Carter Hutton Pro Tips:
Not Playing Lots No Excuse for Not Playing Well
Carter Hutton has one of the hardest jobs in professional sports: backup goalie.
While most recognize the difficulty that comes with trying to stay on top of your game when you aren’t playing often, of trying not to worry about a bad performance when there’s a good chance you’ll have to dwell on it for a week or more before you get a chance to redeem yourself, Hutton has little time for the woe-is-me whining often associated with the job.
The St. Louis Blues stopper doesn’t have a lot of time for theories that the backup job is better suited to a technically sound, more conservative positional goaltender that plays with less flow and movement because those tendencies are more reliant on rhythm, timing and reads that are hard to maintain during long gaps in game action, and harder to simulate in practices.
“Everyone always says the more you play the better you can get in a rhythm, whereas I don’t believe in that at all,” said Hutton, who averaged 22 starts his first four NHL seasons. “It’s so mental because we have so much time to practice but we come from this school of thought that you need to play to be in rhythm. I think you can set yourself up to be in a rhythm with the way you practice, the way your train, the way you prepare. Your head controls a lot of that, the way we process things, the way we think, the way we prepare. Do we prepare to succeed or do we prepare to fail? I think a lot of guys go into games thinking ‘oh, I haven’t played in a few weeks, I am not going to play well, I am not going to be feeling it.’ It’s all mental.”
That quote first appeared in an Unmasked column on NHL.com about the life of a backup, and Hutton has since had other NHL backups approach him in warm-ups against the Blues to say how much it resonated with them. So, we decided to circle back with Hutton, and delve a little deeper into the philosophy of an experienced goalie who has done the backup job so well, with a .943 save percentage this season, that he has earned the majority of starts lately. We’ve broken down his advice into five parts that we’ll roll out over the next week. While the conversation started with a focus on being a backup goalie in the NHL, a lot of the advice translates to youth hockey, which can often mean similar gaps between games and practice time in between starts that isn’t always designed for – or even good for – the goalies. “I am not sitting here saying I have it all figured out by any means but I have a thing that works for me and it try to stick to it and I think confidence of the mind is a big thing,” Hutton said. “I take pride in taking care of that side of things and if I could tell other goalies the most important part of being a backup, I’d say work on your mind because the other stuff is going to take care of itself. It’s getting past that mindset of ‘I’m not playing much, how am I going to be good?’ It doesn’t matter.”
Part I: DON’T SWEAT WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTROL
Hutton, 31, said his keys start with not worrying about things he can’t control, including how often he plays, and learning what things he does need to worry about when he isn’t playing. “Just dumb it down. So many things are out of my control. I can’t control when the next time I am going to start is. I can’t control how many chances they are going to get. When I was younger in my career I always used to worry about the guy in the other end, or watch the shot clock and worry about things that are out of my control. I can’t control if I get 40 shots or 15, so when I started to just worry about me instead of if the other goalie is playing great at the other end, that was great because I can’t control those other things. I can’t make a big save if they don’t get a shot on goal. “The only thing I can control is my attitude, which I think is huge too, be a good team guy, have a good attitude and then my work ethic that I put into it so when I do get that chance I know I am prepared, and not doubting myself because I didn’t put in the time.” In a lot of ways, it sounds like studying for a test when you were in school. “One-hundred percent, but it’s studying the right things too,” Hutton said. “You can go out there and work hard but if you are not working smart too, you need to do things that are going to be effective, and I find if you can get away from these controlled environments – it’s good, you need those reps and you need that practice – but it can’t just be that all the time.”
What does Hutton mean by “controlled environments?”
Find out by reading Part 2 now: GETTING OUT OF GOALIE SCHOOL MINDSET