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This article was published 16/9/2017 (1373 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Connor Hellebuyck says he totally prepared for the upcoming NHL season, in mind, body and spirit.
After being anointed as the Winnipeg Jets' starting goalie this time last year, Hellebuyck comes into training camp this season as the de facto backup to Steve Mason, who was signed as a free agent July 1.
The likely change in workload doesn't seem to bother the 24-year-old Commerce, Mich., product, who maintains he's encouraged by a productive off-season regiment aimed at getting his body movements and his headspace right.
"I’m excited with everything, all the work I’ve done this summer and everything I’ve implemented in my game," he said Saturday morning at training camp. "I’m very excited about how this team comes together. You can kind of feel in the locker room that we’re excited to play this season and we expect to win."
Hellebuyck played in 56 games during the 2016-17 season, posting a record of 26-19-4. He was pulled in eight starts.
At times, he was upbeat about his play in post-game scrums with the media, while at others he looked lost for words. But he flashed some of his self-assured side Saturday after a 90-minute workout with a group of predominantly Winnipeg roster players.
"I think it goes along with me finding my game, and my game is mainly mental. I think it's getting my confidence, and not only my confidence but the feel of the game right," Hellebuyck said. "If I’m comfortable in the net, I’m gonna do things I don’t realize I’m doing. Once I found that, I implemented the right things into my game. I’m really excited this upcoming season."
Despite Mason's arrival and the presumption he'll get the bulk of the starts, Hellebuyck said he feels even more under the gun this fall.
"You know what? I feel a little bit more pressure because I have to prove what I set out here to do," he said. "I think last year, I showed aspects of it but I need to be better than that. I need to prove to not only myself but to the guys around me that I can be a brick wall and that I’m not here to just settle in and to blend. I’m here to do something and be part of something great."
Hellebuyck spent time this summer with Adam Francilia, a Kelowna, B.C.-based goaltending expert, who has trained a number of NHL goalies and is credited with playing a huge part in the resurgence of solid Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk.
"I went out there a couple of times and saw what he’s all about, worked out with him and changed my body composition," said Hellebuyck. "His biomechanics are what’s coming into the game. It’s next-level stuff. Everything he teaches me and talks to me about, it makes sense. I’ve been trying to apply it all summer long and I really like what it’s done for my game.
"When I jumped on with him, I saw tremendous improvements come into my game. That’s what I was looking for, taking my game to the next level and proving not only that I belong but that I can be a high-end skill in this league. With Adam’s help, I’m on my way to doing that."
On Friday, Mason said after success with the Columbus Blue Jackets early in his career (he was named NHL rookie of the year in 2009), he slipped into a major funk and was on the verge of quitting the game. He said not having a mentor early in his career hurt his development.
Hellebuyck, who was thrown into the fray over the past two seasons, wouldn't bite when asked if his situation was similar here.
"I’d really like to avoid those questions. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus and I don’t want to say the wrong thing. So I have no comment for that," he said. "What I am going to say is that I went and discovered my game and I like where my game is now, and I like the improvements that are continuing to come."
Michael Hutchinson and Eric Comrie are also in camp and will likely share the puck-stopping duties for the Manitoba Moose.
Hellebuyck said he's energized by the competition in the crease.
"Absolutely, I think it brings fun to the game. At the end of the day, Steve and the other goalies here enjoy it and I think having a little bit of a battle is not going to be a bad thing," he said.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he's already notices differences in how Hellebuyck, a former college standout with the University of Massachusetts (Lowell), is carrying himself in camp.
"He looks bigger, he looks stronger, he looks positive. All of that experience from last year has a great value to him. It's a confidence builder," said Maurice. "He's been through it, he knows how to handle it, there's far less unknown for him going into the year. He's a more confident man."
He said Hellebuyck's unwillingness to concede the top job to Mason is exactly what a coach wants to hear.
"They don't ever get to the No.1 position without that (mentality). Among all the positions in hockey, that goaltenders' mental framework of wanting to be in the net every night has to develop because to be a No.1 you have to carry, you have to have that mental toughness," Maurice said. "So, he wants the net every night, that's a really good thing."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).