Connor Hellebuyck a USCHO Top Ten Goaltender to Watch

(Photo/Justin Soderberg/View from 123)

Connor Hellebuyck returns for another season at UMass Lowell. (Photo/Justin Soderberg/View from 123)

The UMass Lowell River Hawks won their first ever regular season title and Hockey East Tournament title on their way to their first ever Frozen Four appearance on the back of freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Now a sophomore, Hellebuyck is returning to the River Hawks for a chance at completely what they set out to do last season, win a National Title.

Throughout the preseason so far, the River Hawks have been chosen to finish as the top school in the nation by various preseason polls. Both College Hockey News and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls had UMass Lowell finishing on top of all other schools in the nation, while the Hockey East Writers and Broadcasters Association and Hockey East Coaches poll had the River Hawks finishing in first place in their conference.

All the high expectations for the River Hawks are largely to do with the outstanding goaltender they have between the pipes. After replacing starting goaltender Doug Carr in net, Hellebuyck went on to post a 20-3-0 record, 1.37 goals against average and a .952 save percentage. The 6-f00t-4 giant looks to return for another great season with the River Hawks as their starting net-minder.

USCHO announced on Monday, their “Ten to watch: Picking college hockey’s top goaltenders for 2013-14” and Hellebuyck made his way onto the list, along with fellow Hockey East goaltender Jon Gillies of Providence College. Here is what USCHO had to say about Hellebuyck:

When Norm Bazin brought in the Commerce, Mich., native, most hockey experts outside of Lowell figured he would split time with then-junior Doug Carr. Hellebuyck did just that for the first half of the season while racking up a 12-game winning streak.

Somewhere in the midst of that run, it became clear that the River Hawks had something special on their hands as the freshman stole the show in the second half. He finished the season with 20 wins in 24 games played.

“He’s the guy who just came out of nowhere,” one opposing coach said. “He did a great job.”

Hellebuyck, a quiet but hard working goaltender, has it in him to return to the same form as last season. After being selected in the fifth round (130th overall) by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Commerce, Mich. has not seen the ceiling to his game.

The goaltender spent time at the Jets prospect camp and will likely return following the season. If all goes well for Hellebuyck, he will get his NCAA National Title before his college career is over and make the jump to the NHL. The Jets have Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya currently on their roster, but it won’t be long before Hellebuyck makes his name know in Winnipeg.

The River Hawks get their first taste of game action on Saturday, Oct. 5 against McGill University in an exhibition game at the Tsongas Center. The regular season gets underway on Friday, Oct. 11 at 7:15 p.m. against Sacred Heart. Season tickets, mini-packs and single game tickets are available.

Justin Soderberg has covered the UMass Lowell River Hawks and Hockey East for over two years. Soderberg also contributes to Boston Bruins coverage for Inside Hockey. Follow him on twitter: @JMSoderberg