This past week, Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck made his 2020-21 debut at Jets training camp. Suiting up in new TRUE Lefevre pads and a brand new mask, courtesy of Steve Nash at Eye Candy Air, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner (as the NHL’s top goaltender) looked as if he hadn’t skipped a beat since last year.
“I try to incorporate a little bit of myself and Winnipeg altogether for the mask,” the Jets starter said. “The border, I wanted it to be a little more country because I feel like that is what Winnipeg is – it is surrounded by farmland and country, and I really like that feel.”
One side of the mask shows Hellebuyck seated on a dogsled, being dragged by his own pup, Tinley. “That’s a little touch of my personal life,” he laughed. On the opposite side are polar bears commonly seen at Assiniboine Park Zoo – a favourite hangout of the sixth-year Jets netminder.
Although enjoying conversation surrounding his new equipment setup, Hellebuyck was also asked his prospective number of games he plans to start in the shortened 56-game 2020-21 season.
“It depends on how the season plays out,” he said matter-of-factly. “But I would like to be somewhere in the 40-45 range. That’s tough because there’s a lot that goes into that, just based on play and fatigue levels and stuff like that. We’ve briefly talked about it and I’m a guy that likes to play a lot, but who knows what’s going to happen.”
That answer actually served as somewhat of a shock to his coach Paul Maurice.
“I’m surprised he dropped it to 45, to be honest with you,” coach Maurice laughed. “He’s a gamer, man. He’s competitive. I think it’s going to be easier to balance in this situation than any other. The point is, in a condensed schedule, your No. 1 goalie can take the day off and totally feel like he’s still in the rhythm the next time he gets back into the net. So I don’t think that’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Hellebuyck, who did in fact earn the Vezina last season, is not focused on another, rather his intentions are elsewhere.
“Now the only one that matters is the Stanley Cup,” he said. “I’d love to win another Vezina, that would be great, but it’s time. I’m in my prime, this team’s in its prime, it’s time to win a Stanley Cup and every day has to be building toward that. It doesn’t have to happen today but tomorrow’s got to be a better version of yourself than you were today. I think you could ask that to anyone on this team and they’re all probably going to answer the same way. They’re all going to say yes, I need to be the very best of myself in order for this team to win a Stanley Cup. So at the end of the day, that is how it works.”
According to Hellebuyck’s backup, Laurent Brossoit, seeing the league’s top backstop take the majority of starts is no problem, but his anticipated number of starts might have raised some eyebrows – Hellebuyck’s included.
“If we’re talking realistically, if everything goes according to plan I would say the target for me would be 20,” Brossoit said. “There comes a lot of challenges when you’re playing behind a Vezina winner. But everything is about how you take a situation. There’s a lot of positives in a situation like this. I can learn a lot from watching a Vezina winner day to day and seeing what it takes and seeing that I’m not that far off and that it’s quite possible and that I get to compete on the ice with him in practice. I like that challenge, and if there’s someone you want to end up being better than it’s probably the guy that’s considered to be the best right now.”
Although not yet looked upon or considered for the starter’s role, Brossoit is still pushing for his opportunity. He knows that another strong campaign will not hurt his fight.
“You can’t predict the future,” the understudy said. “And the only thing I can really control is my preparation per day and per week and per season. And as the opportunities come, that’s the name of the game in sports is sometimes you’ve got to wait for your opportunities and when those arise take advantage. Whether I did take advantage of those opportunities previously in my career or not, whenever they come I’d like to think I’m getting better and better and each opportunity that arises I’m going to be more and more prepared. And then once I get enough of them, I’d like to think that my time is yet to come.”
According to Hellebuyck, Brossoit is the perfect partner. And not just as a teammate, but as a friend off the ice as well. He is already looking towards re-building that partnership from last season.
“I can already tell in this training camp that once we get that trust, we’re going to be a great unit again,” Hellebuyck said of Brossoit and fellow goaltenders in the Jets’ system. “I’m not saying it isn’t already there, but I think there is a whole new trust level that I know me and these guys can get to. It’s going to take some time of being together, which is hard in this day and age, but we’re going to come together even more than we are now. It’s going to be really fun back there for us.”