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Hard work earns Hellebuyck second career Vezina finalist nomination

"I love the guys in front of me. They play their hearts out every single night." -Hellebuyck

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

WINNIPEG - Perhaps that night in San Jose was a sign of things to come.

The Winnipeg Jets were in San Jose taking on the Sharks. After 40 minutes, the Jets held a 2-1 lead but were being out shot 39-15.

"You get off the bench some nights and you think your goalie stole you the game and you feel good about it. That one, you didn't have to wait until you got off the bench," said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "Halfway through the second period you knew your goalie had given you a chance to win."

That goalie, of course, was Connor Hellebuyck.

He finished that night with a career-high 51 saves in a 3-2 win over the Sharks. 

"I look at that game as a really important one," Maurice said. "He was just spectacular."

Video: TRAINING CAMP | Paul Maurice

Hellebuyck carried that high level of play throughout the rest of the 2019-20 regular season and National Hockey League general managers took notice.

So much so, they voted Hellebuyck as one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy along with Boston's Tuukka Rask and Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy.

He's come a long way from the 2012 NHL Draft, when he was selected in the fifth round.

"The fifth round doesn't really have any feel to me. I wasn't even expected to get drafted, so just the fact I was in that list was kind of nice. It gave me a path of a career," said Hellebuyck. "It was very motivating. To be where we are now is (something I'll cherish) and it's a great moment. Hopefully I can continue to build on it."

Video: Hellebuyck Named Vezina Finalist

It's the second time in the last three seasons that Hellebuyck has been named a finalist.

He earned the same honor after the 2017-18 campaign, a breakout season for the Commerce, Michigan product.

He had 44 wins to tie for the league-lead that year, along with the second most shutouts with six, and 3965:54 of playing time - tops in the NHL.

In this shortened season, the 27-year-old tied that career-high of six shutouts to lead the league, while also finishing at the top of the stat sheet in shots faced (1,796), saves (1,656), and high-danger chances against (412).

Even with all those pucks being shot at him, Hellebuyck still remembers that special night in San Jose.

"That will definitely be one of the milestones in my career just because of the shot total. It's not like we were playing bad by any means, we were just getting outshot. It was one of those games," Hellebuyck said. "To come out with a victory in a building I really like to play in, not only was I having some fun there, I went into it excited to play. That was the starts aligning in that game."

Video: TRAINING CAMP | Wade Flaherty

One word constantly comes up amongst Hellebuyck's teammates and coaches when discussing him: competitive.

"His competitiveness is one of his biggest assets. He wants to continue to get better, stop every puck, and give himself a chance to stop every puck," said goaltending coach Wade Flaherty.

"You see him in practice and it'll be a tap-tap back-door and in, and he'll be 'I almost had it!'"

Hellebuyck's goaltending partner, Laurent Brossoit, says the two have developed a great relationship on and off the ice, and he's happy to see his teammate rewarded for all the hard work he puts in.

"To see him accomplish these things, it's no surprise at all from my perspective. I see the work he does on and off the ice. I see the work he does in and out of the season," said Brossoit. "His consistency, his details, he's very methodical and he's very organized in the way he thinks the game and executes the game. No questions asked, I think he deserves to win the Vezina."

Brossoit isn't the only one with that opinion.

There was significant turnover on the Jets blue line this season, with Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and Jacob Trouba leaving the organization and Dustin Byfuglien's contract being mutually terminated late in the season.

"We needed to buy some time to get the new guys broken in, get the belief back," said Maurice. "That month of November he had did it. That would be the section where it could get better, like it did, or it could get a lot worse. He really excelled that month and we built an awful lot of confidence."

Video: VAN@WPG: Hellebuyck becomes franchise shutout leader

The defencemen on the Jets roster always had confidence in Hellebuyck, but somehow, it was taken to another level as he always seemed to come up with the big save when his teammates needed it most.

"When you have a goaltender that has that ability and his game is at that level, it allows you as a defenceman to feel like you are not afraid to make a mistake because you know he's back there," said Josh Morrissey.

"His presence, his poise, he's a calm guy. He's never too high or too low. He's very confident in his game and I think that sort of radiates out through our whole team but definitely our blueline."

Hellebuyck felt it was important early in the season to find time to talk with the new defencemen on the roster, names like Neal Pionk, Luca Sbisa, and Carl Dahlstrom.

"That's just me going up to them and explaining to them 'this is what I'm doing and this is what I expect out of you,' and they would do the same to me. It was a really good give and take that we had early in the year," Hellebuyck said.

"It was building trust in each other and learning each other's tendencies. I wouldn't say it was a long process, but it was a good process to adapt to each other. 

"I love the guys in front of me. They play their hearts out every single night. I wouldn't trade them for anyone else."

They wouldn't have it any other way, either.

"He's a heck of a goalie. Maybe I'm a little biased but I think he wins the Vezina hands down," said Pionk. "He's a heck of a teammate and obviously a great goaltender."

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