Wilcox a Difference Maker for Title-Seeking Gophers
by Scott McLaughlin/Senior Writer
Going into this season, Minnesota coach Don Lucia planned to rotate his goalies for the first few weeks before making any decisions about whether or not one of them would become his full-time starter.
The rotation lasted just three games. Junior Michael Shibrowski and freshman Adam Wilcox split a pair of lopsided wins over Michigan State on the first weekend of the season, but Shibrowski got pulled the following Friday after surrendering four goals on 14 shots in an eventual loss to Michigan Tech.
Wilcox stopped 11 of 12 shots in relief, then picked up a 3-2 win the next night. He has started every game since, helping the Gophers to a share of the MacNaughton Cup and a one-seed in the NCAA tournament in the process.
"I think that series really stands out," said senior defenseman Seth Helgeson. "We lost the first game, and he came in Saturday night and got us a huge victory. He's done that all year, elevated his play when we've needed him to. If you see him play, he doesn't play like a freshman. He plays like a four-year starter."
Given that they returned 11 double-digit scorers from last year's team that reached the Frozen Four, the Gophers were expected to accomplish everything they've accomplished so far. If they were going to get back to the Frozen Four and compete for a national championship, though, they were going to need one of their goalies to step up and fill the void left by Kent Patterson.
It would have been easy for Wilcox to buckle under the pressure of playing such a big role on a team with such high expectations. He never did, though. In fact, he says he never even felt the pressure.
"I never really thought there was any pressure," Wilcox said. "I kind of liked going in as a freshman, because then you don't have as many expectations as you would if you were a senior. I liked being the younger guy who didn't get as much attention and didn't have all the expectations."
As the season went along, Wilcox's play garnered more and more attention, though. Although Wilcox didn't let on, his coach said he thinks the goalie actually likes the spotlight. Wilcox was an all-state quarterback in high school, so he's certainly used to it. Whether or not he likes the spotlight, he's certainly performed well in it.
The stretch that convinced Lucia that he had a "big-game attitude" came at the turn of the year. Wilcox shut out Air Force and then stopped 32 of 33 shots against Boston College to help the Gophers win the Mariucci Classic. A week later, he turned aside 22 of 23 shots against Notre Dame.
"When the lights turn a little bit brighter, he's been able to perform well in that type of atmosphere," Lucia said. "And he's been able to do that because he's pretty even keel. He's not a really emotional guy. Whether it's a big game or not, you kind of get the same thing. That's what you want. You don't want him changing anything. He's been very consistent."
As the regular season came to a close, the Gophers found themselves chasing St. Cloud State for the MacNaughton Cup, and every game became bigger than the last. Once again, Wilcox rose to the occasion. He posted a .931 save percentage over Minnesota's final eight regular-season games, including a 65-for-67 weekend against Denver.
"He's just been very cool and calm," Helgeson said. "You can tell just in the locker room, he's not worrying about anything. He's not jittery. He's just in a zone. He's back in his stall. He's cool. He's just ready for anything that comes to him. I think he's shown us down the stretch that he's a big-time player. He shows up in big games and gives us a chance to win."
The Gophers are set to take on either North Dakota or Colorado College in the WCHA semifinals on Friday. A week later, they'll be a No. 1 seed in NCAAs. Both will be new challenges for Wilcox, but don't expect him to falter.