Being a backup goalie is a role Carter Hutton isn’t accustomed to. Over the last two seasons in the AHL and ECHL, Hutton has started more games than he has not. He was the starter in Rockford, Toledo and back during his college days at UMass-Lowell.
As the backup to Nashville Predators star goalie Pekka Rinne this season, Hutton has had to find ways to keep sharp mentally and physically. He has yet to make a start in six games and has just 50 minutes of action under his belt, making 21 saves in relief of Rinne on opening night in St. Louis.
Hutton could get his first start of the season this weekend when the Predators have a tough back-to-back in Montreal and Winnipeg, but after that the next back-to-back doesn’t come until mid-November. The Predators only have three back-to-backs between now and Christmas, which means playing time for Hutton could be scarce if Rinne continues to play well.
What is Hutton doing to stay prepared for when the time comes where his name is called? He’s spending a lot of time before and after practice working with goalie coach Mitch Korn. He goes into every game as if he’s going to start, because all goalies have to stay sharp in case something unforeseen happens. He also said he has games with himself in practice to find ways to stay motivated.
“It’s a lot different. Sometimes it’s hard when you don’t get in the game because games are your measuring stick to see where you’re at, see how you’re doing,” said Hutton, who understands his role as the backup to one of the world’s best goalies.
“I think when you’re playing a lot of games you’re managing your practice minutes, managing your output, because you have to make sure you’re ready to go when the puck drops. As the backup you’re taking a lot more shots and being that extra goalie for the guys, so you have to find a way not to just be a target. You have to get something out of it for yourself.”
About 20 minutes before the rest of his teammates hit the ice for morning skate on game days, Hutton can usually be found working with Korn on little things in the crease. Hutton has recently been doing drills while holding a medicine ball to help improve his balance and explosiveness. In full goalie gear, Hutton will hold a medicine ball and jump side-to-side over pucks sitting on the ice. He also does drills with the medicine ball in the butterfly position.
Hutton also mentioned that Korn has asked him to change his body a bit, reducing his body fat and doing different things in conditioning.
“We’ve hit all different areas,” Hutton said of his work with Korn. “It’s been like a full-time one-on-one lesson with a great goalie coach for me.”
With Rinne starting every game thus far to the start season, conventional wisdom would say Hutton’s best chance to make his first start would be Saturday in Montreal. Long travel between Montreal and Winnipeg could mean Rinne won’t start both games. And with Winnipeg now being a divisional opponent, that could be Rinne’s game on Sunday. None of that is official, as Head Coach Barry Trotz always takes it day-by-day with his goaltenders.
Either way, Hutton is ready to go for whenever he’s asked to make his first start with the Predators – whether it comes this weekend or three weeks from now.
“You never know [when you’re going to get called upon],” Hutton said. “This is what I do, this is my life. I have to continue to get better and improve all the time.”