Two weeks ago University of Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox played in a building situated on Steve Yzerman Drive. Now he'll be playing for the man himself.
Wilcox became the second Gopher player Wednesday to forego his collegiate eligibility when the junior signed Thursday with the Tampa Bay Lightning (whose GM is Yzerman). He has already joined Tampa's AHL affiliate in Syracuse on an amateur tryout agreement for the rest of the season. His ELC begins in 2015-16 for two years, per Erik Erlendsson.
"I wouldn't trade my college experience here at the University of Minnesota for anything, and I am incredibly honored to have been a part of this program," Wilcox said in a statement released by the University. "Growing up in Minnesota, I always wanted to be a Gopher, and wearing the `M' has been one of the best experiences in my life."
A sixth round draft pick by the Lightning in 2011, the South St. Paul, Minnesota native finished his junior year with a .912 save percentage in 38 games for the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament champions.
"Adam has been a cornerstone for our program over the last three years, and he's certainly an elite goaltender," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. "He's been a vital contributor to our success here, and we wish him nothing but the best as he continues his career."
This wasn't the easiest year for the junior. The 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year struggled over a sustained stretch for the first time in his college career.
He spent much of December and January trying to fix one problem after another before going back to basics rather than fix every adjustment. That approach paid off. Wilcox turned things around, finishing the year with a .929 save percentage in his last 14 games.
Wilcox, who could have tested free agency rather than sign with Tampa, leaves the Gophers tied with Kellen Briggs for the most shutouts in school history with 13. Six happened this year. He also had the two lowest goals against average seasons in Minnesota history. Wilcox's .932 save percentage as a sophomore in 2013-14 - a year in which he was a Hobey Baker top-10 finalist and top-5 finalist for inaugural Mike Richter Award - remains the highest.
"I hope so," Wilcox told SB Nation College Hockey in February about hoping to leave a mark from his time at Minnesota. "Obviously last year it would have been nice to get that last win (against Union in the national championship). I think that would have been the biggest mark you can leave.
"Unfortunately we didn't get that, but I hope I can leave a good impression here, the guys on my team and my coaches when I look back. Having that success here for my play and off the ice because it's a fun program and a pretty successful program so hopefully I can make a splash on it."
(Unofficially Wilcox did leave his mark in college hockey off the ice by changing the rules in a shootout for a play he did against Michigan State in January 2014. He did struggle in shootouts throughout his career, only winning once.)
Listed at 6'1", 188 lbs, the 22 year-old is an athletic, mobile and aggressive goaltender who doesn't shy away from playing the puck. He has better understood his strengths the longer his college career has continued and can make highlight-reel saves when needed.
Wilcox departing school after his junior year is not a surprise. He was working towards graduating since returning following Minnesota's 2014 national runner-up season. He has only 4 classes remaining to complete his marketing degree after this semester.
He goes to a Tampa Bay team with plenty of depth in goal throughout the organization.
Replacing Wilcox in net means a change from the constant the Gophers have had the last three seasons. Wilcox, who stated that he wants to be the player out in the net giving his team a chance to win, was just that. He started all except one game this past season. His 115 appearances over his three seasons is the third-most in team history.
In his place is to-be sophomore Nick Lehr (2 appearances) and commits Eric Schierhorn (Muskegon - USHL) and Logan Halladay (Bloomington - USHL).
Although Halladay is the one who signed a NLI in the early signing period, he has struggled for much of the year. Schierhorn, Minnesota's first Alaskan commit since the mid-80s, is the more likely of the two to come into Dinkytown for 2015-16. The 19 year-old leads the USHL with a .929 save percentage in 41 appearances for the Lumberjacks.
Minnesota officials can't comment on verbal commits, but Schierhorn can sign a NLI when the spring signing period opens in a couple weeks. Regardless, it may be a goaltender by committee to replace the constant skating in net the past three seasons.
Updated 4/1/2015 11:25 p.m. CT with Wilcox and Lucia statements
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate