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By Sam Fryman / Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Driving near Speedway, Indiana is like passing through the outskirts of any typical midwestern town. Many of the homes and businesses are simple. Most people are polite and humble, but aren’t shy to tell you about their area’s claim to fame.
Right in middle of this Indianapolis suburb sits a Mecca of the sport’s world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Names that are famous there include Andretti, Foyt and Unser, but not so much well-known hockey players. However, it doesn’t change the fact that many high-speed skaters have deep roots in central Indiana just as much as professional race car drivers.
Sound Tigers rookie Mason Jobst has gone to the Indianapolis 500 every single year since he was young. The 25-year-old Speedway native knows racing is what his community is known for, but it never stopped him from pursuing a different sport.
“Growing up, I was always the kid known in school as ‘the hockey player.’ I was literally the only one playing and it was different from everyone else,” Jobst said. “My aunt got me a hockey stick at Target when I was like three years old, and I got skates a year later.”
For his teammate and fellow Indiana native Grant Hutton, who grew up 23 miles down the road in Carmel, the passion was there but the programs often weren’t.
“It was tough, we didn’t have triple-A programs growing up and it wasn’t very competitive because teams didn’t want to come all the way to Indiana to play us,” Hutton said. “As we got older, there was no U16 triple-A team in Indianapolis or anywhere.”
Hutton and some of his family and friends began recruiting kids from the neighboring areas of Michigan and Chicago, eventually forming their own competitive group in Indiana. Although they never played alongside each other in their youth days, Jobst and Hutton knew how good the other was and it became even clearer later on.
“He works so hard,” said Hutton, describing Jobst. “He has to because of his size. He knows he’s a smaller player, but he’s not afraid to get to the dirty areas and then obviously, his skill speaks for itself.”
Jobst was just as complimentary in talking about Hutton.
“His size has always been huge for him, no pun intended,” Jobst joked. “But he can move really well for his size, so I don’t think it’s any secret that everyone knew he was going to be a special player.”
From the Indianapolis suburbs, Hutton and Jobst both moved to Ohio during the summer of 2015 to attend college programs with terrific hockey histories. Hutton played four seasons at the University of Miami Ohio, while Jobst moved to Columbus to join the Ohio State University Buckeyes. Each had an outstanding four-year career and were eventually named captain of their respective programs.
They even faced each other head-to-head on several occasions.
Jobst had 164 points (69g, 95a) in 150 career games at Ohio State, the most of any NCAA player during that span. It was also the most points for any Buckeyes player in a four-year span since 1989. He led the team in goals (17) and points (36) during his senior season in 2018-19 and was honored as a Hobey Baker Finalist (nation’s top collegiate player) along with current NHL stars Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. Meanwhile, Hutton amassed 71 points (29g, 42a) in 144 games at Miami Ohio and led all team defensemen in goals (seven) as a senior last year.
Both players signed with the New York Islanders last March and began their pro careers in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Hutton had six points (1g, 5a) in nine games with the Sound Tigers at the end of last season and Jobst made his pro debut on Oct. 5. He scored his first goal in a 3-2 win against Hershey on Nov. 23.
Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson has seen both men mature into solid AHL talents in their first full seasons, knowing that it’s all about hard work.
“They came from what is really not known as a hockey environment to where they are now, it’s outstanding. The fact that they have that friendship and bond from a young age, it’s good to see and a huge help when getting started.”
Thompson himself has a few roots in the Midwest. From 2005 to 2009, he served as an assistant coach of the Peoria Rivermen (former AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues in Peoria, Illinois) and his son, Tyce, played just over a season for the Dubuque Fighting Saints (Dubuque, Iowa) of the United States Hockey League (USHL).
What Thompson has especially noticed from both is how their friendship translates to helping one another get into a good rhythm.
“They get each other motivated in the locker room and keep that chemistry going once the game starts,” Thompson added. They always know where the other one will be, what he’s going to be, and that predictability has been extremely helpful.”
When it comes to dreams these days, both Hutton and Jobst have the same goal in mind they had as kids all of those years ago – to play in the National Hockey League. Although they never imagined their shot may come with the Islanders organization, more than 700 miles away from central Indiana where roots still belong.
They want to continue to grow the game for all of the dreamers in non-traditional hockey communities and across the Midwest.
“I think we both want to do it to prove that kids from Indianapolis can get where they want to go. It wasn’t always smooth sailing for either of us, but we will never quit on the dream. We’re here now and we’re extremely thankful.”
That message has expressed by the state. The Indiana Youth Hockey Association now has 10 teams with ages ranging from eight to 18. The squads attract players from all over the state and compete against teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“Indiana is a special place and anything we can do to give back is something I’ll always find value in,” Jobst said. “It will always be an auto-racing hot bed, but we’re hoping that one day, it will also be home to some of the great names in hockey.”