Winnipeg Jets’ Hellebuyck wins Vezina Trophy

EDMONTON — Connor Hellebuyck’s spectacular season has ended with a Vezina Trophy, making local hockey history in the process.

The Winnipeg Jets star was awarded the honour Monday in a virtual ceremony held prior to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. It’s the first time a Jets goaltender — from either the 1.0 or 2.0 era — has ever won the award, and the first individual piece of hardware for any Winnipeg player since Teemu Selanne won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year way back in 1993.

“Tears of joy here. So happy for him,” his agent, Ray Petkau of Stonewall, told the Free Press moments after the announcement.

“Proud moment!” added Joe Clark, his former junior goalie coach and general manager from Odessa, Texas who has maintained a long friendship.

Hellebuyck, who was set to speak Monday evening via Zoom, received 19 first-place votes, eight seconds and two thirds of the 30 ballots that were cast, meaning one general manager somehow left him off entirely. He had 123 voting points, ahead of second-place Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins (99 points). Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning ranked third with 31 points.

The 27-year-old Michigan product was clearly tops at his position after leading the league in shutouts (6), games played and shots faced. Overall, he had a 31-21-5 record with a 2.57 GAA and .922 SV% — all while playing behind a blue-line which lost Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot during the off-season and at times resembled an AHL outfit.

Hellebuyck’s year began with more of a whimper, surrendering five goals on 31 shots in an opening-night loss to the New York Rangers. Backup Laurent Brossoit got the next two starts, creating rumbles of a potential goalie controversy, but it was short-lived. Hellebuyck shined in his next start, a win over Pittsburgh, and never looked back.

There’s no question Nov. 1 in San Jose was the highlight of his season, a sparkling 51-save effort in a 3-2 victory that was nothing short of grand larceny by the badly outplayed visitors.

Hellebuyck was unquestionably Winnipeg’s most valuable player and is the main reason the Jets were in a playoff position at the time of the COVID-19 pause in mid-March, which led to their inclusion in the NHL’s 24-team return-to-play tournament this summer.

Winnipeg lost to Calgary in four games of the qualifying round, but Hellebuyck certainly wasn’t to blame. The Jets lost stars Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine in the opening game and couldn’t recover.

This was the second time Hellebuyck has been a Vezina finalist, coming up short against Pekka Rinne following the 2017-18 season.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
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Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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