Intense focus runs in the family of Jets’ Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck’s route to the NHL started with a tiny baseball glove and a mini hockey stick.

Armed with the very small gear, a young Hellebuyck would stand in front of the TV in his Commerce, Mich., home and mimic the goalies on the monitor. 1 day when he was about four years old, the future netminder of the Winnipeg Jets amazed his dad.

“He sat in the front of the [Detroit] Red Wings game and he is exactly like making moves and that I thought he was just copying the goalie,” Chuck Hellebuyck stated in a recent phone call.

“It was kind of cute when he was watching and then there was a breakaway about the Red Wings’ goalie. The goalie just went down, did a sprawl down to the ice, and the shooter really went up. The man shot the puck to the top of the net.

“And I looked at Connor and he was really up. His arms were up, his glove was up, his head was up.

“He had been watching the puck, he was not watching the goalie. He had been playing the game in his head and he had been watching the puck. And I’m like, holy cow, this kid is really a goalie.”

The 24-year-old has really become a excellent goalie for the Jets this year, his third in the NHL. He has submitted a 15-2-3 record, including his first shutout of the season in Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Ottawa Senators. He’s got a .925 save percentage and 2.31 goals-against average.

His play has helped propel Winnipeg into a 17-6-4 mark, good for first in the Western Conference. The team’s 38 points also ties Tampa Bay for top place in the league, even though the Lightning have a match in hand.

The Jets will play with the Lightning in their current road trip, which starts on Tuesday in Detroit and proceeds Thursday from the Florida Panthers and Saturday versus Tampa Bay.

Hellebuyck’s family will make the short drive to Detroit. A whole lot of his success can be traced to family traits like extreme attention, attention to details and a competitive nature.

Chuck, who used to race stock cars as a hobby, is an electronics expert and operates for Microchip Technology Inc. as a technical training engineer.

He has also written 12 books to help people get started with electronic equipment and has a site and a YouTube station named CHEP 3D Printing and Electronics, which comes with a weekly show about 3D printing. His mother, Erin, has written childrens’ books and is an artist. Connor recalls the time she made a mini Harry Potter Hogwarts house.

Brother Chris is 14 months old and possesses Gamers Option. He customizes electronic products like Xbox controls and hula hoops that light up. Sister Brittany, 20, attends college and is majoring in engineering with a focus on biomedical.

Chris also played junior and college hockey for a centre. He joined Connor with the North American Hockey League’s Odessa Jackalopes for five matches in 2011-12.

That love of hockey comprises an yearly family barbecue and street hockey tournament that started 25 years ago as a birthday party for Chuck’s nephew.

Chris and Connor took over the late-spring occasion a couple of decades back and are captains of the teams. About 20 relatives and friends play and take turns in goal.

“We’re super aggressive,” Hellebuyck said with a chuckle before facing the Senators. “Even when we are playing ping-pong in my cellar, you can see tempers are flying and we hate to lose.”

While he often comes across to fans and media as very serious, Hellebuyck claims that’s not true.

“I always want to be doing something — something interesting, cracking jokes. I am pretty easy going,” he said.

“For my summer, I will get my job done and then after that I will go fishing, go golf. I will go to the bowling alley, play poker with my buddies. It is always something.”

Last summer, however, he got down to serious business when he travelled to Kelowna, B.C., to work with sports performance coach Adam Francilia. They concentrated on biomechanics; how the body moves as a goalie and what muscles he uses for different moves.

He was Winnipeg’s starter last year, but the Jets brought in veteran Steve Mason, who is out with a concussion.

It was thought Mason would find the majority of starts, but Hellebuyck quickly excelled and has become the go-to guy.

“People expressed that it was not good enough,” he said with a wry grin. “However, I used that as motivation this summer.

“I have always known I had been better than what I showed. I showed glimpses of it a year ago, but I could not figure out that consistency I went and tried to find that consistency and that is exactly what I got.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail