Gib Hutchinson was one of the Canadian stars of the English National League during the seven seasons following World War Two, playing 381 games with Brighton Tigers, the dominant team of that period.
The longest serving netminder in the history of the south coast club, he memorably backstopped them to two consecutive National League and three Autumn Cup titles, gained three All-Star team accolades and was the sport’s leading cageman in 1950-51.
The days when the Calgary native played were long before face-masks or (painted, personalised) helmets became compulsory, and keeping goal required as much bravery as skill. Standing only 5ft 6in tall and reputed to have broken every finger in both hands, he credited “beer and guts” for his performances. His skills lay in clearing the puck smartly and decisively, and carefully studying his opponents’ scoring moves.
Gib made an inauspicious start to his British career after coming over from Canada in 1936 and signing for Earls Court’s ‘other’ team, the Royals. When they conceded a record 232 goals in 40 games, that was the last ice hockey heard of the Royals. Their keeper took the losses hard and quit playing to work as a carpenter at the Earls Court Exhibition building.
But he soon bounced back. When the Rangers’ first choice goalie was injured the following season, someone remembered seeing Hutchinson working around the building and he was invited to step into the breach. He performed so well that at the end of the campaign he was voted on to Ice Hockey World’s All-Star ‘A’ team, an honour he retained the next year – the last before the outbreak of war – despite playing for the last placed Streatham.
During the war he worked at the Hawker aircraft factory but still found time for some hockey games. He was fortunate as Brighton’s Sports Stadium remained open throughout the hostilities – partly to cater to the demand from Canadian troops based on the south coast in readiness for D-Day – and he competed in several armed forces games. Among the players in the opposition’s nets were NHL stars Turk Broda of Toronto Maple Leafs and Johnny Mowers of Detroit Redwings. According to contemporary accounts, he more than held his own.
He signed for Wembley Monarchs for the first post-war season but centreman Bobby Lee, a teammate at Earl’s Court, had become a good friend and he persuaded the netminder to join him on the Tigers. The succeeding years were some of the finest in the club’s short life. Gib retired from ‘the puck-stopping lark’ – as he typically under-played it – in 1953.
Gordon Gibson Hutchinson was born on 25 December 1912 in Calgary, Alberta and died on 30 December 1996 in Portslade. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1951, only the second netminder of the sport’s Golden Era to be honoured in this way.