorded a school-high 10 shutouts in his four years backstopping the River Hawks, posting a .911 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average. As a senior, the netminder set a school record with a .928 save percentage.
But Hutton wasn’t expecting to make it into the River Hawks record books when he first arrived on campus.
“I had no clue really what I was getting in to. And then it was kind of trial by error. Early on I had some success and then I had some bad games,” Hutton said. “I’m pretty proud of records and things like that, but it’s also a team credit, too.
“I really enjoyed my four years there. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
As a 20-year-old college freshman, Hutton had a little different perspective when it came to work on the ice and in the classroom, where he majored in business finance and entrepreneurship.
“Everybody wants to go out and have fun in college. But at the same time, playing Division 1 hockey, you’re pretty fortunate to be there, so you have to take it pretty serious. It’s a fulltime job,” Hutton said.
“Teachers would help you out, give you extra time if you need it, but you still have to get the work done. That helped me out being a little bit older, a little more mature.”
It was right after college when Hutton got his first stab at pro hockey – a four game stint with the Adirondack Phantoms immediately after his senior year that saw Hutton record his first professional win.
Swimming with the Big Fish
The professional opportunities kept coming after Adirondack when Hutton signed with the San Jose Sharks prior to the 2010-11 campaign. Hutton spent much of the season with the Worcester Sharks, where he appeared in 22 games and recorded 11 wins.
But the real excitement came when Hutton got the call to the NHL to back up Antti Niemi in San Jose for 12 games.
“I kind of knew there was the possibility of getting called up because I’d been through training camp and everything,” Hutton said. “Getting to live the lifestyle and see how they do it was a great experience. And at the same time seeing how close we are to being in the NHL, it makes you want to work that much harder to stick there and make it a lifestyle instead of just a quick little visit.”
Hutton’s motivation from the experience came from more than just having a team plane and meals catered in, though. Despite never appearing in an NHL game, he still saw firsthand how skaters at that level handle their business.
It’s no secret to Allen what Hutton’s goals are.
“He’s proven that he can play at this level and he’s got NHL aspirations. He’s the type of goalie that guys want to play for and he works hard, so I hope for him that he does get the shot at the next level,” Allen said. “For the moment, he’s focused on playing here.”
In the meantime, Segal can attest to the fact that Hutton is enjoying his Rockford teammates.
“He’s always hooting and hollering in the dressing room. You always know when he’s in the room because you can always hear him. Sometimes you want to see if there’s an off switch,” Segal joked.
Segal has had his own experience with shuttling between the NHL and AHL during a nine-year professional career. His advice for Hutton: stay positive.
“It’s such a weird game. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so you’ve just got to relax and take it one game at a time and make sure you’re playing hard and keep working hard.”
It was the injury to Salak that opened the door for Hutton’s current role with Rockford, proving that tomorrow is always uncertain in professional sports. It’s a lesson Hutton knows well.
“That’s the way hockey is,” Hutton said. “It’s about getting opportunities and taking advantage of them.”