March 14, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Wilcox Takes It To Another Level

by Sam Obermyer/CHN Reporter

The Minnesota Golden Gophers can clinch a share of the Big Ten regular season title with just one point in Ann Arbor against Michigan. A big reason for the success of the Gophers this year has been the play of sophomore goalie Adam Wilcox.

There does not appear to be any kind of sophomore slump for Wilcox after a breakout freshman year in which he appeared in 39 games and set a new Minnesota single-season record with a 1.88 goals against average.

This season Wilcox is in the top 10 in the NCAA in GAA (1.91), save percentage(.934) and shutouts (3).

"I didn't feel any pressure last year and coming into this year I thought I might have a little bit but I didn't feel any pressure this year," Wilcox said. "We have such a good team I just went out there and played. Obviously you are going to have a couple of off games throughout a 40-game season but I didn't feel any pressure, I just want to go out there and try to do what I did last year, getting better and continue to have a good season and try and get as many championship as you can because ultimately that is the only thing it come down to, when guys play college hockey they want to win championships."

One adjustment the Minnesota coaching staff has been working with Wilcox on is being ready at any time to stop the puck.

"Whenever the puck crosses the red line I'm going to have 100 percent focus and expect anything to happen at that point," Wilcox said.

Golden Gopher goaltending coach Justin Johnson said this season Wilcox has become more consistent.

"You see it in the type of goals he is giving up," Johnson said. "He had maybe given up three bad goals all year and he's raised the bar. It's really hard for people to beat him and if they are going to beat him it is going to be a good goal."

A big reason for Wilcox's improved play this year has been the defense in front of him.

"Our D have been unbelievable in front of me," Wilcox said. "They have done everything they can, they battle and even more so than last year when the puck is right around the house they are boxing guys out and coming in hard to get back. They have had a really good year."

Wilcox has seen the improvement in Minnesota's defense first hand.

"They seem a lot tougher, must have gotten stronger over the summer," Wilcox said. "Last year the puck would sit there for awhile, with people bumping into you but they have gotten really good at boxing other guys out by the crease and clearing puck and cleaning rebounds I give up."

One of the biggest test of his career came last weekend when he made a career high 41 saves against Ohio State, helping the Gophers leave Columbus with a 2-2 tie.

"I felt pretty good," Wilcox said. "We had a good night, the Friday night before that. You figured they were going to come out hard because they had a rough game, got five goals scored on them in their own building and we expected them to come out really hard. We knew it was going to be a tough game so for them to get 43 shots does not really surprise me at all."

Off the ice Wilcox is not you're stereotypical goalie, who Johnson call an outgoing jokester and fun loving.

"He's a very intelligent kid, very social and he probably breaks the mold of that hermit, quiet guy in the corner, don't bother me kind of goalie," Johnson said.

Wilcox is a Hobey Baker and Mike Richter Award nominee, which Wilcox knows is a special accomplishment but said those awards will not mean as much if they do not come along with team success.

"When I first heard about it, it was a pretty cool feeling," Wilcox said. "It's something that you look at the end of the season. You look at it right away when you get nominated, get excited about it and then put it on the back burner until the end of the year because it's an individual award and those mean a lot but if you are not winning championships, it's kind of hard to get excited for everything else."

The first chance the Gophers have to win a championship will come this weekend and it will be a historic one.

"It will be pretty cool to be able to get any kind of first Big Ten Championship you can and we should be able to clinch that this weekend so long as we play our game," Wilcox said. "It's a good trophy to show the work you put in all year, what type of team you are week in and week out."

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said this is what the team has been working toward all season.

"It's a goal when the year begins to put yourself in a position, obviously you never know how the year is going to unfold," Lucia said. " We have had a great regular season and played very consistently from start to finish and now we have to do our job and try to get a win on the road this weekend."

And as Minnesota enters the inaugural Big Ten tournament in St. Paul, Minn. next weekend and the NCAA tournament after that, Wilcox, a South St. Paul, Minn. native, fells his experience from last year will help.

"Last year obviously it ended a little differently than we thought it would," Wilcox said. "We were a top two or three team in the nation the whole year and we lost both of our playoffs, NCAA and WCHA. It's something we got a taste but something we knew we wanted more of and we should have had more of so this year we are going to have a different mindset."

Even with all of his success so far this season, and perhaps more to come, there are steps to be taken for Wilcox to continue to improve going into next season, including adding more strength training to his schedule. According to Johnson, that will allow Wilcox to be able to move quicker but keep his control.

"He's done tremendously, very athletic has grown that way but anytime you are trying to progress and get better adding the strength element to that is going to be key."

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