July 8, 2011

B’s trio of big goalies progressing

By Kirk Luedeke

WILMINGTON, Mass.– The fact that 21-year-old Mike Hutchinson (pictured left) is the “old man” of the Boston Bruins netminder prospects in attendance at the team’s development camp here in July speaks volumes about the youth movement present.

Joined by 18-year-olds Zane Gothberg and Lars Volden (who will both turn 19 this summer), “Hutch” is coming off his first pro season, split between Providence in the AHL and Reading of the ECHL.

The 77th overall selection in 2008 out of the Barrie Colts of the OHL finished his junior career with the London Knights (where his teammates included fellow prospects camper Jared Knight) in 2010 and is expected to form a solid tandem with veteran minor leaguer Anton Khudobin for Bruce Cassidy in the AHL this season.

Hutchinson is in his fourth development camp and has progressed considerably from the big but raw netminder he was when the B’s selected him. The work he’s done with goalie coach Bob Essensa shows in the confident poised manner with which he’s played in the sessions thus far.

(It’s) mostly positioning,” Hutchinson said when asked what Essensa has helped him with the most. “Once you get up to the pro level, positioning becomes so much more important. You can have any style in the world but if you’re out of position, you’re going to make it that much harder for yourself. So, just positioning and depth in the net is what I’ve been working on.”

Looking back on all of his summers in Wilmington, Hutchinson was most pleased with his physical maturation through the years.

“I’ve grown a lot stronger and physically mature over the years,” he said. “I felt that every year at camp, I feel more confident on the ice and more comfortable and make more saves. I feel like my consistency each camp has just gotten a little better.”

Volden is the latest netminder the B’s added to the fold, taking him with the 181st overall selection in the sixth round of last month’s NHL draft. At about 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, he has the natural size and quickness to be an effective butterfly goaltender to develop in the system.

“It’s a good expression of everything,” Volden told New England Hockey Journal when asked for his thoughts of the first 48 hours. “It’s a good group of guys here, the team is good and the organization is good.”

Passed over in the 2010 NHL draft, Volden left his native Norway last season to play hockey in Finland, noted for producing top talent in net, including Bruin Tuukka Rask.

“It was a pretty easy decision actually,” said Volden. “I don’t feel I can develop myself so much as a goalie in Norway so there is a lot of good goalies coming up from Finland, so that’s why I went there; to improve my own game and develop.”

Although he looked a tad unsettled in the first day of camp drills, Volden appeared much more composed and smooth in his play Friday. He has quick lateral movement and positions himself well. He was challenging shooters and swallowing up pucks in his large frame. When he was beaten by shooters, it was usually as the result of secondary and tertiary scoring chances when he did not control the rebounds.

“I’m pretty big so I cover a lot of net,” he said. “I’m (a) butterfly goalie- I think that’s what I am. Growing up, I watched a lot of goalies- many- so I don’t have one that I watched most.”

Volden was part of a draft first when he and fellow netminder Steffen Soberg became the first Norwegian goalies to be selected in the same year. Soberg, who went in the fourth round to the Washington Capitals is in Arlington, Va. this week to participate in the Caps’ development camp. Volden said he’s kept in touch with his good friend and is excited for him to have the same opportunity to get a taste of North American hockey with an NHL organization.

“When he got drafted, I called him,” Volden said of Soberg, who went 64 selections earlier. “He’s a good guy and he deserved it.”

Volden has another year on his contract with the Espoo Blues in Finland and hopes to play for the senior team next season.

“I think I’m going to battle hard to get games there,” he said. “I’m going to play in the second division in Finland and the first division and maybe even some junior games also.”

Gothberg, who like Volden was a sixth round selection (but in 2010) is benefiting from having gone through the camp experience a year ago.

“It’s been high tempo, a lot of skilled guys,” Gothberg said. “Practices are going really good. I’m a little more comfortable this year going into my second than I was last year. I was a little anxious and nervous last year but now, it’s going really well.”

Gothberg credited his time in the USHL in 2010-11 with the Fargo Force as being a big factor in his confidence this time around. As Ryan Massa’s backup, he went 14-8-2 with a GAA of 2.23 and a pair of shutouts, to go along with a gold medal won for Team USA at the World Jr. A Challenge in November.

“It definitely helped,” he said of the experience. “Even in the USHL there’s really good shooters and guys know how to make plays and have crisp passing and stuff. Here you can definitely see that everyone’s skills are on display with their passing, their puck moving and shooting, too. Anyone can snipe on you, so it’s prepared me in a lot of ways.”

When Gothberg reflected on what hashelped him to earn accolades as the top Minnesota high school goalie a year ago with the Frank Brimsek Award and where he is now in his development, his physical gifts of size and athleticism come to the fore, along with a healthy dose of passion for the sport.

“I just like to have fun,” he said. “I just like to have fun playing hockey and hopefully, my skill and passion translates to other players and makes our team better.”

Gothberg also recognizes a need for improvement in his overall technique and the way he approaches making each save.

“Working on the little things,” he said. “Fundamentally everyone needs to get better and that includes me, too. It’s working on little things like getting quicker in the weight room, getting stronger. Just playing a lot of hockey and getting a lot of experience. With each step and each level, just trying to get everything out of it that I can.”

With Massa moving onto the NCAA ranks this season, Gothberg will have plenty of playing time with the Force and a chance to establish himself as a No. 1 before he himself heads to college with the University of North Dakota in 2012.

“It’s a good situation for sure,” he said. “I’ll be seeing a lot of rubber this year, hopefully.”

All three Boston prospects are in good situations to further their development in the coming season, but for now, it’s more about stopping pucks and getting comfortable with the organization.