The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

March 29, 2014

Hockey regional could be tale of two goalies

Huggins, Hellebuyck were top players at conference tournaments

Cole Huggins says he hasn’t changed all that much from the day he got his first start in goal for the Minnesota State men’s hockey team.

“In that first start against Bemidji (State), coach just wanted me to step in,” the freshman said. “He said just play my game, don’t worry about too much. So I just kind of followed that.”

As simple as that sounds, it’s been working for Huggins, who will be in net for the Mavericks today against UMass Lowell in the first round of the NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.

Huggins has put up some outstanding numbers for the Mavericks this season, winning 21 games, allowing 1.91 goals per game and stopping more than 92 percent of opponents’ shots.

During Minnesota State’s 13-game unbeaten streak leading up to the national tournament, Huggins has played 12 games, allowing 16 goals with a .946 save percentage.

“You’ve got to have some quality goaltending,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said during a post-practice press conference on Friday. “Look at Cole Huggins’ numbers over (the streak); they’re special.”

The numbers are pretty special at the other end of the ice, too, where sophomore Connor Hellebuyck has built a brick wall.

The 6-foot-4 Winnipeg Jets draft pick leads the country in save percentage (.943) and goals-against average (1.73).

“He’s good,” Hastings said. “It’s difficult for me to understand him not being up for (the Hobey Baker Award).”

Hellebuyck shut out Notre Dame and New Hampshire last weekend to lead the River Hawks to the Hockey East playoff title. He was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

Huggins earned the same honor at the WCHA tournament, shutting out Bowling Green and allowing one goal to Ferris State.

“He’s a calming presence for our team,” Mavericks captain Johnny McInnis said, “and I don’t think he realizes how big that is for us. It’s kind of been awesome.”

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