Connor Hellebuyck is dying to slap on the pads. He is also not ruling out anything to keep his puck-stopping skills tuned, including some heated floor-hockey action with his big brother.
The Winnipeg Jets goaltender says he’s considered challenging his sibling, Chris, to a game of Slapshot Regatta as the two share living quarters in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Haven’t heard of it? Well, let Hellebuyck explain the finer details.
“I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and I’m starting to consider it because I’m lucky I have my brother in the house with me. He can probably shoot on me a little bit,” Hellebuyck said Thursday during a video conference with the media. “I was considering playing Slapshot Regatta. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that from She’s Out of My League, the movie, where he would just take slappers at me and I stand against the wall and try to make saves.
“I was considering doing that but I still don’t know how much that would translate.”
Hellebuyck hasn’t stopped a puck since he turned aside a wrist shot from Edmonton forward Tyler Ennis late in the game as the Jets doubled up on the host Oilers 4-2 on March 11. The next day, the NHL suspended the 2019-20 season until further notice in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Hellebuyck immediately headed home and has spent the last five weeks sticking to a fitness regimen while attempting to stay as mentally strong as he can.
“It’s tough because no one’s been through it before, so there’s really no book, no right way to do this,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’m not able to strap on the pads and that’s the most important part about being dialed in as a goalie, getting a feel and really getting the workload of being a goalie. Going for a run isn’t going to keep me in goaltender shape. The most I can do is keep working out my goalie muscles, as I like to say a lot, and just keep my mind right. So, when we do go back — I believe we’ll have a training camp — that I’ll already have the mind ready to start the training camp a little bit ahead of schedule.
“Mainly, what I’ve been trying to do is watch highlights and watching other goalies and highlights of that. Try to kind of live in the moment with that, trying to picture myself in those moments to keep my reads of the game still up and dialed in.”
“The most I can do is keep working out my goalie muscles, as I like to say a lot, and just keep my mind right. So, when we do go back — I believe we’ll have a training camp — that I’ll already have the mind ready to start the training camp a little bit ahead of schedule.” – Connor Hellebuyck
When the season abruptly adjourned on March 12, the Jets occupied the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference (37-28-6) and were gunning for a third consecutive playoff appearance.
Hellebuyck, 26, made that possible. The product of Commerce, Mich., was a pillar of strength for a club that desperately needed a hero after a massive re-tooling of its defensive corps and a drop-off in back-up Laurent Brossoit’s play.
Rightly so, he was firmly entrenched in the Vezina Trophy conversation as the league’s top goalie, with perennial stars such as Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Well, it’s an honour just to be mentioned with some of those great guys around the league and this year has been such a grind and I’ve had a blast doing it,” said Hellebuyck, in the second season of a six-year contract that comes with an annual cap hit of nearly US$6.17 million. “To be recognized like that is just a huge honour and just to be known with some of the greats would be huge.”
Before the shutdown, Hellebuyck (31-21-5) was second in wins and first in shutouts (6). Among goalies with at least 40 starts, he was second in save percentage (.922) and sixth in goals-against average (2.57). He had registered the most saves (1,656) on a team that, by all metrics, surrendered far too many quality scoring opportunities.
Hellebuyck was leading the Professional Hockey Writers Association’s mid-season voting for the Vezina Trophy at the end of January.
“It would be a great milestone and it would definitely be one of my goals achieved but at the end of the day, what I truthfully want is the Stanley Cup and a chance to win it. So, anything that gets me closer to that, I would do for sure,” said Hellebuyck who finished second in Vezina voting two years ago to Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.
After a down season a year ago, Hellebuyck quickly returned to form the moment the puck dropped on the 2019-20 campaign.
“I think I came in with the right mindset. I was ready to prove myself. I had another year under my belt, so I had a little more experience,” he said. “Not only that I had this new chest pad that I finally had figured out. It took all training camp to really fine tune some things. And I had the right mindset, the right coaches around me.
“And the guys were playing great in front of me, too. So I was able to identify my game pretty easily at an early stage of this year and it just helped grow it.”
To pass the time, Hellebuyck has been taking his dog on frequent walks, playing the board game Catan with his girlfriend Andrea and his brother or watching pro fishing highlights on YouTube.
A number of scenarios have been floated out on a possible return to action, such as staging neutral-site games in cities no longer at risk or holding games in empty rinks. Hellebuyck said he’s itching for a return to the ice but has a tough time imagining playing without the raucous fans at Bell MTS Place.
“It would definitely be crazy, especially with how used to it we are with having fans there and how much we feed off of them now. It would be a little bit of a negative,” he said. “But just the fact that we’d get to play again would be awesome.”
Assistant sports editor
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