“Goalies love to get a rhythm, and he got a rhythm and then some. It’s just gratifying because he’s a hell of a kid.’’
Odessa coach Paul Gillis, who played 11 seasons in the NHL, said Hellebuyck is not only talented, he’s a workhorse.
“I tried to give him days off last year and I’d be at the rink and he’d show up,’’ said Gillis. “I’d say, ‘I don’t want you here.’ But he can handle it. He’s a big, strong kid, and he was so strong, he had to play every night. We thought he was a special player and a special goaltender last year and what he is doing this year does not surprise me in the least. We’re all proud of him.’’
A chance in Lowell
Sarner knew UMass-Lowell goaltender coach Cam Ellsworth when Ellsworth was an assistant coach at Sioux City, and he was convinced Hellebuyck would be a good fit with the River Hawks.
“I talked to Cam and I said, ‘You’ve got to come down and see this kid,’ ” said Sarner. “Cam was convinced pretty quickly.
“Cam said, ‘He probably won’t play much the first year, but that’s all right.’ I said, ‘That’s fine, I think he’s mature enough to accept it.’ But obviously, when he got the chance, he ran with it.’’
In addition to all the Lowell fans, Hellebuyck has a loyal following in Texas rooting for him Friday.
Sarner said Hellebuyck will always be a difference-maker because that’s how he is wired.
“That’s all his doing, that’s his internal machinery and his desire,’’ said Sarner. “We just put him on a stage where he could show it.’’
Despite losing the No. 1 job to Hellebuyck, Carr said there is nothing but support and friendship between the two.
“It was a transformation process,’’ said Carr. “I think there was a lot of hard work on his part that started to pay off.
“From the beginning, we’ve had a good relationship. When I played the first half of the year or whatever it was, we would always talk about different goals and how to do things better, just little tips with each other.
“Now that he’s been playing down the end-of-the-season stretch and the playoffs, nothing has really changed with us. Even though the roles have flip-flopped from the first half, our relationship really hasn’t changed. It’s something special, obviously.
“I’m just happy to see him have success because he has worked really hard this year. He’s been great to work alongside.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.