It has been quite the year for Jets goalie prospect and Commerce, Michigan native Connor Hellebuyck.
First, the tower 6'4, 200 lb netminder was selected in the fifth round, 130th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2012 NHL Draft. A bit of an unknown but still showing strong numbers in his season with the USHL's Odessa (Texas) Jackalopes (26-21-5, 2.49 GAA, .930 SV%), Hellebuyck ventured off into NCAA hockey after being drafted.
Then, in his freshmen season at UMass-Lowell, as a River Hawk, Hellebuyck would become one of the most unlikely of all stories posting a 20-3-0 record, a stellar 1.37 goals against average, and a sparkling .952 save percentage as the River Hawks won their first Hockey East title in school history.
In four posteason games, Hellebuyck allowed only four goals and was named the tournament's most valuable player. The River Hawks swept Maine in two games, then outduelled Providence to a 2-1 win, before dispatching Boston University with a 1-0 win.
To say Hellebuyck was good would be an understatement.
To say he was spectacular would be more appropriate.
"I try to be calm at all times, even on the ice, so the guys don't see I'm emotional." Hellebuyck told The Boston Globe's Nancy Marrapese-Burrell.
"I always had great coaches who emphasized that. I'm so thankful for everyone who has been in my hockey career so far. I think it's one of the big keys to a goaltender's game that they need. You have to be poised and calm so the guy around you are poised and calm."
Hellebuyck's calm poise paid off as he helped the River Hawks do what two other UMass-Lowell teams almost but could not do in 1994 and 2009 – defeat the powerhouse Boston Univeristy Terriers for a Hockey East title.
Hellebuyck would backstop the River Hawks into their first Frozen Four appearance as well, as #1 ranked UMass-Lowell took out the fourth seeded Wisconsin Badgers 4-1 and then New Hampshire 2-0 in the Northeast Regional Tournament.
The train would eventually stop as the River Hawks would fall in the national semifinals to the eventual NCAA Champions from Yale in overtime. Despite the loss, Hellebuyck would stop 41 of 44 shots he faced in the 3-2 loss.
From his achievements in only one season of NCAA hockey, Hellebuyck has shown that he is perhaps one of the biggest gems in the Winnipeg Jets treasure case and can build upon his strong freshmen season to help the River Hawks continue their dominance in Division I hockey.
"Now that we’ve done this, we all believe that we can do it again." he told Rheanne Marcoux of WinnipegJets.com.
"The goal is to repeat it and do better next year,” affirms the keeper. “We’re going to take all that in, and next year we’re going to go in there knowing what to expect and not have that shock and awe that we had this year.”
For the Jets, however, he has shown how dominant he can be, the Jets would be happy if he could do that in the future in the NHL at the MTS Centre.