NEWARK, N.J. — Maybe the 15th time will be the charm for Carter Hutton.
The 26-year-old goaltender was called up by the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, and is still hoping to get in his first National Hockey League game after, by his estimation, backing up 14 different times for three different teams without playing a single minute.
"This is what I’ve waited for my whole life," Hutton told ECHL.com
"We used to joke around this summer that I’m a full-time backup in the NHL. My buddy said he found some site that said I’ve backed up the most games without playing. But I understand it’s a process and you’ve got to pay your dues, and that’s where you try to create your own path. All you can really do is keep your nose to the grindstone and see what happens."
For Hutton, who played in 14 games for the Toledo Walleye this season, trading in the baseball cap and bench-opening duties for a goalie mask and the net isn’t as easy as you may think. To play, at least for now, he’d have to root for starter Corey Crawford to get hurt or for his team to get blown out. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native obviously doesn’t want either of those things to happen.
"It’s tough. But no matter what, you have to be a good teammate," Hutton said. "I’ve got Corey’s back no matter what, and he’s a great goalie. You don’t wish that on anybody. You just wait for your chance. If it comes along, you have to be ready, no matter which way it comes."
But no matter what happens, it would be hard to wipe the smile off the easygoing goaltender’s face. For starters, Hutton’s alma mater, UMass-Lowell, put on an impressive performance in the NCAA Hockey Tournament, ousting heavily-favored Miami in a 4-3 overtime thriller on Friday night.
"We played Friday and Saturday night when they were playing, so I DVR’d the games and watched them," Hutton said through a smile.
"It was good. I think they had a great run, and obviously I’d have liked to have seen them make the Frozen Four, but the turnaround season they had was unbelievable. To see a guy like (UML goalie) Doug Carr come in and have success was pretty good to see."
Hutton spent four years with the Riverhawks, and both his goals against average and save percentage improved each season. The Philadelphia Flyers took notice, and signed Hutton at the end of the 2009-10 season.
"I think I was playing good hockey at the time, and that helped," said Hutton of going from UML to the Flyers AHL affiliate in Adirondack.
"Mentally, I was ready to go, but that was a big adjustment. The players are a lot bigger and faster, there’s more traffic. But I think going in there and knowing I was going to get a shot to play really helped me…but I think I was ready. Four years of school, I think it was time. I think I matured enough, it was time to make the jump."
Hutton jumped organizations the following season, catching on with the San Jose Sharks. Although he backed up several times for the Sharks, all of his playing time came with Worcester. He got into 22 games, posting a 3.01 GAA and .902 save percentage along the way. He joined the Blackhawks this season and found his way in the ECHL for the first time after getting squeezed out of a spot in Rockford.
"It was obviously disappointing," Hutton said. "Toledo was a great place to go to. I feel like if there was a place to go, that was it.
Nick Vitucci was great with me. He gave me an opportunity to play a lot of games and really build up a lot of minutes. It kind of springboarded me into my year. But at the same time, at first I thought I was trying to do too much, because I had never been there before. I kind of fell into a groove there, just seeing a lot of rubber, and it definitely helped my game. Salak ended up getting injured, and it kind of opened up the door for me to go up there and have an opportunity in Rockford. I took advantage of it."
To say he took advantage of it is a bit of an understatement. Hutton has appeared in 37 games for the IceHogs this season, and boasts a sporty 2.30 goals against average and .919 save percentage, which are easily his best numbers as a pro. Chicago acted accordingly and inked Hutton to a one-year, two-way NHL deal last month.
"To go from an AHL/ECHL two-way contract to an NHL deal, it’s definitely I didn’t think would happen during the season," he said.
"I thought maybe if I had a good year, maybe in the summer time we could work something out. But everything just kind of fell into place for me. All that hard work is paying off."