I know what Nathan Lutz has gone through in his life, being called “Luhtz” when the correct pronunciation of his last name is “Lootz.”
Even his Wichita Thunder coach, Kevin McClelland, gets it wrong.
“Sometimes I try to correct people,’’ said Lutz, in his first season as a Thunder defenseman and his 11th year in professional hockey. “But I guess they could call me worse things.’’
Yeah, you do get used to it. But there are times when I just want to smack somebody for not getting my name right.
Nathan Lutz, on the other hand, takes it in stride. Good thing, too, because if he smacked somebody it would hurt.
The native of Mistatim, Saskatchewan, which is as small as it towns, is 6-feet-2 and 230 pounds. He has the hands of somebody twice as big, if there actually were somebody twice as big.
Lutz’s hands are incredible. A long time ago, I shook hands with 7-footer Paul Wight, then a Wichita State basketball player and currently “The Big Show” of World Wrestling Entertainment fame. Wight’s hands could cradle a small adult.
Lutz’s might be bigger. It’s a wonder he can yield a hockey stick.
When a visitor remarks about his big hands, Lutz acknowledges the visitor isn’t the first to notice. Or the second.
“Yeah, I’ve always had big hands,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever met somebody with bigger hands.”
Lutz’s hands come in handy when he’s working on the family farm in Mistatim during the hockey off-season. He was raised on that farm in his tiny community, which consists of no more than 150 people, he said.
But it’s 150 close-knit people, more family than citizens.
He and his wife, Kayla, and their 22-month-old daughter, Abby, now live in Tisdale, about 30 minutes down the road from Mistatim. Tisdale has a population of about 3,500, Lutz said, and the amenities needed for a couple with a small daughter.
The irony that such a small-town hockey player has gone to school at Iona College, near New York City, and played professionally in Chicago, Cleveland, Portland and Milwaukee is not lost on Lutz, who still is a little mesmerized by all the bright lights, even in a quiet town like Wichita.
“I went straight from my small hometown to New York City,” Lutz said “That was quite an experience.”
The craziness hasn’t stopped since.
Lutz has played in 14 cities during his hockey career, including stops in Denmark, Norway and Italy. He has seen the world, yet keeps returning to his roots, where the world can seem worlds away.
“I go home and help out on the farm,’’ Lutz said. “My grandfather still does way too much, but when I’m finished my plan is to go home and help carry on our farming tradition. Our family built it up from nothing.’’
It’s about family.
Both sets of Lutz’s grandparents follow him to wherever he’s playing hockey. His mother’s parents — Norris and Anny Leech — spent a month in Wichita already. His father’s parents — Wilfred and Marjorie Lutz — are coming soon.
“They’re all still in Saskatchewan, but they listen to every game on the Internet,’’ Lutz said. “I have two sisters and both of my parents have a couple of siblings. We’re a very close-knit family. That’s the main thing in my life.’’
Hockey is in that mix, too, of course.
It’s a sport that finds its way into even the smallest towns in Canada. In Mistatim, the biggest gathering place was the hockey rink, which is where Lutz learned the game. He has spent extensive time in the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League; Wichita is only his second stop in the Central Hockey League after he played 59 games with the Mississippi RiverKings in 2010-11.
While Lutz is technically a defender, he likes to get mixed up in offense and has 10 points through the Thunder’s first 15 games.
“In our town we had no other sports available to us, really,’’ Lutz said. “The doors were always open to the hockey rink. So we’d go inside, flip on the lights and play hockey all day.’’
Lutz was a CHL All-Star two seasons ago and is already a mainstay for the Thunder, where his combination of size and skill makes him unique. Even at 34, when most hockey players are too tired or banged up to continue, Lutz has the look of someone who can play for several more years.
Lutz wouldn’t mind settling in Wichita. Since he broke in as a professional in 2001, Lutz has never stayed in one place for very long.
“Wichita is great,’’ he said. “My wife and I love it here. The coach is awesome and the team has been great.’’
He appreciates the passion of Thunder fans, too. After so many years bouncing around hockey’s minor leagues, Lutz can tell when a fan base meshes with a team.
“It helps when you play in front of people who want to be there and are excited about it,’’ he said. “You play hard all of the time, but you play maybe even harder for that. When there’s a little extra support, it really helps push you over the top.’’