Adam Wilcox is THE MAN. I really didn't know how else I could start this preview of Gophers goaltending. There isn't a goalie in college hockey that I would pick for my team before Wilcox. I thought he was absolutely robbed of the Mike Richter Award for the nation's best goaltender, and I'll make my argument on that subject in a minute. He was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker award which was given to Johnny Gaudreau because he's "Johnny Hockey" and people assumed if you're named "Johnny [insert name of sport]" you're the best there is. Phooey. Also, he was inexplicably left off the first-team of All-Americans.
He was also the second-most memorable part of the national semi-final game against North Dakota. Had Justin Holl not scored a short-handed game winner with less than a second remaining in regulation, Wilcox would have been hands-down the most memorable part of that game. The end of game hysteria makes it easy to forget that he made 36 saves on 37 shots in that game, and honestly he made some inhuman saves when the Whioux were pressing and getting traffic in front of the net, leading to the classic John Buccigross/Tommy Callahan "Holy Schnikeys" call on live television.
No single player in the country had as large in impact for his team as Wilcox did last year. He had the country's fourth best goals against average at 1.97. He also had the country's second best save percentage at 0.932.
Gopher Hockey Preseason
The goalie who won the Richter Award, Connor Hellebuyck of UMass-Lowell, posted a save percentage of 0.941. Here's the rub: Wilcox played in nine more games (534 more minutes), posted eight more wins, and three fewer losses Hellebuyck. He also made 202 more saves than Hellebuyck over the course of the season. What's worse is there were 26 goaltenders who played more minutes that Hellebuyck. 26! He would probably be the fifth or sixth goalie I picked for my team. But that's enough about that.
Prior to Wilcox, the Minnesota as a program had a run of pretty good goaltenders who always seemed to let in a softie at the wrong moment. I'm not going to back that up with any stats, but it's just how I always felt. We would get a solid game Friday night, and then Saturday would be an adventure. Well, Wilcox has pretty much solved that problem. Every goalie will allow an uncharacteristically weak goal from time to time, but Wilcox has cut down on the eye-rolling quite a bit.
We should probably all be pretty grateful that the Tampa Bay Lightening have something like 100 quality goal tending prospects. That might be the only reason Wilcox is back for his Junior year.
He's got everything NHL goalie coaches are looking for nowadays: big frame, good agility and foot speed, the ability to recover, a quick glove, and he takes great angles. He also might be the best puck-playing goaltender in college hockey.
Wilcox's primary backup will be fellow junior Ryan Coyne. It's hard for me to opine too much on Coyne because he didn't see any playing time last year. The three games Wilcox didn't start saw senior Mike Shibrowski play, and in the two instances Wilcox was relieved prematurely [phrasing, i know], Sibrowski also picked up those minutes.
Added to the staff this year is freshman Nick Lehr. We'll cover him more in our rookies post, but here's the short version: he's going to have an uphill battle for minutes this year.
Well, that covers the position groups: forwards, defense, and goaltending. Here's a quick recap: all three position groups have lots of talent, pretty much the same as last year and most years in this program. What's uncommon with this program is to have so many players return and have NONE leave to play in the NHL or work their way through an NHL team's farm system. The run to the national championship game and the experience gained along the way make the Gophers the favorites to win it all this year.