Unlikely American Hero: Connor Hellebuyck

The career of Connor Hellebuyck could be clear for takeoff.

Team USA had a complete performance in its 5-1 upset of Finland in the opening game of the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championship.

Matt Hendricks scored twice, while Nick Bonino and KHL players Dan Sexton and Steve Moses added a goal. However, Winnipeg Jets fans were interested in was the play of AHL goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

Connor Hellebuyck Outplays Pekka Rinne

The former UMass-Lowell goalie played a solid game and gave up one goal on 30 shots. Hellebuyck looked like a season veteran in his international début, and got the win over Vezina Trophy nominee Pekka Rinne.

The offense may have grabbed the headlines, but Team USA and Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards told USAHockey.com was impressed with Connor Hellebuyck.

“Our goaltender was very good and made some keys saves for us at some important times in the game,”

Hellebuyck stopped all 14 shots in the opening period and helped the young Americans start strong against the experienced Finns.

Finland did get on the board early in second period, but Connor Hellebuyck held his nerve and didn’t give up another goal.

The goal Hellebuyck gave up was on a deflected and screened shot that he had no shot at saving. The penalty kill was huge, and Hellebuyck was the best penalty killer. Our own THW contributor Drew Weber had this assessment in his game recap.

Connor Hellebuyck, on the other hand, was outstanding for the Americans. I am very excited to see how this 21-year-old netminder performs throughout the remainder of the tournament.

What Does it Mean for Winnipeg Jets fans?

Hellebuyck’s performance could further muddle an already murky situation in Winnipeg. Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson split time in net after inconsistent play. There are some that want the team to sell high on Hutchinson and  allow Connor Hellebuyck to fight it out for the top spot in between the pipes.

Pavelec managed to earn back the starting spot, but he’s been shaky at times. His play in the postseason has silenced his critics for now. However, could Hellebuyck be the Jets’ goalie of the future? That’s hard to say, but it’s nice to have another option in case either goalie slips up in the 2015-16 season.

Hellebuyck is projected to start the team in the American Hockey League, but things could change in the offseason. Maybe Hellebuyck will be part of a deal that will bring some defense or a scoring winger to the MTS Centre.

What Does it Mean for Team USA?

Connor Hellebuyck may have earned himself the starting job for the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championships. Todd Richards will want to see what other goalies Jack Campbell and Alex Lyon have to offer. However, Hellebuyck is in the lead to start when the Americans take on the defending champions, Russia, on Monday.

Dan Mount is staff contributor covering Team USA for the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championships. He can be reach on Twitter @DanMountSports.