Hellebuyck not pressed in debut

Jets goalie faces only 15 shots, calls contest ‘just another game’

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Grand Larceny? Hardly.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/11/2015 (2447 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Grand Larceny? Hardly.

You’d be hard-pressed to even find a misdemeanour, but it was an important day all the same for Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

The 22-year-old made his first NHL appearance Friday afternoon against the Minnesota Wild and had but 14 saves to make to help the Jets to a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild.

Ann Heisenfelt / The Associated Press Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck stops a shot by the Minnesota Wild during the first period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Friday.

How little did Hellebuyck have to do?

He wasn’t chosen as one of the three stars in Xcel Energy Center. It’s an NHL staple that when a visiting team wins, the home folks who pick stars generally don’t know the players well enough, so they always figure it was the goalie who most foiled the home team.

All the same, Hellebuyck played pretty much error-free hockey and that’s something for the struggling Jets.

He overcame the normal battle of nerves for a guy who had never appeared on the big stage.

“A little bit nerve-racking,” the native of Commerce, Mich., a fifth-round pick of the 2012 draft, said after the win. “But once I got on the ice I think I calmed down and had a nice shot right off the chest right off the start, which really helps.”

So when did the nerves really go away?

“I just think once I got on the ice I got a little more comfortable because it’s just another game of hockey,” he said.

“Just another game?” he was asked.

“It’s a huge milestone but the way you’ve got to look at it is that it’s just another game.”

Hellebuyck, who was 2-7-1 for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose before being called up last Sunday, said he got some reassuring words before his start.

“A couple guys said it’s just another game and the nets are the same size, (Blake) Wheeler and (Ben) Chiarot,” Hellebuyck said. “Those little things, they do help.”

Hellebuyck did find out later Thursday he was getting the game, so his family was able to make it from the Detroit area in time.

“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “Now it’s not just a moment I can tell them about, they lived it with me.”

The life in the Jets room was noticeably different Friday and the fact Hellebuyck was playing might have had something to do with it.

“We were all excited for Bucky for sure,” said defenceman Tyler Myers. “He gets a chance to play in his first NHL game and comes up with some big saves for us and gets his first NHL win. Everyone was pretty excited for him and happy for him.”

Said Dustin Byfuglien: “I think that was a big part of our mindset going in, let’s help this kid out as much as possible. A lot of things have been going up and down around here and we needed some way to get back to our game plan. New blood in the pipes never hurts and the kid played great.”

Hellebuyck’s best sequence was probably in the second period when the game was scoreless.

He stopped Mikael Granlund’s shot on a two-one-on, then got in front of the rebound shot by Chris Porter.

Hellebuyck had only three Minnesota shots to face in the first period and said Charlie Coyle’s high shot off his chest 2:50 into the game helped him get a feel.

Jets coach Paul Maurice said that Hellebuyck’s comment that “it was just another” game revealed something.

“I would hope that for him maybe in his preparation, maybe there’s some mental strength there that he was able to get that into his head that it is just another game,” the coach said. “But you only ever get one of those… and he gets to remember it. He was strong and his team was strong in front of him.”

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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