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The NHL road less traveled

by San Jose Sharks staff || AHL On The Beat Archive

Carter Hutton is simply living the dream.

Okay, maybe he would like all the playing time that Antti Niemi is currently getting (name a backup who wouldn’t), but considering where he came from, Hutton’s life couldn’t be much better.

Hutton knows, whether it’s tomorrow or further down the road, the moment Antero Niittymaki is ready to play, the Thunder Bay, Ont., native will likely be sent back to the San Jose Sharks’ top development affiliate in Worcester.

For now though, he will thrive in the moment.

“We’re definitely linked together,” Hutton said. “I don’t know where or when I’m going, but I’m taking it day-by-day and trying to have a positive impact. It’s still hockey, but a bigger scale. It’s something I’ve been preparing for my whole life.”

It just wasn’t expected by everybody. Most professional athletes, even at the lower rungs of their sport, were at least the star in their towns growing up. Even if they weren’t the local star, they were at least talented enough to make the best team.

Not the case for Hutton.

“Where I’m from, there’s one main organization, a AAA travel team,” Hutton said. “All the guys that go play major junior go through this organization. They are the main feeder. My whole career, I got cut every year. When I was 14, I got cut. At 16, I got cut, but I was with an affiliate, so they had me at a couple of practices. I never got to play or anything. At 17, I thought it was supposed to be my year and I got cut again. I ended up going back to AA and having a good year.”

Hutton then moved to Tier II hockey, not the main avenue to the National Hockey League, until he was 20. However, he was with a talented club that won the equivalent of the Memorial Cup for Junior A hockey.

That’s where his big break came. As a Junior A star, he was still eligible for a U.S. college scholarship and the University of Massachusetts–Lowell came through.

“We had a good tournament and Lowell lost their starting goalie, he transferred,” Hutton said. “Somebody had seen me play and told them about me. It was my only scholarship offer, so I lucked out. I went there and was fortunate enough to play. I developed and played more and that led to offers in the American Hockey League.”

The 25-year-old doesn’t come off as bitter that it took so long for his talents to be appreciated.

“My buddies make fun of it and say they were at least better than me when we were kids. It’s a fun story,” Hutton said. “I was one of those guys who was a late bloomer.”

Hutton joined the Sharks are on their extended road trip and has thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.

“It’s been an exciting time for me and my family,” Hutton said. “This is my first full pro season and getting a chance to get called up here is pretty exciting.”

Hutton may not have participated in an NHL game on the ice, but he’s taking advantage of his time with the San Jose Sharks.

“It’s a good experience,” Hutton said. “I get to see these guys take care of business and get to know them. I got to know some in training camp so I had some relationships already. It made the transition a lot easier.”

A major benefit to the San Jose time has been the instruction from Vice President and General Manager Wayne Thomas, who happens to be on the ice virtually every day with San Jose’s netminders.

“It goes off and on with him and Corey (Schwab),” Hutton said. “He’s helped me out a lot. The little things that you can overlook sometimes making the jump to the pro game from college. To work with him has been huge.”

With the Sharks back in Silicon Valley, Hutton is back at the hotel where he started the season during September’s training camp.

“I’ve been with the Sharks for five for six games, but I haven’t been in San Jose much,” Hutton said with a smile. “At least I know the hotel and the area some.”

When Niittymaki returns, Hutton knows there could be some available ice time in Worcester since Alex Stalock’s season is over due to an injury.

“It’s not the way you want to get an opportunity, but that’s hockey,” Hutton said. “I want to make the most of it.”

His road has been a challenging one, so he is taking nothing for granted.

“It makes me appreciate this more,” Hutton said.

Since Hutton has been overlooked so much in his career, it would be wise not to underestimate him on his long term vision.

“Being a steady starter in the NHL is the ultimate goal,” Hutton said.