Minnesota glad to have solid foundation in goaltender Wilcox

PHILADELPHIA — From the start of the 2013-14 season, Minnesota coach Don Lucia cautioned that this year’s Golden Gophers squad was different from what fans had seen previously.

“When the year was beginning, we knew we obviously had to replace a lot of talent, including three defensemen,” said Lucia. “We knew Kyle [Rau] was going to have to move from wing to center. So we had a lot of question marks on how the puzzle was going to be pieced together.”

There was no question, however, about who would man the Minnesota net. Sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox returned to follow up an outstanding rookie year with a season that earned him Big Ten player and goaltender of the year honors. His performance (1.89 GAA, .934 save percentage) helped the young Gophers team as it matured.

“It was great knowing that we had a solid foundation to build off of,” said senior co-captain Nate Condon. “We do have a young team, so it’s hard for guys to step in and play right away. I think maybe that helped some of our freshmen defensemen really get in the hang of things, maybe some of the older guys finding new roles on the team.”

“I think the biggest thing about having Adam in net,” said senior co-captain Kyle Rau, “is he lets everyone relax a little bit. If you make a mistake, you know Adam’s going to bail you out nine times out of 10, so it helps everybody play loose, especially the younger guys.”

Lucia called Wilcox’s presence in net “comforting,” and said that the sophomore helped as the underclassmen learned their defensive game.

“What Adam allowed us to do and what I think most about Adam as a goaltender is he makes the big save at a critical point of a game,” said Lucia. “If it’s tied in the third, he makes a big save to keep it tied to allow us to get the game winner. If we’re ahead by a goal, he makes a critical save with five minutes to go to allow us to win a game.

“I think that, more than anything else, is what Adam has been able to do for this team and the consistency. I look at Adam and he probably had one game he was a little bit off, and that was a UMD game back in November.”

That was Minnesota’s 6-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 24, a game in which Wilcox surrendered five goals.

“Other than that,” said Lucia, “for the most part, he’s going to give up one or two goals a night. If we get to three goals, most nights we’re going to win.”