River Hawks’ Hellebuyck takes home Mike Richter Award

By DJ Powers

Connor Hellebuyck - University of Massachusetts Lowell

Photo: Former University of Massachusetts Lowell goaltender and Winnipeg Jets prospect Connor Hellebuyck missed out on another shot at a national championship but attended the Frozen Four festivities to pick up the Mike Richter Award as college hockey’s top goaltender in 2013-14 (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

Now former University of Massachusetts Lowell sophomore standout Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) was named the winner of the inaugural Mike Richter Award as college hockey's top goaltender in a ceremony at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA.

The Commerce, MI native backstopped the River Hawks to their second consecutive Hockey East Tournament title and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament this season

Hellebuyck finished his second and final year at UMass-Lowell with an 18-9-2 record that included six shutouts in 29 appearances. Hellebuyck’s 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage both still rank first in the nation.

In his two-year career at UMass-Lowell, Hellebuyck posted an amazing 38-12-2 record that included a school-record 12 shutouts in 53 career games. In addition to setting a new school record, Hellebuyck also set a new NCAA record with a career .946 save percentage. The previous record was set by former Michigan State standout and current St. Louis Blues goaltender Ryan Miller in 2000-02.

Hellebuyck signed with the Winnipeg Jets on April 5th, opting to forego the final two years of his collegiate eligibility.

The award is named after legendary New York Rangers goaltender and former Wisconsin standout Mike Richter. Richter, along with legendary Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Bernie Parent, were on hand to present the award to Hellebuyck.

“Connor Hellebuyck is exceptional,” Richter said of Hellebuyck when introducing him as the award winner. “He's been a complete player from the moment he came to campus. According to his coach especially, his work ethic is like none other. This, I think, to me kind of embodies what's most important because there is a lot of talent out there, and there is something that has to separate the successful players. Connor played at a high level, which I think is the key. He played with a level of consistency that was unmatched, and this is really the true mark of a champion, not just playing great sometimes, but playing at the upper limits of his capability as much as possible.”

“It's a huge honor to be chosen among so many great goaltenders in college hockey for this prestigious award,” Hellebuyck said after accepting the award. “I also want to say this is a huge milestone in my life. With Mike Richter as the namesake, I met him earlier today and talking to him for just a few minutes is something I'll never forget in my life. He really inspired me growing up. I'd also like to recognize Bernie Parent. Just talking to him, I'll never forget either. I know Mike Richter looked up to Bernie Parent when he was a young goalie and he inspired him, and he's already inspired me just talking with him a little bit.”

Much of what the award embodies is how the goaltending position is played today. During the press conference, Richter and Parent noted how the position has evolved over the last few decades and how some of today’s young netminders like Hellebuyck have reflected that change.

“I think the athleticism that they have and I think the goalies now seem to be a student of the game,” said Richter. “A lot of young kids have their own coaches. I can remember reading Jacques Plante's book, and he taught a lot to Bernie, and Joe Bertagna from Harvard, there is so much to learn. It's one of the things that really keeps this position to me so interesting. If I could play till I was 90, I would have because I would have been better, learning and learning. There are so many nuances of the game that go well beyond size, strength and athleticism. It's why you have a Marty Brodeur who is so great still now. Goalies are better trained. They're so much better. I mean that when I say that. If you look across all of the 59 colleges, there are great players out there.”

“The game has changed tremendously,” added Parent. “In the old days, if you remember, it would go up-and-down, and you had more shots from the angles so you could play the angles and set up quite a bit more. Today the game has changed, especially in front of the net. The crease belongs to the goalies, you know, and once a goalie makes the first save, then you may have maybe four, five guys in the crease, poking at the puck and trying to put it in. I think with this evolution, the goalie had to change his style and have more of a butterfly style to overcome those challenges. I remember Glenn Hall, Tony Esposito had the same style. So it goes back a long way, and it's a great way to perform. You could see the athletes and the goalies are such great athletes today. It's incredible. If I made one move the way they're moving today, my career would be over with. But having said that, the understanding of the game has remained the same.”

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF