Austin Owens I Halifax Thunderbirds
Drew Hutchison has endeared himself to the players, staff, and fans of the Halifax Thunderbirds in a very short amount of time.
The rookie netminder’s impact in the early goings has been impressive to watch, especially considering the road that brought him to the Maritimes.
Before this year, Hutchison hadn’t seen a shot in box lacrosse since the summer of 2019, his final season of junior lacrosse.
The COVID pandemic reared its head the next year, putting Canadian box lacrosse on a one-year hiatus and leaving many players, including Hutchison, without a last chance to showcase themselves.
Hutchison’s rights were maintained by his hometown Peterborough Lakers, but because the team didn’t participate in the 2021 Major Series Lacrosse bubble, he didn’t get any game action prior to the 2021 NLL Draft.
He said that he’d spoken to a few teams, but he had a feeling that the Thunderbirds had the most interest in drafting him.
“Draft night was fun, because it was my first weekend back at school, and there were three or four of us that kind of had an idea we were getting drafted,” Hutchison said. “Ryan Barnable went in the first round and was upstairs doing some media interviews, and we were just watching the draft. Because we’d talked pre-draft about where we might go, he was still watching while he was up there.
“When Halifax was up, he slowly started walking down the stairs, waiting to see who they drafted, and when my name was called, the whole house erupted.”
The Thunderbirds were looking to add a goaltender through the draft, and Hutchison became a top target for them. After selecting defender Max Wilson with their first pick in the draft, Halifax made Hutchison their second pick of the evening, selecting him with the 18th overall pick of the 2021 Draft.
Despite the lack of box exposure over the last few years, the Peterborough, Ontario native spent his collegiate career with RIT, widely considered a pro lacrosse player factory.
The Division III NCAA side has produced numerous NLL stars and has been a staple in the championship picture for close to a decade.
Hutchison had to be patient during his tenure with the Tigers. He made it into four-plus games in his first three years with the program, and he was the backup for the 2021 team that brought home the program's first NCAA championship. But he took over in the cage full-time in 2022.
He once again helped the Tigers make it all the way back to the championship game, finishing the year with a 22-1 record. In the championship game against Union, Hutchison had 16 saves to help seal a 12-10 victory and back-to-back titles for RIT.
“Our coaches really treated us like we were a Division I program. I think in my years there, we lost in the quarterfinals, lost in the semis, and then won two National Championships. I think we’ve won our league 10 years in a row, as well. So, there are those high expectations,” Hutchison said. “...I think when we went back-to-back, that was the real exclamation point for our program.”
With his collegiate career at an end, it was time for Hutchison to prep for his first training camp with Halifax.
He was able to make it into five games with Peterborough this past summer, which helped him get in some box reps once again and see some shots against pro competition.
“I’d love to sit here and say the transition (back to box) was smooth. But since I’d basically not played in two years, it was an adjustment,” Hutchison said. “I also didn’t really have time to get into the swing of things. Once I got back from school, I had maybe two practices and was right in, starting against Six Nations. It was an adjustment, but it was fun at the same time.
With that experience under his belt, Hutchison came into camp as one of the three goaltenders vying for a spot on the final roster. Warren Hill returned as the presumed starter heading into the year, leaving Hutchison and veteran Aaron Bold to compete for the backup role.
Following a month of practices, intrasquad scrimmages, and pregame tune-ups against NLL teams, it was Hutchison who earned the spot.
“I was just coming in thinking I didn’t have anything to lose,” Hutchison said. “Warren and Boldy are both really good goalies, and I just went out there and tried not to be timid or afraid to do things and show what I had. At the end of the day, you can control the controllable, and the rest will take care of itself.”
It didn’t take long for the 24-year-old to see his first action between the pipes. In the Thunderbirds’ home opener against Philadelphia, the team was up big in the late stages of the game. Head coach Mike Accursi opted to give Hill some rest down the stretch and throw Hutchison in to finish up the game.
He finished with four saves in just over five minutes of action, not allowing a single goal in the process.
“That whole weekend was surreal. It was the first time I had ever been out to Halifax. It was a pretty amazing moment getting to run out of that tunnel for the first time,” Hutchison said. “Clarkey (Clarke Petterson) jokes about it, but when I was running out for intros, they had the flames, and I had never seen that before, and it caught me off-guard. He said I jumped like a scared cat, so I won’t live that one down.
“Coach Accursi kind of told me to go and stretch just in case, and that’s when the nerves hit me. But once I got into the net, I was fine.”
A week later, Hutchison got a call early in the week that he’d be a game-time decision to start against New York on the road. On the morning of the game, Accursi let Hutchison and the team know that he was in the net for the second game of the year.
“They got pretty loud in the dressing room, so that was really cool,” Hutchison said with a laugh.
Ahead of his first career start, Hutchison tried to keep the same pre-game routine as always. And as he put it, “The rest is history.”
Hutchison looked calm and collected in the net, making 29 saves – including a few massive ones on breakaways – to secure his first career win.
“I think I’ll just remember after the final buzzer went, just the guys all coming to congratulate me on the win. I definitely won’t forget that moment,” Hutchison said. “It was a pretty cool game, but I’m just glad we got the win.”
Just four games into his NLL career, Hutchison has appeared in three of them. He’s just begun to scratch the surface of his potential, and alongside Hill, the Thunderbirds look to have a dynamic duo in the cage.
“This has just been so fun. Even though we’re only four games in, it feels like I’ve been on this team for two or three years with all of these guys,” Hutchison said. “I just feel like a kid in a candy shop. I’m still just pumped to be in the league and with this team and be able to do whatever I can to help us win.”