Hooked on Hellebuyck
As long as playoffs possible, Jets will lean heavily on workhorse goalie
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/04/2022 (235 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There have been plenty of nights this year where Connor Hellebuyck has been left shaking his head. Whether it was a bad bounce that ended up in the back of his net, or a poor performance from his club, it’s been a frustrating season on many levels.
Hellebuyck will be doing more of the same with his noggin on Wednesday night. Only this time it will be a positive. The Winnipeg Jets No. 1 netminder has been immortalized in bobblehead form, with fans attending the game against the Detroit Red Wings taking home a souvenir.
“This one is probably the coolest I’ve ever seen,” Hellebuyck said Tuesday following practice at Canada Life Centre. “Usually it’s just someone standing there. This one has a little action to it.”
Indeed, Hellebuyck’s two sporty passions — hockey and fishing — have come together for this collectable. It captures him using his goalie stick as a rod, something he routinely does for fans when he’s named one of the three stars on home ice.
“Buff (Dustin Byfuglien) got me into ice-fishing here in Winnipeg. Before that it was my grandpa. We’d always go up north in Michigan. He’d take us out on the water and we’d eat what we’d catch,” Hellebuyck said. “That was my roots and then as I got older, my brother and I started to go at it in fishing and we had a lot of fun with that in high school. It’s just kind of been growing over the years.”
Being an NHL goaltender brings about all kinds of pressure and chaos in the crease — a stark contrast to life on a lake.
“There are multiple aspects I love about it. One is that you’re just out there with nature. You really see some beautiful scenery when you’re out there, especially early in the morning when things are calm and not many people are around,” said Hellebuyck.
“That’s some serenity. Not only that, there is so much skill and learning in it. It’s kind of like golf, you’re constantly getting better and learning things, and chasing a new level of skill. I like that part as well.”
There hasn’t been a lot of calm to the current campaign for Hellebuyck, who has been the busiest goaltender in the league. He has started 58 of his team’s 70 games, and will be back in the net as the Jets host the Red Wings. Winnipeg needs a minor miracle over the last dozen games to sneak into a playoff spot.
“Go 12 for 12. That’s the only thing we can hope for right now,” said Hellebuyck.
“I know things change every single day. But we’re what, five points out, six? Possible 24 points. We’re going to need at least nine or 10 of those (wins) at least. Or if things play right, hopefully seven or eight. But in my mind I think we need at least 10. So try to win every chance you get out there. Me being part of the team, I’m going to go out there and give my A-plus game every single night. Really can’t afford one off right now.”
Hellebuyck is 25-24-9, with a 2.92 goals-against-average and .912 save percentage. Although his numbers aren’t as stellar as in recent years, including his Vezina Trophy campaign of 2019-20, some of the advanced statistics which account for quality of chances show he’s been as solid as ever.
“He gives us a chance to win every night and that’s what we ask,” said interim coach Dave Lowry. “Obviously, with shot numbers and all of that, some nights he faces higher (volume) than we would like (in terms of) quality chances and that’s on our group to tighten that up.”
As long as the Jets have a shot at the playoffs, however remote, you can expect Lowry to keep leaning on Hellebuyck. That could bring him to near 70 starts by the time the dust settles at the end of the month. His previous career-high was 67 appearances.
“I think the way that we’ve been managing my workload has been really good and really helpful. That being said, it’s funny when you ask somebody if they want to play, they want to play them all. But then when you’re in that moment, you’re thinking, ‘Well, what’s best for the team? I don’t want to screw the team over because now I’m starting to get tired,” said Hellebuyck.
“I think the moment we are having now, it’s been good. We’re managing it very well and we’ve had some good open communication and coach is making good decisions.”
The Jets will welcome forward Kyle Connor and defenceman Nate Schmidt back into the lineup against Detroit. They missed the past three games after testing positive for COVID-19. Winnipeg will be without forward Jansen Harkins, who is in concussion protocol after taking an elbow to the face last Saturday against Los Angeles.
And they’ll no doubt hope Hellebuyck can help them reel in a much needed victory.
“He doesn’t look tired. That’s why we continue to play him. It’s not like you wake up and you just say that Connor is going to play. We have a plan, we look at the schedule and we manage the days off. We manage practice and his workload,” Lowry said of his workhorse.
“He’s a competitor and he wants to be in the net. He’s been very good here. The games and the pressure have elevated and he’s been very good. That’s what our expectation is. That he gives us that chance every night.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Wednesday, April 6, 2022 6:39 AM CDT: Fixes typo