Little adjustments paying off in big way for Minnesota’s Wilcox

By DJ Powers

Adam Wilcox - University of Minnesota

Photo: University of Minnesota goaltender and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Adam Wilcox celebrates his school’s 4-0 win over St. Cloud State University, a win that sends the Golden Gophers to the 2014 Frozen Four (courtesy of Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

It’s been a banner year so far for University of Minnesota sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox (TBL). The South St. Paul, MN native is a finalist for the Mike Richter Award and a top 10 finalist for this year’s Hobey Baker Award.

Now, Wilcox has his Golden Gophers teammates have taken the next step to an NCAA national championship as they move on to play in the Frozen Four for the first time since 2012.

Hockey’s Future spoke with Wilcox after Minnesota’s 7-3 win over Robert Morris University in the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinal game on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.

Q: You guys just beat Robert Morris and are one step closer to possibly getting back to the Frozen Four. That has to feel good knowing that.

AW: Yeah, it is good. It’s always good to get that first win in the NCAA (Tournament) under your belt. This was my first NCAA Tournament win, so it feels really good. Our coaches always tell us that the first game is always the hardest. So having that, we’ve kind of gotten rid of the nerves a little bit. Our team knows how to win in an environment like this and to have this win allows us to go into our next game feeling a little more confident.

Q: You guys were in the NCAA Tournament last year and fell to Yale. Knowing that awful feeling that you guys went through last year, has that experience given the team a bit more motivation in this year’s tournament?

AW: Yeah, definitely. We haven’t really talked about it and no one on the team has brought it up, but I think it has been something subconsciously in the back of our minds. It was really disappointing for us and obviously helped Yale. But now, we just have to be ready for turnovers, weird bounces and anything else because that’s how the outcome of the game can be affected.

Q: Watching you play this season, it seems like you’re playing with much more confidence and even getting some bounces going your way. In what ways have you been able to take that next step in your development?

AW: First of all, I have to give credit to my teammates because they’re playing unbelievably in front of me. The forwards are doing a better job of supporting the defense with their back-checking and our defense has been unbelievable in battling each game. I think the one thing that has improved this year with our team is that, when the puck is right around our net, the defense is getting back right away and helping clear stuff for me. I think the consistency throughout our whole team and playing the type of schedule that we did this year also helped us and that all has helped me play better, as well.

Q: What areas do you think you’ve made the greatest improvements in that has allowed you to take that next step in your development and gotten you to where you are today?

AW: There are two things that have really helped me. One of them was playing in tight around the net. I’ve been working on that a lot. Last year, I allowed a couple of goals to go in right around the net whether it was through the five-hole or in tight. I’ve been working on blocking more and getting that right depth (in the crease) when pucks are in tight like that and being able to fight through it. That’s something that me and Coach J (Minnesota goaltending coach Justin Johnson) worked on last summer. The second thing that I’ve worked on that’s really helped me is working on my depth when zone rushes are coming in. Coach J has worked with me on not trying to get too deep too quickly and making sure that I’m holding my ground at the top (of the crease) because pucks will funnel out of you better and that’s where you can give up bad rebounds.

Q: The mental aspect is obviously a very big part of a goalie’s game. Do you feel that you’re mentally stronger this year than you were last year?

AW: Yes. Anytime you have a year under your belt, especially with playoff experience, it definitely helps you mentally. I feel good and very confident right now. I have confidence in both my team and myself. After everything we’ve gone through this year, we shouldn’t have anything less than the fullest confidence in ourselves. We have a lot of depth on our team, so I think that’s added more confidence too.

Q: I know that you’re a prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Did you attend their prospect camp last summer?

AW: Yes. I’ve gone to their camps for the last three years.

Q: What were some of the things that you learned from the camp that you’ve been able to bring back to Minnesota with you that have made you a better player?

AW: We were fortunate enough to have a goalie coach work with us throughout the camp. We had goalie practices on most of the days, so we were able to work on a lot of stuff. We worked on angles and did some pipe stuff right around in tight. I think that was one thing that has really helped me and that I was able to bring back to Minnesota.

Q: What are some of the areas that you are continually working on that will allow you to take that next step up in your development?

AW: One thing that I’ve been working for the last few months is going from low to high and funneling into that shot lane and getting on sticks. Sometimes when you go out there and are a little too shallow, it causes those corners (of the net) to open up and stuff like that. So I’ve been working on that for a while now. I think that’s one aspect (of the game) that I feel I have to keep improving at. Every level you go up, the speed is going to pick up. So it’s just a matter of adjusting and improving your overall game. I’m making sure that those rebound controls are getting better too. I never want to stop improving and as a goalie you have to be able to look at everything around you.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF