Hellebuyck Stops ... Everything
Sophomore First to Post Dual Shutouts at Garden as Lowell Defends Title
by Jen Dobias/CHN Reporter
BOSTON With three minutes left in the game, it was announced Connor Hellebuyck had been unanimously selected as the Hockey East Tournament MVP.
This was met with no surprise, even though it made league history; the sophomore goaltender became the first player to earn the honor twice.
After posting a 35-save shutout against Notre Dame in the semifinals Friday, Hellebuyck did it again Saturday, making 30 stops as Massachusetts-Lowell clinched its second consecutive Hockey East Tournament title with a 4-0 win over New Hampshire. Hellebuyck also became the first goalie to post shutouts in both the semifinals and finals in the 30-year history of the Hockey East.
“Connor’s stellar,” UMass-Lowell head coach Norm Bazin said. “There’s no question that you don’t win a championship without a good goalie, and he’s provided us with great goaltending all year.”
Dating back to last year, when the River Hawks captured their first ever Hockey East crown, Hellebuyck has a shutout streak of 230:01 at the TD Garden. He last surrendered goal in the first period of UMass-Lowell’s 2013 semifinal contest against Providence. Since then, he’s been nothing short of flawless in net, but he insists that it’s not the building.
“It’s playoff hockey, and we only play at the Garden in playoff hockey, and it brings out the best in the guys in front of me,” Hellebuyck said. “You saw tonight, they blocked shots, they did everything.”
Early on, it was Hellebuyck who bailed out his teammates as the Wildcats pressured the UMass-Lowell defense. At around the 10-minute mark, Grayson Downing sprung Dalton Speelman and Tyler Kelleher on a two-on-one rush. Speelman fed Kelleher in front, but Hellebuyck moved across the crease to calmly direct Kelleher’s shot wide.
“If I’m remembering right, I remember Jake Suter working his tail off to get back, forcing that guy wide,” Hellebuyck said. “So it was just a little pass and an easy read. It was all Jake Suter.”
Shortly thereafter, Lowell took the lead when A.J. White knocked home a loose puck after UNH netminder Casey DeSmith failed to cover it at 12:12 in the first period. Then, just over three minutes later, Josh Holmstrom gave the River Hawks a two-goal edge, effectively putting the game out of reach with Hellebuyck guarding the crease.
“I thought we generated enough scoring opportunities to be in the game,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “I thought they played well, moved the puck and things just didn’t happen for us tonight. We had our chances, Hellebuyck made saves when he had to.”
Without fail, Hellebuyck always gives the credit to his defense corps. And, throughout the game, his defensemen were always there to block shots, keep Wildcats to the outside and sweep loose pucks out of the crease. Midway through the third period, freshman Dylan Zink made a save of his own on a sure UNH goal to preserve the shutout, lunging into the crease to deflect a shot away with Hellebuyck out of position.
“That’s a strong indicator our team has heart,” Hellebuyck said. “We broke down a little bit, and I was forced to go to the left side. I always trust them back there, as long as they trust me to get the first shot. When he put it back there, I knew someone would be there. Just the fact Zink got it with his stick, hat’s off to him.”
With the Lamoriello Trophy on its way back to Lowell, the River Hawks will take tonight – and maybe tomorrow – to savor their victory. Then, it will be back to work in practice. And, with Hellebuyck in net, the forwards will have their hands full trying to score, just as their opponents did throughout the Hockey East tournament.
“It happens to us in practice,” UMass-Lowell forward Joe Pendenza said of being thoroughly frustrated by Hellebuyck. “I’m glad Friday’s and Saturday’s we don’t have to shoot on him anymore. But, I mean, anytime you have a goalie like that, he pumps us up, just the stops that he makes when we’re in a tough rut, he really pumps us up, giving us confidence back there. Hockey’s a game of mistakes, and even though we are going to make a couple of mistakes here and there, we know he’s got our back.”