MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia was asked earlier this month if junior Adam Wilcox might have any competition for the starting goaltender job.
The question was barely finished before Lucia uttered his answer: No.
"I’m just being honest. The competition is going to be who’s going to be the second goaltender," Lucia said. "That’s really what the competition is. I think that’s being fair to Adam, the type of athlete and type of goaltender he is."
The type of goaltender Wilcox is is a pretty good one. Tops in the Big Ten last year, in fact, as the South St. Paul native earned both the Big Ten Goalie of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year awards in the conference’s inaugural season of hockey. His 1.97 goals-against average as a sophomore last year ranked second all-time in the program’s history behind . . . himself. Wilcox posted a 1.88 GAA as a freshman when he established himself as an every-game goalie.
Since arriving on campus, Wilcox has been a mainstay in net for Minnesota. He played in 38 of the Gophers’ 41 games last year, and 39 of 40 during his freshman campaign — including the final 37 games of the year. As the Gophers advanced to the NCAA championship a year ago, there was no doubt who would be in net each and every night.
"I take a lot of pride in it," Wilcox said of playing every night. "I worked hard to get here. I got the opportunity with the coaches and the team that I had. I couldn’t have done it with that opportunity and such a solid team every year that I’ve been here. Now that I’ve got that opportunity, I want to give it my all for the team and be there for the guys."
As Wilcox continues to not only play every night but also play well, he’s climbing up the record books at Minnesota. Through two seasons and two games, he’s already seventh all-time for wins by a goalie with 53. He’ll soon climb to sixth when his next win ties him with Steve Debus at 54 wins, and fifth place isn’t long after that as he closes in on Jeff Stolp’s 56 victories.
If the current trend continues for Wilcox, he’ll also have a chance to finish his Gophers career with the lowest goals-against average in school history. He entered this year with a 1.93 GAA, easily the best among all Minnesota goalies; Kent Patterson ranks second at 2.45.
Wilcox’s eight shutouts — he had one last weekend against RIT in a 3-0 win — put him in a tie for second all-time, five shy of Kellen Briggs’ 13. And his save percentage of .927 after his sophomore year was the best of any Gophers goalie in history.
When all is said and done, Wilcox could go down as one of the best, if not the best goalie Minnesota has ever had. But his college career could have ended after last year. A sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Wilcox has aspirations of making a living out of playing hockey. He thought about it plenty this summer about potentially turning pro but ultimately decided to return to Dinkytown.
"This is your career, and obviously hockey isn’t a life-long career for a lot of people. You’ve got to really jump into it at the best time. That’s something that I took into it, along with this great college," Wilcox said. "It would have been easier if I wasn’t at such a great campus, good team and with the success that we’ve had. It was a long process looking at it. When it was all said and done, I made the right decision in my mind."
The Gophers are glad he made that decision, too. It alleviates stress for Lucia and the coaching staff when filling out the lineup each night.
Minnesota can keep Wilcox’s name written in permanent ink in that goalie spot.
"I don’t have to worry about who the goalie is. Unless he’s hurt, Adam’s going to play," Lucia said. "If there’s off night where he’s not playing very well and we just get him out of there and get somebody else in, that may happen. But at the same time, Adam wants to play every game. He’s put himself in a position to have that right to do that. Guys have a lot of confidence in Adam. Coaches have a lot of confidence in Adam. He’s earned the right to say he’s going to play."