Hutchinson repays faith

London Knights goalie Michael Hutchinson searches for the puck over teammate Steve Tarasuk as...

London Knights goalie Michael Hutchinson searches for the puck over teammate Steve Tarasuk as Plymouth Whalers Josh Brittain crowds the crease during the third period of their Ontario Hockey League game Friday night at the John Labatt Centre. Hutchinson had a big night as the Knights won 3-2 in a shootout. (SUE REEVE, The London Free Press)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

Not many hockey games are won at lunch.

But maybe this one was.

Michael Hutchinson and old London Knights teammate Phil McRae were sharing a meal several hours before facing off Friday night at the John Labatt Centre.

"Phil said to me if he gets a breakaway to let him go five-hole," Hutchinson said after helping the Knights snap a three-game skid with a 3-2 shootout win over McRae's new club, the Plymouth Whalers, before 9,051 fans.

"That stuck in the back of my mind in the shootout -- that he might try to go five-hole."

The Hunters -- Dale and Mark -- kept turning to their big offseason goaltending acquisition from Barrie after back-to-back yankings against Windsor and Plymouth last week.

They showed some belief and trust. Big Hutch repaid it.

He denied potential NHL first overall pick Tyler Seguin in the shootout. He shut the door on St. Louis prospect McRae.

He beat Londoner Matt Hackett, who showed again why he's the best goalie in the OHL with 38 saves before surrendering shootout goals to Nazem Kadri and Jared Knight.

And Hutchinson also did something that he hasn't been able to do since his rookie season with the Barrie Colts: Beat Plymouth. The Knights might need more of that if they run into the huge Whalers in the playoffs.

"It's a huge monkey off my back," the 19-year-old said. "I'm just glad we got the two points."

Next time, McRae will stick to eating his food and not giving Hutchinson any hints. The former Knight hit the crossbar in the first period, nearly won it late, then took an interference penalty in overtime that the Whalers killed off.

"Every day in practice (with the Knights), we practised shootouts," McRae said, "so he (Hutch) has seen everything I've got.

"I wanted to try something different."

McRae remained at home in London for a couple of days after his grandfather passed away. That's why he didn't play in the OHL all-star game at Kingston on Wednesday.

A big guy, he doesn't look out of place on a Whalers club that's unafraid to play physical.

"In some ways, we're kind of like that Whalers team that beat us (the Knights in the 2006-07 Western Conference final)," McRae said.

That physical Plymouth crew banged the Knights at every turn. They crashed their way right to the Memorial Cup tournament in Vancouver.

They certainly have that kind of winning goalie in Hackett.

But Stephen Sanza has his own secret weapon -- Phil Varone.

The speedy Sanza was hauled down in the first period and awarded a penalty shot. He was stopped on a backhand move but talked to Varone, who will miss the rest of the season after shoulder surgery, at the intermission.

"He told me to go low on him," Sanza said. "I figured on my third try, I better get it right."

Sanza didn't offer any advice to shootout takers Kadri, defenceman Michael D'Orazio or Jared Knight. But Hutchinson did.

"I was joking with D'Orazio that he has to get a new move," he said. "I told him he can't copy Kadri and go bar-down all the time."

Kadri's and D'Orazio's shootout attempts were reviewed. Kadri's counted, D'Orazio's didn't.

The video booth was hopping.

Hutchinson was victimized on a long Michal Jordan shot in the second period that appeared to find all bar. Plymouth wanted it looked at, and it was ruled a goal to tie the game.

"I've never seen that many reviews before," Hutchinson said. "It made for a longer game, but it all worked out in the end."

The Knights felt like they got off their slide by beating a strong team. They blocked a lot of shots. They fought for pucks. They hit hard.

And in the end, they didn't let a season-high three-game losing streak turn worse with Brampton and Cody Hodgson rolling into town Saturday.

"We're not here to develop average players," London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "We want to breed winners. That's the atmosphere we're trying to create. That's why we don't want to talk about three-game losing streaks.

"We'd rather be talking about long winning streaks."

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Game glance

Knights 3, Whalers 2 (London wins shootout 2-0)

London goals: Jared Knight, Stephen Sanza

Plymouth goals: Josh Bemis, Michal Jordan

Next: The Knights face the Brampton Battalion Saturday at the John Labatt Centre at 7 p.m. Itís House of Blue night in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Ryan Pyette is a Free Press sports reporter.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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