Adam Wilcox arrived for his freshman season at the University of Minnesota looking to win a battle with a returning senior for playing time in net.
It took him only a couple games to establish his spot as the No. 1 goalie and he never looked back, boasting a 25-8-5 record with a 1.88 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
“He was a backbone of his team as a freshman, which is unusual,” said Tom Kurvers, the Lightning’s special advisor to the general manager. “He grabbed the position and ran with it. Adam is a big-time college player.”
Wilcox’s patience is being rewarded.
The Lightning picked the South St. Paul (Minn.) High product in the sixth round of the 2011 draft after an outstanding season for the Green Bay Gamblers in the United States Hockey League when he posted a .922 save percentage. Wilcox was committed to play for Minnesota, but he wasn’t in a rush.
Kent Patterson, now in the Colorado Avalanche system, was the Gophers’ No. 1 goalie in 2011-12. One extra season in the USHL made the transition even more seamless for Wilcox.
“You can never be over prepared for making a step like that,” Wilcox said. “I thought I was ready [for the 2011-12 season], but it wasn’t the right situation to go into. Another year was the right plan.”
Wilcox started that season with Green Bay and went 7-2 before being traded to the struggling Tri-City Storm. The 6-foot, 171-pound netminder recorded a .916 save percentage in 34 games with the Storm -- finishing 16-17-1.
“Another thing that second year did for me was I had to face a lot of adversity,” Wilcox said.
“It helped me get physically better, but mentally better as well. There were a lot of ups and downs. To be able to battle through that and end with a pretty decent year was good. - Adam Wilcox
Michael Shibrowski was pulled in his second game against Michigan Tech and Wilcox took the reins for Minnesota, playing in 39 of 40 contests. The Gophers went 10 games without a loss (8-0-2) at one point, starting early in December.
Wilcox, 20, said his year had no peaks and valleys. Minnesota won the regular-season WCHA title before losing to Colorado College, 2-0, in the conference tournament semifinals. Eventual national champion Yale edged the Gophers, 3-2, in the first round of the NCAA tournament with a goal only nine seconds into overtime after a defenseman’s turnover gave Wilcox no chance.
It wasn’t difficult to find Wilcox, who was wearing with his maroon and gold Minnesota goalie pads, at the recent Lightning Development Camp. He said his goal during the week was to continue working on trying to economize his movements around the crease. Kurvers said Wilcox is already figuring out that less is more.
“I think it’s my nature to be aggressive,” Wilcox said. “That’s how I was athletically growing up. I’m smaller than the majority of goalies at the professional level, so I have a tendency to want to get out there and get big, go after the puck. Compared to two or three or years ago, I’ve gotten a lot better.”
Lightning Prospect Adam Wilcox, selected in the 2011 Entry NHL draft
Wilcox ran the option at quarterback for two years in high school, throwing only five or six times a game and making decisions on the fly like a goalie. He has also become very proficient at solving a Rubik’s cube, something that also helps him in net.
“If you want to get better times, you have to look ahead,” Wilcox said. “In goal, you have to know the play before it happens.”
Wilcox said he will take it year-to-year before he decides when to start his pro career, but he is prepared to raise his game even higher next season for the Gophers.
Perhaps what impressed Kurvers the most about Wilcox this season was his ability to adjust to each situation. When things were hectic, he was calm. When he didn’t have to face much frozen rubber for a while, Kurvers said he was sharp when the next severe test came.
“We try not to pressure these kids,” Kurvers said. “You just let things settle in. We expect him to be better this year with a good team. He’s going in the right direction.”