TORONTO — Michael Hutchinson was surprised as anyone when he got the news.
The Toronto Maple Leafs recalled the veteran goalie from the American Hockey League on Friday to give struggling backup Garret Sparks a break with the first round of the NHL playoffs just around the corner.
"Definitely unexpected," Hutchinson told reporters at the team’s practice facility. "I’m really excited to be a part of this and help the team out in any way I can."
The move was preceded by a string of shaky starts from Sparks, who will be given a 10-day stint with the team’s goalie coaches to try and rediscover his game.
In the meantime, Hutchinson will serve as Toronto’s No. 2 behind starter Frederik Andersen when the Leafs close out the regular season Saturday in Montreal against the Canadiens, and when the team opens its first-round series on the road against the Boston Bruins next week.
Sparks led the Toronto Marlies to the AHL’s Calder Cup title last spring, registering a 31-9-1 record, a 1.79 goals-against average and a .936 saves percentage in the regular season. The 25-year-old from Elmhurst, Ill., then went 14-5 in the playoffs with a 2.22 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
The Leafs elected in the fall to go with Sparks as their backup instead of 35-year-old Curtis McElhinney, who was claimed by the Carolina Hurricanes on waivers before the season.
Sparks got off to a decent start in his first full NHL campaign, but currently owns a 8-9-1 mark with a 3.15 GAA and a .902 save percentage.
"We need him to get (his game back), he needs to get it back," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. "It’s real important as an organization that we help him out and that he helps himself."
Babcock stressed the team-imposed hiatus for Sparks, who dealt with a concussion earlier this season, doesn’t mean he’s done with the organization.
"What we tried to do, because we believe in Sparky, is give him every opportunity," said the coach. "We went back to the well a number of times and then when we didn’t get it worked out or when it didn’t get where we needed it to we made this decision."
The 29-year-old Hutchinson had a 2-3-0 record with a 2.64 GAA and a .914 save percentage in five appearances with the Leafs after he was acquired from the Florida Panthers in late December.
Hutchinson was pressed into service at the time with Andersen and Sparks both nursing injuries. In 23 games with the Marlies, the native of Barrie, Ont., is 14-5-3 with a 2.70 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
In 111 career NHL appearances with Toronto, Florida and the Winnipeg Jets, Hutchinson owns a 46-43-13 mark with a 2.70 GAA, a .908 save percentage, and four shutouts.
An emergency recall the first time he was summoned to the NHL by Toronto, Hutchinson would have to pass through waivers to be sent back down to the AHL.