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Home is where the heart is for Bakersfield's Lutes

by Brian Compton

Brett Lutes has enjoyed nothing but success since returning to Bakersfield.
Brett Lutes is a happy man.

Not only is he off to a fantastic start this season, but the 24-year-old is back in the city where his professional career began in 2004.

A pre-season trade with the Stockton Thunder sent Lutes back to the Bakersfield Condors, and both Lutes and the Condors have reaped the rewards of that deal. The Condors have their offensively gifted forward back, while Lutes has returned to Bakersfield, the home of his fiancée.

“They had a bunch of guys sent down from Edmonton,” Lutes said of the Thunder. “That caused a lot of problems for a lot of people. I’m real happy with what happened, coming back to Bakersfield. My girl is from there. It worked out for the best. She was ecstatic. As long as she’s happy, I’m happy, you know?”

Indeed we do. Bakersfield head coach Marty Raymond is pretty happy himself to have added another consistent scorer back in his lineup, and one he is so familiar with.

“(Stockton head coach) Chris Cichocki called me and asked me if I’d be interested in having him again,” Raymond explained. “Chris Cichocki is a good guy. That was nice of him. It was a great addition, knowing Brett. It was a good match.”

Lutes has enjoyed nothing but success since returning to Bakersfield. The Riverview, New Brunswick native has averaged a point per game for the Condors, tallying 12 goals and six assists in 18 contests.

“I’ve been fortunate, I guess,” Lutes said. “The puck’s been hitting my stick and it’s been going in the net. I’m fortunate to have that many goals.”

And the Condors are fortunate to have the man back they thought they lost two years ago when Lutes bolted for the United Hockey League’s Port Huron Flags. Raymond believes Lutes has been better in his second stint in Bakersfield – both on and off the ice.

“Brett played with us a couple of years back, and he wasn’t as mature as he is right now,” Raymond said. “I think he’s mature off the ice. He’s in better shape. He’s prepared himself a little better this year. He takes it very seriously, and it shows. I think he could score 30, 35 goals at this level, but I think his No. 1 goal is to be part of a team that’s going to go as far as it can in the playoffs.”

That would be a nice change for Lutes, who failed to reach the postseason with Port Huron last season. Lutes joined the Flags so he could play for head coach Paul Willett, who was an assistant coach in Bakersfield in 2004-05. While Lutes enjoyed a career year in the UHL (23 goals and 30 assists in 63 games), Willett did not last the season behind the bench as he was fired after 57 games (20-32-5).

“I pretty much followed him there,” Lutes said. “I wanted to help him out.”

Raymond believes there was more to Lutes’ departure than simply his friendship with Willett.

“Obviously in the UHL, he was offered a lot more money,” Raymond said. “I think he went for the money, but sometimes in life when you get more money, it doesn’t mean success will follow you. He had a great year, but his team was struggling.”

The Condors, however, have won six of their last 10 games and are just seven points behind the Las Vegas Wranglers in the Pacific Division despite the latter’s phenomenal 13-2-7 start. He believes the example that he and his veteran teammates set on the ice and in the locker room has paid dividends.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good team,” Lutes said. “We have a lot of hard workers, and that filters down to the younger guys here.”

And should Lutes continue to be a leader on and off the ice, one has to believe an AHL team will soon be calling for his services. But if it doesn’t, Lutes is more than content with putting up great numbers and hanging out with the woman he plans on spending the rest of his life with.

“I’m not worried about it,” Lutes said. “I’m happy with where I am. If it happens, it happens. If someone wants to take a shot on me, then they’ll take a shot. As far as I’m concerned, I’m happy where I am.”

“He’s got tremendous skills,” Raymond said. “He’s got American League skills. He should be at that level. There’s always some people who have an epiphany and say; ‘I want to do better.’ He’s happy in life. He met someone from Bakersfield and he’s told himself; ‘If I’m going to be here, I’m going to do the best I can.’”

Around the ECHL -- Former captain Jeremy Mylymok was inducted into the Idaho Steelheads’ Wall of Fame last Saturday. Mylymok played in Idaho from 2000-06. … The ECHL passed the one-million mark in attendance for the 17th consecutive season last Friday. … The Dayton Bombers appear to be much improved from last season and are riding a four-game win streak. … Reading rookie netminder Jeff Pietrasiak is off to a 3-0 start with a 2.64 GAA. … Trenton Titans forward Mike Pandolfo has a registered at least one point in each of his last 13 games. He has a remarkable 12 goals and 12 assists during that span. … Wheeling rookie Jon Smyth has a league-high seven-game assist streak. … Charlotte forward Mark Lee ranks fourth in the ECHL with 23 assists. … The Florida Everblades scored five power play goals last Friday night in a 7-5 win over Pensacola. … Gwinnett rookie Colton Fretter is tied for the league lead in goals with 16. … Texas goalie Matt Yeats made 53 saves for the second time this season in a 4-0 win over Charlotte last Friday. … The Alaska Aces have won seven of their last nine games. … The Utah Grizzlies have played 15 of their first 22 games on the road and have gone 2-11-2. … Victoria’s Jordan Krestanovich had picked up five points in three games since being acquired from Pensacola. … Bakersfield goalie Jamie Hodson is 6-0-1 with a .929 save percentage in his last seven starts. … The Fresno Falcons have not scored on the power play in their last 22 opportunities. … Stockton goalie Cam Ellsworth leads the ECHL with a 1.87 GAA.


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