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Jets' Hellebuyck pushing for time in net

by Aaron Vickers

PENTICTON, British Columbia -- Connor Hellebuyck doesn't want to ruffle any feathers, but he's not planning to concede as a challenger for the Winnipeg Jets goal crease this season.

Hellebuyck, 22, will be competing with Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson.

"I know they have two really good goalies in [Pavelec] and [Hutchinson] right now," Hellebuyck said at the Young Stars Classic tournament. "I'm just going to go out and try to do my thing, get better every day and when it's time, it's time. I feel that I'm ready, but to that point I still feel there is a lot more I can get better at. The biggest obstacle will be keep taking the right steps and keep doing the right thing and don't take any steps backward."

Seizing the starting role for the St. John's IceCaps as a rookie in the American Hockey League last season, Hellebuyck was 28-22-5 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage and was named to the AHL All-Star Game in January.

He built on his season, outdueling Pavalec and the Czech Republic in the bronze medal game to help Team USA to a medal at the IIHF World Championship in May. Hellebuyck won seven of eight games with a 1.39 GAA and .948 save percentage, and was named to the tournament's All-Star team alongside established NHLers Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), Oliver-Ekman Larsson (Arizona Coyotes), Jaromir Jagr (Florida Panthers), Jason Spezza (Dallas Stars) and Taylor Hall (Edmonton Oilers).

Hellebuyck spent two seasons at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and went 38-12-2 record in 54 games and had 12 shutouts, a 1.60 GAA, and a .946 save percentage, capping his collegiate career by winning the inaugural Mike Richter Award as the top goaltender in college hockey.

The past 18 months have been a whirlwind for the 6-foot-4 native of Commerce, Mi.

"It feels like it was just yesterday," Hellebuyck said. "I just took one step and all of a sudden we're a year down and making another big push for the NHL. Time keeps flying. It's crazy. The summer felt like a day and now the season felt like it's never happened. It's been a long year.

"I'm proud of it, but it's in the past. It's not going to help me moving forward. It's going to be one of my building steps. I've got to keep on improving and keep getting better so I can hopefully make the push to the NHL."

IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge has seen quick growth from Hellebuyck.

"We knew obviously a lot about him coming in, that he was a really highly touted prospect," McCambridge said. "When you watch him, there's not a lot of flash to his game, which in my opinion is a good thing for a goaltender. He makes things look easy. Every time he was in the net, he gave you a chance to win. From my side behind the bench, that's all you can ask for as a coach. He's a kid who comes to work every day. He's really driven to get to the National Hockey League.

"He's more driven, because he's that close. He realizes the season he had. He's that close now to getting to the National league that there's even more excitement to his game. He's a smart young man that realizes what he's done last year and he understands what he has to do this season."

A year of growth in his development and confidence, has Hellebuyck thinking about his first NHL appearance.

"I think this year is almost completely different," Hellebuyck said. "Now I'm trying to get ready for a new season. Last year I was just trying to make the team. That's where my mindset was. I wanted to impress with really my first impression in a Jets jersey. Now, I've seen it. I know what I've got to do and I'm just trying to do the right things to get there."

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