It’s tough to imagine Adam Wilcox blocking pucks in a pair of 3-D glasses. ¶ The Gophers sophomore goalie is most recognizable in his bulky helmet with his blue eyes peering through the mask, but he’s just as effective in the 3-D shades he uses for vision training.
Wilcox added vision training classes to his routine a year ago to fine-tune reflexes, tracking and visual memory that help him do more than just keep his eyes locked on the puck. The traits are several of the reasons he’s become recognized as one of the best goalies in college hockey; several teammates call him as the backbone of the Gophers.
“There’s glass and stuff. You do some 3-D stuff. I don’t even know what it does, it just works,” Wilcox said. “It’s really important for me, because I consider myself a reactive goalie instead of a blocking, positional [goalie]. So it helps with that.”
The Gophers are at Bemidji State this weekend for a nonconference series after winning the Ice Breaker tournament Saturday at Mariucci Arena with a 3-2 victory over New Hampshire, No. 13 this week in USCHO’s weekly poll.
Mariucci Arena erupted as Wilcox stopped several of the Wildcats’ last-second shots and rose to its feet when he gloved the potential game-tying goal with 7.3 seconds left. He recognized the changing direction of a deflected shot, moving right to left to save what would be New Hampshire’s last shot of the night.
Co-captain Nate Condon thanked his goalie with a tap on the helmet. The Gophers student section bowed to Wilcox.
Wilcox has proved worthy of praise. His 25-8-5 record in 38 starts last season tied a team record for victories by a freshman. A 1.88 goals-against average set a single-season Gophers record. He opened the Icebreaker with a 6-0 shutout of Mercyhurst.
“What I like about Adam is he makes the timely saves,” coach Don Lucia said.
After last weekend’s dramatic finish Lucia said, “Adam didn’t have to make a lot of saves, but like he always does, he makes that crucial one late in the game.”
On an island
Consistently strong Gophers defense this season had limited opposing shots on goal, and when the team’s offense is buzzing, a Gophers goalie can feel lonely on the opposite end of the ice. And that doesn’t always keep a goalie sharp.
In the second period against New Hampshire last week, Wilcox saw just three shots on goal. But when the Wildcats turned up the pressure in the third period, Wilcox shut them down.
Listed at 6-1 and 185 pounds, Wilcox is often referred to by the coaching staff as athletic.
At South St. Paul, he quarterbacked the football team. His cousin, Alex Stalock, is a goalie for the San Jose Sharks. A pair of cousins played Division III hockey. And another cousin runs a CrossFit high-intensity training program in the Twin Cities, something Wilcox participated in for a couple of weeks.
Flexibility doesn’t come as easy for him, but in the heat of the moment Wilcox said he somehow can do the splits.
“As a smaller goalie, that’s kind of my play. So it kind of plays hand-in-hand,” Wilcox said about vision, speed and strength equating to reaction time.
Fighting for a job?
Off the ice, Wilcox is also among the quickest to react in a time of need, according to roommate Mike Reilly, a Gophers defenseman. Wilcox does dishes and laundry and is outgoing in the social scene, Reilly said.
Wilcox brings a room to life the same way he stirs up an arena with 10,000 fans. Defenseman Justin Holl describes Wilcox’s saves as having a “flair for the dramatic.” Reilly agrees, adding that he has the ability to shut down opposing first lines and inspire his teammates..
“If we’re not doing too well and the crowd is out of it, he can get us right back into it with a big save, and get the crowd back into it,” Reilly said.
Despite his success in college so far, Wilcox, a sixth-round draft choice of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011, said he competes as if he’s still a freshman fighting for a job.
“He played great last year as a freshman, and we expect the same out of him this year and I’m sure we’ll get that,” junior forward Sam Warning said. “That’s just what Wilcox does. He’s always making those big-time saves, so he bailed us out [on Saturday].”
Expect to hear that statement a lot this year.