Carter Hutton was still taking college classes when he got to learn on the job what it was like to be an NHL goaltender.
An undrafted 24-year-old at UMass-Lowell, Hutton could only practice with the American Hockey League’s Adirondack Phantoms on the weekends because of his studies.
Then the Philadelphia Flyers called. Having gone through one goalie injury after another, they signed Hutton to an amateur tryout contract in March 2010 to back up Brian Boucher.
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”At that point in my career I really wasn’t ready for the NHL,” Hutton said. ”We got to play against New Jersey and got to see Marty Brodeur play firsthand. Just the whole experience was kind of a bit eye-opening.”
Hutton didn’t play that March 28 afternoon but won’t forget it. On Monday night, in the same Philadelphia arena that gave him a brief NHL cameo and helped jumpstart his career, he started for the St. Louis Blues and made 26 saves for a shutout victory.
Admittedly unproven and out of nowhere, Hutton signed with the San Jose Sharks that summer back in 2010, in part because they noticed his call-up as one of seven Philadelphia goalies who were in uniform during the regular season. He broke in with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, spent three seasons with the Nashville Predators and made his 82nd NHL start Monday night on the recommendation of Brodeur, now a Blues assistant.
”I don’t think I can sit here and say to be truthful with you that I thought I was going to be” an NHL goalie, Hutton said by phone recently. ”It was still so far away to think that I would be a full-time NHL guy.”
Hutton only spent a couple of days with the Flyers, so little time that coach Peter Laviolette didn’t interact much with him until their paths crossed again in Nashville.
Boucher joked that Laviolette should put Hutton into the game when the Flyers led the Devils 5-1 late in the third period. But the Thunder Bay, Ontario, native’s NHL debut had to wait until April 2013.
”He was the guy that they signed out of college, he came in, you could tell he just was so excited to be there but petrified, too,” Boucher said. ”And we were in the middle of trying to make the playoffs. It was some pretty tense times for us.”
After the Flyers’ victory, Hutton lined up with his temporary teammates to give away their jerseys as part of fan appreciation day. Standing alongside the likes of Simon Gagne, captain Mike Richards and now-Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, Hutton immediately grasped the humor of the moment when one fan opened his envelope to reveal he’d be getting the one-day backup goalie’s jersey.
”I skate over, give him my jersey and sign it,” Hutton said. ”So for me kind of laughing in my head, `Someone’s winning Chris Pronger’s jersey and someone’s getting Carter Hutton’s jersey.”’
The fan, a season-ticket holder, found out it was Hutton’s first NHL game, contacted the Flyers and sent the jersey back so he could have it. Hutton surprised his parents by getting it framed for them.
With that day as the opening chapter, Hutton became an inspiration for late-blooming young goalies like Matt Hewitt, a University of British Columbia player who was the Vancouver Canucks’ emergency backup in October. Hutton was on the ice that night and congratulated him on the opportunity.
”I’ve always kind of considered myself a guy who’s made it the hard way,” Hutton said. ”It is very surreal but make sure you soak it in but still work hard and you never know. There’s always that possibility.”
Hutton has played 99 games since, going 41-31-14 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
”As far as what he’s done with his career, I think he’s done a great job,” Boucher said. ”He seems to be a real likable guy, a good teammate from what I see and the guys really like him. He’s really found a nice little niche in the league.”
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .