HELLEBUYCK FEELING THE PRESSURE
Goalie wants to prove himself
Connor Hellebuyck isn’t ready to give up the crease without a battle.
Hellebuyck, who appeared in 56 games (including 53 starts) for the Winnipeg Jets last season, spent a good chunk of the summer getting his game back in order and adding a few new things into his repertoire.
While veteran Steve Mason was brought in to be the No. 1 guy, Hellebuyck is encouraged by his summer of training and eager to get the new season going.
When asked if he was feeling less pressure coming into this season after Mason’s arrival, Hellebuyck didn’t hold back.
“You know what? I feel a little bit more pressure because I have to prove what I set out here to do,” said Hellebuyck. “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.”
There were a number of ups-and-downs for Hellebuyck as he carried the workload of a No. 1 netminder at the NHL level in what was just his third pro season.
What was his biggest takeaway after having some time to reflect?
“It’s hard to put my finger on one thing,” said Hellebuyck, who was 26-19-4 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .907 save %. “I learned a lot last season and I felt myself get a lot better.
(Playing 56 games) means a lot. It means I can handle the workload. You learn from playing, you learn from your mistakes. I’m going to take from last year as much as I can, what I succeeded at and keep working on the little things I need to.”
Hellebuyck spent part of his summer in Kelowna working with goalie guru Adam Francilia of NET360.
“First off, in the summer, I had to find my game again and I found that right away. I was very comfortable with my game,” said Hellebuyck. “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 also that I can be a high-end (goalie) in this league. With Adam’s help, I’m on my way to doing that.”
What was the biggest thing Hellebuyck took from working with Francilia?
“I’ll give you the most basic way I can say it and that’s biomechanics,” said Hellebuyck. “The way the goaltender moves and how the body moves, and it starts from the core.”
Hellebuyck has spent some time getting to know Mason during the past several weeks and believes having a healthy competition will help both goalies.
“He’s a good guy. I like him a lot and we bonded right away. It’s an exciting time,” said Hellebuyck. “Absolutely, I think it brings fun to the game. You can’t be too hard on yourself because at the end of the day you’ve got to have fun doing it. I think having a little bit of a battle is not going to be a bad thing. It’s going to help.”
Mason said on Friday that not having a veteran he could lean on early in his career was something he wished he’d had — and that he was hoping to provide that for Hellebuyck.
When asked if not having a more veteran presence around him last year may have been a factor in his up and down play, Hellebuyck wasn’t interested in going down that road.
“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,” said Hellebuyck. “So I have no comment for that. 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.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice has noticed a change in Hellebuyck’s appearance and believes he’ll benefit from the experience he gained last season.
“So, he’s a little older, his neck’s a little thicker, he’s a little more powerful in the net getting across, he can drive through the entire practice,” said Maurice. “So, all those things that are important to other players are so important to goaltenders to be able to play the position.
“He looks bigger, he looks stronger. All of that experience from last year has a great value to him. It’s a confidence builder. He’s been through it, he knows how to handle it, there’s far less unknown for him going into the year.”
Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck admits there’s more pressure on him to work hard and get results this season.