Jeff Hutchins has seen plenty of the Elite League since heading to Britain over a decade ago, playing for half of the current teams during his time on these shores.
Hutchins signed for Coventry Blaze in 2005/06, before going on to play for Belfast Giants, Edinburgh Capitals, Sheffield Steelers and Dundee Stars.
He also had a spell with Newcastle Vipers and briefly turned out for Bracknell Bees in the EPL – but it’s the 2009/10 campaign with the Capitals that he looks back on with particular fondness.
Hutchins started the season with the Steelers, but he was released after just nine games. Capitals’ boss Doug Christiansen moved quickly to secure his services and spark a memorable period for the gritty forward.
“It was a difficult time in Sheffield and someone had to go to change things up – I don’t hold any ill-feeling towards the Steelers organisation for making that move,” said Hutchins.
“However, I can honestly say that it changed my life. I had a young family and nowhere to go and I got a call from Doug asking if I wanted to play in Edinburgh again.
“He set me up with a job interview outside of hockey as well which I got. I moved up alone initially and worked full-time, played and had one of the most exciting years of hockey of my life.
“I fell in love with Edinburgh and my family have lived here ever since – two out of three of my children were born here, so it was a life-changing season to say the least!”
The Capitals ended the year in sixth place, before losing out to Nottingham Panthers in the play-offs. The likes of Simon Lambert, Owen Fussey and Dan Welch all made their mark that season and Hutchins says it was a special group to play with.
“They were all just really good guys – hungry, talented players,” he added.
“We played through a lot adversity and turned that season into something special – I was sad when it ended. Some of the best players to pull on a Caps jersey I would contend.
“From a British point of view there was (Ben) O’Connor and (Mark) Garside – you could really tell that these guys were going to be some players in years to come.
“The fans really got behind the team and there was a real sense of unity – we hung out with each other outside of the rink and nothing got us down.
“It was a fun memorable year and I’d have loved to see what we could’ve done if we’d kept the core of that team and added around it. Who knows what we could have accomplished?”
Hutchins stayed with the Capitals the following season, but after a bright start the club hit money troubles and they couldn’t build on the previous year.
He joined Dundee Stars in 2011, before taking over as Player/Coach the following season and going on to deliver the Gardiner Conference title in 2013/14. Hutchins is proud of what he achieved.
“There were obviously highs and lows, but finishing third in the league and winning the Conference with the third lowest budget was a massive accomplishment that I believe will be very tough to replicate,” he said.
“That team reminded me a lot of the 09/10 Caps team – a lot of young hungry talent that worked well together and focused more on winning as a team than individual accomplishments.
“I approached every day with the Stars with the best intentions and gave everything I had on and off the ice.”
After spending the 2015/16 coaching in China, Hutchins returned to the British game at the start of this season as Fife Flyers’ assistant coach.
The Flyers secured their spot in this season’s play-offs courtesy of two road victories over the weekend, and Hutchins is delighted with how things have progressed.
“It has been great being back involved in British Ice Hockey,” said Hutchins.
“The Fife organisation and fans have been fantastic and welcomed me with open arms. I think it’s certainly different being just a coach and not a player, but equally rewarding.
“I can honestly say that the standard of the league has vastly improved over the last ten years and I think the fans are certainly being treated to a high level of hockey out on the ice.
“We have a good team this year in Fife and hopefully we can be there when they are handing out silverware.
(Image permission: Scott Wiggins)