Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ice Hockey: Jeff: I Can Win the Fans Back; Hutchins Ready to Prove a Point to Jeering Supporters He Started the Season Struggling for Fitness and Booed by His Unforgiving Fans, but Jeff Hutchins Plans to End His Season on a High

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ice Hockey: Jeff: I Can Win the Fans Back; Hutchins Ready to Prove a Point to Jeering Supporters He Started the Season Struggling for Fitness and Booed by His Unforgiving Fans, but Jeff Hutchins Plans to End His Season on a High

Article excerpt

Byline: Stuart Rayner reports

AS a sportsman, few things are more humiliating than being booed by your own supporters, but Jeff Hutchins has managed it. When the Vipers forward was named man-of-the-match in a game he should not have been playing in, the Newcastle Arena supporters expressed their thanks by jeering as he collected his award.

With the play-offs starting this weekend and his long-standing groin problem belatedly operated on, redemption is at hand and Hutchins is determined to finally win over the fans.

The Hutchins who takes on Belfast Giants in Dundalk in tonight's play-off quarter-final first leg will be unrecognisable from the man who limped and winced through the first half of the season.

Since returning from surgery in January, the 29-year-old has a respectable goal return of nine from 18 games. But while the damage to his body has been repaired, his mental wounds are still fresh.

The Canadian is clearly still upset and frustrated the fans did not know the reasons behind his poor performances.

"I've had a tough year, it's been pretty hard on me," he admits. "I was brought in to score goals. I didn't get 30 (he managed 16) but from the eighth game on, my groin was shot. I had to wait on the NHS for almost eight weeks to see the doctors I wanted. Fans don't realise that. They're asking, 'Why is he playing so bad?' but you don't want to let the team down and they don't want to bring in another guy because it costs so much.

"I ended up having surgery and it's hard to come back from right away. Most people would just pack it in and come back next year but I want to win."

It was 18 games between Hutchins injuring his groin and going under the knife. It still rankles that he was unable to explain to the fans. "That's kind of weird because everybody in the game knows anyway," he admits. "It's quite a tight-knit community.

"The fans are pretty impatient in Newcastle and if things aren't going right they let you know. If one gets on you, they all jump on the bandwagon and they don't even know why half the time.

"But I'm starting to hit my stride at probably the best time. …

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