MINNEAPOLIS — Adam Wilcox hasn’t wasted any time turning his brilliant freshman year into a strong start to his sophomore campaign.
Wilcox, the Gophers’ sophomore goalie, pitched a shutout in Friday’s season opening 6-0 victory against Mercyhurst. One night later, he made several key saves in the final minute of the game to help Minnesota preserve a 3-2 win and a 2-0 start to the season.
After seeing what Wilcox did as a freshman, none of this surprised his Gophers teammates.
“That’s just what Wilcox does. He’s always making those big-time saves,” said junior forward Sam Warning. “He played great last year as a freshman. This year, we expect the same from him.”
Indeed, Wilcox put up impressive numbers as a freshman during the 2012-13 season. He posted a 25-8-5 record to help propel Minnesota to the NCAA Tournament. His 1.88 goals-against average (GAA) was tops in the WCHA and set a new school record. Those 25 victories tied Kellen Briggs for the most wins by a Gophers rookie goalie in school history.
Wilcox indeed set the bar high a season ago. Now that his sophomore year is underway, he insists he’s not focused on trying to produce similar numbers.
“I try not to key in on stats too much,” Wilcox said. “I try not to worry about it because if you’re worrying about save percentage, you’re always looking at the board in the game hoping to add the couple shots to get above 90 (percent). So I try not to worry about stats like that. I try to just forget about last year.”
That’s not to say Wilcox isn’t using last year to springboard himself into his sophomore season. Coming into his freshman year, the South St. Paul native wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot in net. In fact, he and then-junior Michael Shibrowski split time between the pipes for Minnesota’s first few series.
Eventually, though, Gophers head coach Don Lucia settled on Wilcox as his everynight starter, and Wilcox never relinquished the starting job. He appeared in 39 games, including 38 starts, and had three shutouts while stopping 92.1 percent of opponents’ shots.
Even though he’s just a sophomore, Wilcox looks and feels like a seasoned veteran.
“It’s nice coming into this year having 40 games under your belt and just knowing the ropes a little bit,” Wilcox said. “I think having such a good team really helped with my success. It was exciting getting the opportunity to play that many games your first year.”
Wilcox stopped all 25 shots he faced in Friday’s 6-0 win against Mercyhurst as the Gophers rolled to an easy season-opening win. One night later against New Hampshire in the championship of the Ice Breaker Tournament, Wilcox made 21 saves — including a few in the final minute.
The game could have easily gone to overtime if not for Wilcox’s late-game heroics to stop several New Hampshire shots after the Wildcats pulled their goalie.
“He’s obviously very athletic. We’ve said many times that the (thing) that I like about Adam is he makes the timely save,” Lucia said. “Last week he didn’t have a lot of saves to make, but in the last minute when you need to make a big save, he seems to make it.”
The way last year ended — a loss to Yale in the NCAA West Regional semifinal game — still stings for Minnesota’s players, Wilcox included. He allowed three goals in the Gophers’ disappointing 3-2 loss to the eventual national champion Bulldogs.
But like the rest of the Gophers players, Wilcox used that loss as motivation this past offseason. While he did step away from the ice rink to enjoy time with his family up north at the cabin, Wilcox kept hockey as his main focus. That included working out three to five times a week, the occasional skate and vision training.
Wilcox also worked on finding the ideal depth at which to play in front of the net. Moving side to side — a key for any goalie — was also a primary focus, as was his ability to play the puck behind the net. The hope in all of it is an even more well-balanced goaltender than the one who led the Gophers to a share of the MacNaughton Cup but eventually fell short of the team’s ultimate goal.
“Obviously we didn’t end like we wanted to last year. We had a team that could have gone all the way and we ran into a strong Yale team,” Wilcox said. “Having that, obviously it took a little bit to digest that. After having the team we had and what we could have done last year in the NCAAs, it gets you a little bit more motivated to go a little further now that you finally have a (taste) of it.”