By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Ryan Jutting may not have left the hospital wearing ice skates and a hockey helmet when he was born 17 years ago, but it was pretty much a given those items were in his immediate future.
The senior at Mankato West comes from a strong hockey pedigree, starting with his father Troy Jutting, who was a standout player at Minnesota State before taking over and coaching the team for 22 years — 10 as an assistant and 12 as the head coach. Ryan’s uncle, Todd Jutting, was also an excellent player for the Mavericks.
Another uncle, Trent Jutting, played a handful of games at MSU. Trent’s twin brother, Tyson, was in the program for awhile as well but never played at the varsity level.
With that kind of gene pool working for him, Ryan was all but predestined to take up the sport.
“I started when I was 4,” Ryan said before high school practice Monday. “I’ve just always played it and I’ve always loved it.”
Being the son of a college player and coach could have led to high expectations from a lot of people but Ryan said he’s never felt an undue amount of pressure.
“My dad always told me not to worry about what other people think or other people expect,” Ryan said. “He just told me to go out and do the best I can. That’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
West head coach Curtis Doell said he hasn’t seen any extra pressure put on Ryan, either.
“Ryan’s not the kind of guy that’s going to let that affect him,” Doell said. “He just goes about his business. He goes out and plays hockey.”
Ryan is the team’s top returning scorer from 2011-12. He scored 12 goals and had 12 assists on a team that was 12-12-1 last season.
“Ryan is one of those players who has a knack for the net,” Doell said. “He’s not the fastest guy on the team but he knows how to get himself in the right position. We’re going to need him to score some goals for us this year.”
One of the things Ryan is most looking forward to this winter is playing on the same team with his younger brother Tyler.
“He’s a freshman and I’m a senior so we’ve never played on the same team before,” Ryan said. “This year should be fun.”
Jutting is one of three seniors who expects to play regularly on the 2012-13 team. The others are Ryan Lindquist and Nate Krueger. Junior center Derek Frentz is back after scoring seven goals and 13 assists a year ago. Junior forward Zach Erickson (11 goals, 6 assists), junior defenseman Max Mettler (14 assists) and junior defenseman Scott McKissick (3 goals, 9 assists) have also returned.
One player the team will sorely miss is junior Isaac Weber, who was injured in the final football game of the season and will miss the season.
“He was a big body, he would have helped us,” Doell said. “But he’s doing what he has to do. He’s going to rehab and try to come back for baseball in the spring and then play football and hockey next year.”
The biggest question mark for the Scarlets heading into the season is goaltending. Last year’s starter, Zach Fox, has graduated after going 11-11-1 and compiling a 2.26 goal-against average with a .913 save percentage.
“It’s pretty wide open right now,” Doell said of the battle for Fox’s job. “We have three guys — (junior) Jake Spiess, (sophomore) Conor Wollenzien and (junior) Logan Haga — who are all pretty close.”
Doell said the key for West will be for the players to establish a good work ethic.
“Albert Lea rarely has the most talent in the conference but they’re near the top every year,” Doell said. “That’s because they work their butts off. That’s what we want to do here at West.”
West opens the season on Nov. 27 with a 7:15 p.m. game at New Prague. The Trojans and the Northfield Raiders should be among the top teams in the section so the opener should be a good measuring stick.
“Our goal is to get to the section finals,” Doell said. “The coaches and the captains talked it over and we think that’s realistic to shoot for.”