IceCaps Year in Review: Part III Posted by IceCaps on
For any team in the American Hockey League to make it to the Calder Cup Finals, they’re going to need their goaltenders to play well on a regular basis and be able to steal a game or two when needed, both in the playoffs and during the playoff run.
That’s exactly what the St. John’s IceCaps got from their goaltenders during the 2013-14 season.
During the regular season, the IceCaps saw five goaltenders man the crease and they combined to allow 207 goals in 76 games, good for a team goals-against-average of 2.72, the tenth best average in the league this year.
Starting it off
The IceCaps started the year with a tandem of IceCaps veteran Eddie Pasquale and first-year pro Jussi Olkinuora. Pasquale, in his third year as the IceCaps’ starter, did most of the team’s heavy lifting during the first half of the season. From opening day in October to February 2014, Pasquale was in the midst of one of his best seasons as a professional. In 31 games played, he collected a stellar goals-against-average of 2.43 and a career-best save percentage of .920.
In his first season with the IceCaps, Pasquale’s backup Olkinuora struggled to find his game and posted a goals-against-average of 3.25 and a save percentage of .893 in ten appearances. While his future remains bright, the team decided he needed more time to develop and he spent the majority of his season playing for the ECHL’s Ontario Reign.
The IceCaps were dealt a serious blow to their playoff chances early in 2014 when Pasquale was forced to undergo season-ending hip surgery in February.
With Pasquale out of the lineup and Olkinuora not quite ready to take the reins, many fans in St. John’s were skeptical that the team would be able to survive the season and qualify for the playoffs.
Lucky for St. John’s, there was a goaltender in their system who was tearing it up in the ECHL and deserving of a shot in the AHL.
Michael Hutchinson was the number one starter with the Reign and was in mid-season form. In 28 games, his goals-against-average was an excellent 2.08 and his save percentage was a steady .921.
Hutchinson would hit his stride in St. John’s. He collected a record of 17-5-1 with a goals-against-average of 2.30 and a save percentage .923.
His strong play carried him all the way to the NHL as he earned a late-season call-up to the parent Winnipeg Jets, where his confidence soared. In three games, Hutchinson earned two victories and a goals-against-average of 1.64 and a stellar save percentage of .943.
While Hutchinson was enjoying the best stretch of his professional career in Winnipeg, Sudbury, Ontario native Tyler Beskorowany was brought in to help carry the load for the IceCaps.
Originally signed to a PTO in early February, Beskorowany performed admirably in his supporting role. In 12 games played, his numbers rivaled those of Hutchinson. He earned seven victories with a goals-against-average of 2.20 and a .932 save percentage.
Upon his return from his NHL call-up, Hutchinson resumed his starter role with the IceCaps, with Beskorowany settling in as backup.
‘Clutchinson’ emerges in postseason
After earning his place with solid play throughout the latter part of the regular season, Hutchinson turned it up a notch and emerged as the best goaltender in the entire Calder Cup Playoffs. In 21 playoff appearances, he was arguably the IceCaps’ most valuable player and picked up three shutouts, all while posting superb individual statistics, including a 1.95 goals-against-average and .938 save percentage.
While the IceCaps fell to the Texas Stars in five games, Hutchinson earned first star honours in the IceCaps’ only win of the Finals, kicking out 49 shots in a 2-1 victory.
Future is different but bright
Hutchinson’s ECHL to NHL evolution is expected to continue into 2014-15 as he has re-signed with the Winnipeg Jets and is expected to challenge for the backup role behind starter Ondrej Pavelec.
Pasquale, the longest-serving starter in IceCaps history, will not be returning to the IceCaps as he signed a new contract with the Washington Capitals after serving four seasons in the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organization.
With both of the team’s recent starters appearing poised to star in different roles, the door is wide open for a new goaltender to assume the position of starter in St. John’s.
Inside the system, there are several candidates who appear ready to take the reins. Western Hockey League standout Eric Comrie joined the IceCaps near the latter part of the 2013-14 regular season and saw his first professional action in two contests. While his future in the professional ranks is bright, he has a year of junior eligibility remaining and is unable to join the IceCaps full time until the completion of his WHL campaign.
Olkinuora has matured after playing out his season in the ECHL and may be ready for an increased workload in the American Hockey League.
Also set to challenge for the starter job is 2013-14 NCAA standout Connor Hellebuyck, who led the UMass-Lowell River Hawks to a berth in the 2014 Frozen Four. In 29 games, he compiled an impressive 1.79 goals-against-average and .941 save percentage, numbers good enough to earn him the inaugural Mike Richter Award as the top goaltender in all of college hockey.