Hellebuyck using World Cup experience to propel pro career

In 26 games with the Winnipeg Jets last season, Hellebuyck posted 2.35 goals against average. (Courtesy of CBS Sports)

Brooke Keating
Connector Contributor

Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 2012, Connor Hellebuyck joined the River Hawks that same year as a 6’4 goaltender with a list of achievements a mile long. Since leaving school after his sophomore year, he has decided that a mile was not quite long enough.

Most recently, Hellebuyck had the opportunity to compete on an international stage when he was chosen as a goalie for Team North America in the World Cup Tournament. Although both the US and Canada boast their own national squads, Team North America consisted of players from either country who are under 23 years old. Hellebuyck joined John Gibson and Matt Murray as a goaltending trio.

Hellebuyck was not expecting to get much playing time in the tournament, but he saw the opportunity to compete as an honor, and stated that he “got a lot out of it” in an interview with Mitchell Clinton for the Winnipeg Jets.

In tournament play, he served as a backup in during the game against Sweden when Murray was out with a thumb injury. But Hellebuyck did manage 10 saves on 12 shots during a pre-tournament matchup against Team Czech Republic, playing in the third period as Murray’s replacement.

The Commerce, Michigan native saw the tournament as a learning experience, and “came from there more prepared than [he] went in,” as he told Clinton.

Prior to attending UMass Lowell, Hellebuyck played for the Odessa Jackalopes in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). He took home awards such as Co-Rookie and Co-Goaltender of the Year and was named the first team goaltender for the 2011-2012 all-NAHL team.

Hellebuyck led the NAHL in both minutes played and saves. During the 2012-13 season, as a freshman, Hellebuyck led the River Hawks to the Frozen Four after stopping 59 out of 60 shots against both Wisconsin . He was also named the Hockey East Tournament MVP.

In his sophomore season, Hellebuyck totaled nearly 800 saves on the year, including back to back shutouts against Penn State and Notre Dame. This success earned him the title of Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week – twice.

Hellebuyck remains the only player in Hockey East history to win Hockey East Tournament MVP twice.

Last year, Hellebuyck played in 26 NHL games, starting in all of them and earning 13 wins with the Winnipeg Jets. This upcoming season, Hellebuyck competes for a spot on the Winnipeg Jets roster with Ondrej Pavelec, who also attended the World Cup for the Czech Republic. Pavelec hopes to earn the top goaltending spot for the Jets, after playing in 33 games last season and posting a .920 save percentage.

As for Hellebuyck’s future, the Jets have a lot to consider when it comes to goaltending this season. They have four options, each coming with their own pros and cons.

Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec have had strong showings in the past, but weaker seasons have proven both net minders as inconsistent. In addition, both players could be placed on waivers if sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL).

Hellebuyck posted a strong .918 save percentage in his rookie season, but the coaches may question if he is ready to take on the NHL as a first-line goaltender. Lastly, Eric Comrie is an up and coming goalie for the Manitoba Moose, the Jets’ AHL affiliate. Although not in the contending for a top spot, placing Hellebuyck in the AHL with him could be detrimental to both players, forcing them to split time on the ice.

Overall, it seems as though Hellebuyck has a chance at earning a full-time spot on the Winnipeg roster. And even though he did not see much ice time during the World Cup, the nomination to Team North America may have given him the confidence to earn the spot and succeed in the NHL full time.

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