By MIKE ASHMORE
Special to ECHL.com
No one will ever accuse Carter Hutton of taking the easy road. The Nashville Predators goaltender’s career was at a crossroads in 2011-12, with the personable Thunder Bay, Ontario native having been sent down to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye in his second full professional season despite outstanding numbers for their AHL affiliate in Rockford.
But Hutton overcame his early struggles with the Walleye, and came back to post a strong 2012-13 campaign with Rockford, which ultimately earned him his first chance in the National Hockey League. ECHL.com caught up with the 28-year-old earlier this season to ask him about winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, and quickly jumping into the starting job with Nashville.
Mike Ashmore, ECHL.com: So, the last time you sat down with ECHL.com, it was in 2011 and you were joking around that you thought you’d backed up in the most NHL games without actually getting to play in one. Fast forward to now, and things have really taken off for you…how does it feel to have finally established yourself as an NHL goaltender?
Carter Hutton: “Pretty good. It obviously took a while. I played three or four years in the minors, and I spent some time in the (ECHL) and just kind of worked my way up. I definitely wasn’t rushed, and it’s obviously good to be here. I’m very fortunate to be here in this situation, I don’t take it for granted. Every day, I just have to keep working hard and showing why I deserve to be here.”
ECHL.com: Were there times where you ever let yourself think that all this might not ever happen for you?
Hutton: “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. There were times where I had a couple tough nights in Toledo to start, and it definitely wasn’t reassuring. But being in Toledo really helped me; Nick Vitucci was a goalie as well and he had a lot of faith in me, I played a lot of minutes. I think that really sparked me when I went to the AHL to have my most successful pro season in Rockford.”
ECHL.com: It would be tough for any goalie to get playing time with the tandem the Blackhawks had last season, but how beneficial was it to be around that group?
Hutton: “It was just seeing the way guys prepared day in and day out. I think watching Corey Crawford — who was a guy who has spent a good part of his pro career so far in the AHL and a guy that struggled with a lot of criticism, especially in Chicago – have the season that he did, and continue to (play well), he’s an unbelievable goalie. Just being around that, and seeing how he prepared and took care of business was something that you can’t get anywhere else. Being there, it was an experience that I’ll never forget and something that I learned a lot from.”
ECHL.com: How meaningful was it to not only get into your first game, but get into a game for a team that went on to win a Stanley Cup?
Hutton: “You only get one first game, so that was pretty cool. I’ll have the memories of the guys I played with and getting to play in St. Louis, and then getting to stick around with the guys that I played with and win the Stanley Cup. Obviously, I want to be on the ice and the guy playing, but just being able to be around it and see it all first-hand was a pretty unique experience and something I wouldn’t change for anything.”
ECHL.com: You made a pretty quick rise from a goaltender just on precipice of getting to the NHL to seeing some substantial time as the starter. How big of a jump was that for you?
Hutton: “It was big. Obviously, it was something I didn’t expect coming in. I was behind Pekka Rinne, who’s one of the best in the world, and before the season we talked about playing maybe 15-20 games or who knows. And then you get thrown in. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and it’s been great.”