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Tom Miller / Forum Communications Co. , Published January 18 2013

Miller: Wilcox proves his worth in net for Gophers

Minneapolis - When you think of the No. 1 Minnesota men’s hockey team, the highly skilled forwards, whether it be the speedy Kyle Rau or the physical Nick Bjugstad, stand out most often.

In fact, many believe if there’s a weak link to mighty Minnesota this year, it could lie in rookie goaltending.

But freshman Adam Wilcox proved Friday what he’s shown throughout the season: He’s far from a soft spot for the Gophers.

Wilcox stopped 24 shots as Minnesota manhandled North Dakota 5-1 in the series opener at Mariucci Arena.

No goalie in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association has more wins (16-2-3). Wilcox also entered with the league’s best winning percentage and goals-against average, a statistic that also ranks fifth in the nation.

“I know we have a good team, and as long as I do my job, I know we have the team to go all the way,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox was at his best in a 10-save third period in which he made a spectacular pad save on a 2-on-1 opportunity for UND’s Michael Parks and Carter Rowney.

That save held Minnesota’s 3-1 lead and a good share of the momentum.

It was Wilcox’s first taste of the heated rivalry, a debut he didn’t shy away from.

“These are the weekends I get excited for,” Wilcox said. “The intensity was up. It was a whole different atmosphere. These are the games I love. The emotions come out, and it’s all on the line.”

Even the one goal Wilcox did allow against North Dakota – Parks’ power-play goal in the second period for a 1-0 lead – came on what Minnesota classified as a fluky bounce. The puck deflected into the net off Gophers defender Seth Helgeson.

“It was a weird bounce, so I wasn’t too mad about it,” Wilcox said. “I forgot about it. Every now and then, there’s going to be a bad bounce. It’s better than letting in a squeaky five-hole from the red line. You move on. I know we have the power to go score goals, and we did.”

Wilcox said he paid particular attention to UND’s top-end skill forwards Danny Kristo, Corban Knight and Rocco Grimaldi.

“Those guys like to shoot high,” Wilcox said. “You have to be patient. Let them make a move before you do.”

Knight assisted Parks’ goal, but Kristo and Grimaldi were held pointless.

“He’s a young guy, and I’m sure he was hyped up for the game,” Knight said. “He made some critical saves for them. Give him credit; he played well.”

Wilcox is now unbeaten in his last nine games.

“He’s a good goaltender,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “He was good tonight. He’s given them good goaltending all year. He made key saves at critical times.”

Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald