Building the Herd – James Hutchinson

In another bolt from the blue, Bison coach Doug Sheppard has added his second new player in a week to the Herd with the signing of James Hutchinson, recently released by Peterborough. Hutchinson’s message to Banners On The Wall for Bison fans was that he’s “looking forward to to playing for an ambitious team and playing to win every night.”

28 year old Hutchinson first appeared in the EPL with the Phantoms way back in the 2000/01 season where he appeared in 4 games, tallying 2 assists. 2001/02 saw Hutchinson play with the England u18/20 side that competed against club sides before moving to the Isle of Wight Raiders for 2002/03. As part of the Ryde side, Hutchinson tallied 3 goals and 13 assists for 16 points in his 38 contests.

Hutchinson’s performances on the Isle of Wight caught the attention of then new Bison head coach Steve Moria as he was putting together a Bison side for the first season of the Elite League. Mainly used as a 5th defenceman, Hutchinson scored 2 assists in 44 games with the Herd as the Bison finished 7th and missed the playoffs.

He then took the long road to Scotland where he iced for the Dundee Stars in the British National League. Hutchinson played 37 games for the Stars, scoring once and assisting 7 times for 8 points across the season. The Stars finished 5 in the standings but won the BNL playoffs.

After that success in Dundee, Hutchinson decided to try his luck even further afield by signing a contract with Morzine-Avoriaz in the French top tier, the Ligue Magnus. Hutchinson played 18 games, scoring 3 assists to help the Penguins to a 6th placed finish.

Hutchinson then headed back to Britain for 2006/07 appearing in 6 contests for Manchester in the EIHL but spending the bulk of time in Peterborough in the EPL where he went over a point per game for the first time in his senior career scoring 42 points (5+37) in his 37 games for the Phantoms.

Back with the Phantoms for 2007/08, Hutchinson improved his numbers by scoring 43 points (11+32) in 36 contests whilst guesting in 2 EIHL games for Nottingham. The following season with the Phantoms was a banner year for everyone in Peterborough as alongside Joe Miller, James was part of the team that did the EPL grand slam scoring 58 points (10+48) in 54 games.

After such performances the EIHL came calling again for Hutchinson as the Hull Stingrays signed him up for the 2009/10 season. Used in a different role to the previous season, he scored 1 goal and 3 assists in 45 games in the East Riding before rejoining the Phantoms for the 2010/11 season as the alternate captain tallying 41 points (4+37) in 50 games and making 1 guest appearance for the Stingrays.

2011/12 started badly for Hutchinson; originally signed by Bruce Richardson to be part of Braehead Clan he was released in somewhat controversial circumstances. The Clan claimed it was a mutual parting of the ways, Hutchinson told a horror story of dealings with Clan and Panthers owner Neil Black. The season however improved dramatically when he was picked up by Doug Christiansen and the Belfast Giants. Hutchinson scored 1 goal and 3 assists in 34 games with Belfast as they marched to the EIHL title.

Hutchinson returned to the Phantoms to start the current campaign, scoring 11 points (1+10) in 17 contests but was released on Sunday due to financial pressures at the Cambridgeshire club before being announced last night by the Herd.

Colour me pleasantly surprised with this one. As soon as Hutchinson was released by the Phantoms, it was going to be a certainty that a few clubs would be talking to him. I don’t think it was on many people’s radars because…well, Bison are top of the league (saying that never gets old does it) and why change? Well, didn’t we all say the same about Fojtik?

Hutchinson ticks two boxes for the Bison;

1. Defensive cover; yes our defence is already pretty good but with injuries to Miller and Greener and Redmond moving to forward the 4 man rotation at the back has been seeing a lot of ice and tiring at the end of games. As we don’t know how long either will be out, Hutchinson’s capture gives the Bison a 5 man unit back. This allows guys to be fresher in the dying moments of a tight game and hopefully prevent a few injuries with it as well. It will also provide a good bit of cover when Zach Sullivan travels off with GB under 20’s to Ukraine next month. When all are fit and well Bison can either run 4 forward lines or 6 defenceman which is a frightening thought for other EPL sides.

2. Offensive production; yes, more points. Now having tons of points from the back end is not the objective but having another source of production will certainly help. Hutchinson has 11 points on his own; Reynolds, Sullivan, Graham and Symonds have 7 points combined. He’s also a British defenceman who, at EPL level is close to a point per game which we won’t sniff at. It also adds a different option for the powerplay. Hutchinson is a left handed shot and the only other left shot defenceman we have is Kurt Reynolds who isn’t known for his Mindy Kieras impression. (Edit: Uggh epic fail on my part and this is what I get for reading too much. Many thanks to Nigel ‘Moose’ Simmonds for pointing out that Kurt’s a right handed shot. Went back, checked some game footage and Nigel’s right, thanks for nothing Elite Prospects.) with the powerplay having recently had Jaroslav Cesky at the right point this allows for the Bison to not have to possibly overplay Cesky on the powerplay and adds a different shot to the repertoire. That can only be a win/win for the Herd.

Doug Sheppard’s ever continuing quest to win goes on. We saw with the Fojtik/Cesky trade that he’s not afraid to change what’s working to make it work better.

Hutchinson is a very good player at EPL level. Solid is the word that’s been used a lot by Phantoms forward Tom Carlon on Twitter and by Patrick Smyth of Belfast Giants podcast “A View from the Bridge” which fits in with what Sheppard’s trying to do. Yes adding points from the blueline is a nice bonus but there’s no reason signing a high scoring defender if he doesn’t know how to do the job in his own end. Hutchinson can immediately step in to playing 20 minutes a night and the system whilst rigid in its execution and tough to master isn’t the hardest to learn. At 5’11”, 194lbs he’s a decent size for taking the body (something that Bison fans were concerned about when Fojtik was released) but also relatively low numbers of penalty minutes across his career so doesn’t do silly things.

Not normally someone I agree with but Ryan Watt opined last night that Hutchinson might be the final piece of the puzzle. Given his pedigree and talents, he may well be right.

Welcome to the Herd, James; all contributions greatly accepted.


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