Hellebuyck Wins Inaugural Richter Award
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
PHILADELPHIA Friday at the Frozen Four, a pair of former Stanley Cup champions honored Massachusetts-Lowell goaltender Connor Hellebuyck as the inaugural winner of the Mike Richter Award, which will be given annually to the nation’s top goaltender.
Richter, the namesake of the award and former three-time NHL All-Star who played 646 games for the New York Rangers, introduced Hellebuyck, who led the nation in goals-against average (1.79) and save percentage (.941) en route to leading the RiverHawks to their second consecutive Hockey East tournament championship.
“He has been a complete player from the moment he came to campus,” said Richter of Hellebyuck, who signed an entry-level contract on April 5 with the Winnipeg Jets. “According to his coach, his work ethic is like none other.”
Hellebuyck – who won the award over other finalists Sam Brittain (Denver), Joel Rumpel (Wisconsin), Adam Wilcox (Minnesota), and Clay Witt (Northeastern) – remarkably finished his career in Lowell with as many shutouts (12) as losses.
This season, the Commerce City, Mich., native was second in the nation in shutouts (6). Hellebuyck began the season splitting time in net with Doug Carr but took over the starting job in mid-January.
“I want to say this is a huge milestone in my life, with fittingly Mike Richter as the namesake,” said Hellebuyck. “I met him earlier today, and talking to him the last 30 minutes is probably something I will never forget the rest of the life.”
For Hellebuyck, the award was the culmination of a maturing process for a sophomore who won 38 games in only two years.
Said Hellebuyck, who also thanked his teammates, coaches, and family, “I’ve learned a lot mentally. You’ve got to go through hard times to really know what it take and know what you have to do personally to get to your best potential every night. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger, a lot faster. I’ve gotten a lot more calm too and I’ve gotten to become a better team player.”
The inaugural Mike Richter Award was also presented by Bernie Parent, the former Vezina Trophy winner who won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“You can’t have good games all the time,” said the veteran, giving advice to Hellebuyck. “You have downs, you have phases when things aren’t going so good. But as long as you keep your passion, or your vision – and for me, that was playing in the National Hockey League, then it’s all right. You work on your weaknesses, get back on top again, and move on.”
Parent was a childhood idol of Richter, so the three goaltenders at the award ceremony on Friday represented three generations of netminders.
“When I was in grade school not far from here, I was lucky enough to hear my idol talk about what it takes to be successful, and that was Bernie Parent,” said Richter, a Flourtown, Pa., native who won a 2002 Olympic silver medal in the final game coached by the legendary Herb Brooks. “He talked about the 3 D’s – discipline, desire, determination. ... This recipient of this award has certainly applied the 3 D's.”
For Hellebuyck, he’ll be remembered as the first-ever winner of the Mike Richter Award.
“It says something that these guys believe in me,” said Hellebuyck. “I’ll always focus on my career knowing that. I’ll always have an added focus for my career knowing that.”