PHILADELPHIA — Connor Hellebuyck was one of the best college hockey goaltenders in the country in his two years at Massachusetts-Lowell, but he didn’t accomplish that all on his own.
When Hellebuyck came to Lowell following his time in juniors with the NAHL’s Odessa Jackalopes, the River Hawks had already enjoyed two solid seasons from Doug Carr, by the fall of 2012 a junior who had ended the previous season with a .928 save percentage and four shutouts in 33 outings.
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Hellebuyck eventually won the job in his freshman season and shined in the River Hawks nets. In 24 appearances, he put together a 20-3 record and helped lead Lowell to the first of two consecutive Hockey East playoff championships.
He again had to wrest the starting job away from Carr this season, eventually becoming the River Hawks’ steady No. 1 in January.
The end product was on display Friday, when Hellebuyck was named the winner of the inaugural Mike Richter Award as the top goaltender in Division I men’s hockey.
This season, Hellebuyck’s numbers were down slightly, having put together a .941 save percentage compared to .952 in 2012-13 and a 1.79 GAA as opposed to 1.37 a year ago. Two shutouts from him in Boston — thus making six for this season — against Notre Dame and New Hampshire in March, however, gave Lowell another Hockey East playoff title banner to raise.
Whereas the River Hawks qualified for last year’s Frozen Four, they couldn’t make it happen again this season. Perhaps just as bad for Lowell, after it lost to Hockey East rival Boston College March 30 in the Northeast Regional final, Hellebuyck put pen to paper on a three-year deal with Winnipeg on April 5.
He did, however, appear at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on Friday to receive the award from Richter, a former Wisconsin goaltender and New York Rangers legend. Former Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs great Bernie Parent also was on hand for the presentation.
Both on the dais at the Richter Award news conference and in interviews afterwards, however, Hellebuyck was quick to thank Carr for pushing him throughout their time together at Lowell.
“I can go on for days about how much I love the guy,” Hellebuyck said. “I wish him the best of luck right now and believe he’s playing [for the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL] on Sunday. We battled really hard, but with that being said, we’re brothers now.
“I see him as someone I’ll always look up to and always keep in touch with. He works so hard on the ice and it just makes me better and makes me work harder.”
Hellebuyck is to report to the Jets’ farm club, the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL, a team that has fielded five goalies this season. With Hellebuyck and Carr both playing professionally, Bazin said the pair’s competition at Lowell prepared them well for what they’ll find at their new level in the sport.
“He’s going to be competitive all the way through, and you might as well start in college,” Bazin said. “They realize that, and [Hellebuyck] was a very good teammate, Doug was an excellent teammate, and I think they’re going to do very well in pro because of that competition.”
Hellebuyck echoed Bazin’s sentiments about how battling for the No. 1 job earlier in his playing career will help him down the road.
“I feel it’s important for the rest of my life,” Hellebuyck said. “I thought it was important when I played juniors when I first went to juniors. You have to have that compete level because a lot of people have talent, but not a lot of people can work hard with that talent.
“That’s what separates the good from the great.”