Gophers’ Wilcox shuts out Griffins

MINNEAPOLIS — Coming into the season, the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team had a hole to fill at goaltender with the graduation of Kent Patterson. Early on, the plan was to use a platoon of junior Michael Shibrowski and freshman Adam Wilcox, splitting the duo in each two-game series.

With a shutout Sunday in a 1-0 win over Canisius, Wilcox asserted himself as the team’s top option in net — even if his coach wouldn’t anoint him the starter just yet.

“They’ve both done some good things,” coach Don Lucia said of the goalies. “They’ve probably played equally well at home, but Adam obviously outplayed him at (Michigan) Tech. What we’ll do is make a decision toward the end of the week. We might continue to rotate. If we rotate, do we want to switch who plays Friday, who plays Saturday, or let one of them play both games this weekend?

“We don’t know. We don’t have to make that decision (yet).”

Through this weekend, the Gophers had used Shibrowski in net for the first game of the weekend and then played Wilcox for the series finale. Both goalies had made two starts in regular-season games prior to Sunday, with Wilcox playing considerably more minutes than Shibrowski in four games. In the small sample size, Wilcox’s goals-against average of 1.58 trumped Shibrowski’s (3.47). Still, Minnesota wanted to let things play out a bit with the two goalies before changing anything.

This weekend was an odd schedule for Minnesota, as the Gophers hosted the U.S. Under-18 team on Friday for an exhibition game at Mariucci Arena before a rare Sunday game against the Golden Griffins. On Friday, Shibrowski gave up two goals late in the first period to the Under-18 team before settling down. He ended up making 27 saves to help the Gophers escape with a 2-2 tie.

Wilcox wasn’t tested nearly as much on Sunday against Canisius, as the Golden Griffins fired just 20 shots on net. But Wilcox turned all 20 of them away, earning his first career shutout as a Gopher.

“I liked the way Adam responded to not the easiest game to play because you aren’t seeing a lot of pucks, but you might see a pretty good chance,” Lucia said.

After scoring 12 seconds into Sunday’s game, Minnesota’s offense was unable to put Canisius away — thanks in large part to Golden Griffins goalie Tony Capobianco. The junior netminder made 41 saves on 42 Minnesota shots to keep his team in the game.

As the Gophers clung to a 1-0 lead in the third period, Canisius had its best scoring chance of the night in the game’s final minutes. Canisius forward Kyle Gibbons skated toward Wilcox on a breakaway but couldn’t quite get his stick on the puck as he tried to go five-hole. Wilcox made the save, thwarting the best scoring opportunity of the night for the Griffins.

“He came down, the puck was kind of in front of him. Our D were battling hard to get back, so he couldn’t really get a stick on it,” Wilcox said. “I tried to poke check it and we both kind of missed it. He ended up getting a little shot and I just closed my legs and ended up hitting it.”

In the game’s final minute, Canisius again had a few opportunities after pulling Capobianco in favor of an extra skater. But Wilcox stood tall and Minnesota held on for the 1-0 win.

It was the first shutout for Wilcox since playing for Tri-City of the USHL last year. He couldn’t remember the date of the shutout, but said it came in a win against the Omaha Lancers. Wilcox played two years of junior hockey after spending three seasons on the varsity team at South St. Paul, including one year with Green Bay and one at Tri-City.

Wilcox also honed his craft by learning from his older cousin, Alex Stalock. Stalock was a goalie for Minnesota-Duluth from 2007-10 and attended the same high school as Wilcox. The two are still close, and Wilcox picks up tips from his cousin, a fourth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks.

“That’s kind of how I started playing goalie because of him,” Wilcox said of Stalock.

Wilcox has found his way back to his home state via a two-year stint in the USHL. Now, he has an opportunity as a freshman to solidify himself as the starting goalie for a highly-ranked Gophers team.

Sunday’s shutout was a good step in that direction.

“I was hoping to get a lot of ice time. Anywhere you go, especially at this level, is going to be competing for the job,” Wilcox said. “Coming in, there’s always that chance where you’re going to either play a lot or you’re not going to play, but it’s always good to have competition.”

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