Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Season not over yet for pair in Jets' fold

Rookie sensation, goaltender to suit up for U.S. at worlds

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Jets goaltending prospect Connor Hellebuyck is excited to suit up for the U.S. at the world championship.

GENE PUSKAR / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Jets goaltending prospect Connor Hellebuyck is excited to suit up for the U.S. at the world championship.

USA Hockey announced its first 15 players for the men's world hockey championship in Belarus and there's a strong Winnipeg Jets flavour already.

Wearing stars and stripes under head coach Peter Laviolette will be Jets rookie defenceman Jacob Trouba and hot-prospect goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who came out of school at U-Mass Lowell just 10 days ago to sign an entry-level deal with the Jets.

Both players are from the 2012 entry draft; Trouba ninth overall and Hellebuyck in the fifth round.

Trouba was a revelation for the Jets in 2013-14, playing 65 games and posting the highest ice-time-per-game total (22:36) of any rookie in the NHL during the regular season.

He scored 10 goals and 29 points and ended the season a plus-four on a team that was minus in the goal-differential department.

Trouba, a product of the U.S. national development team program when he was drafted, played one year at the University of Michigan before graduating to the NHL. He played for the U.S. at the world junior championship, where he was the tournament's top defenceman in 2013, and last year for his country at the world championship.

"It's always a fun thing to do and a good opportunity," Trouba said. "And it's something I enjoy doing, playing for my country and in this case it's kind of like making the playoffs a little bit. I get to keep playing."

Trouba said playing at last year's tournament was a substantial assist before his rookie NHL year.

"Coming into this year I had a much better mindset than I would have. You can work on little things and try things and figure out how to do some things."

This will be Hellebuyck's first experience with the national team.

"It's a huge honour," Hellebuyck said.

Since his UMass Lowell River Hawks fell one win short of making it to the Frozen Four, NCAA hockey's championship tournament, Hellebuyck has had a lot of reasons to be enthused.

He agreed to his NHL deal with the Jets on April 5. A few days later, Hellebuyck was named the first winner of the Mike Richter award as the top goalie in NCAA hockey.

"All of that was huge," he said. "And this is adding to the excitement. I don't know how much more excited I could possibly get."

Hellebuyck's two seasons at Lowell, Mass., were plenty exciting. He was a Hockey East first-team all-star and a first-team NCAA all-American.

The Commerce, Mich., native ended his college career with a 38-12-2 record, a 1.60 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .946. He also recorded 12 shutouts in 54 games.

Hellebuyck said Tuesday he was unsure if he'd be making a pro-acclimatization stop with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps between now and Team USA's departure for Europe on May 3.

The tournament begins May 9 in Minsk.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 16, 2014 C5

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