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Gophers Hockey: Adam Wilcox, the man in the Iron Man mask

The junior goaltender is consistently in net, having played in all but five games throughout his three years at Minnesota.

Adam Wilcox (32) at last month's North Star College Cup
Adam Wilcox (32) at last month's North Star College Cup
Matt Christians

Game number 100 was just that for University of Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox: another game.

"I didn't know it was my 100th game until my mom said something to me," he said. "I didn't realize I had played 100 games."

It helps when you have been as consistent of a presence in net for Minnesota as the junior has been throughout his tenure. For Wilcox, who has been the team's number one goalie since his first month of college, single games become a footnote in the stat sheet. There is always the next night or week to prepare.

Wilcox became on January 30th only the fourth goalie in Gopher program history to hit the milestone when he started against Wisconsin.

The junior, a 2011 6th round selection of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and his trademark Iron Man goalie mask rarely takes nights off in the crease. He has only spent five total games as a Gopher on the bench. The 22 year-old played in every game that counts this season, compiling a .905 save percentage and 2.50 goals against average.

Provided that continues, he will pass Alex Kangas for the third-most games in Gopher hockey history next weekend.

In his time in college, Wilcox has worked his way close to many of the team's records while also paralleling its success and failures.

"When Adam's on his game it makes it easier for the rest of the team to be on their game," head coach Don Lucia said last weekend.

That happens when you're the only one in what Lucia calls a "star position" in hockey. With goalie platoons aplenty in the Big Ten, including this weekend's opponent Penn State regularly rotating three, Wilcox admits being the only one in back means he is in a position that is very judgmental.

He also wouldn't have it any other way. Neither would Lucia and the Gophers.

"I was watching this Tom Brady thing and he said ‘I don't want anyone else to do Tom's job. I want to do my job.' I thought it was kind of a great quote," said Wilcox, who played quarterback in high school and was part of a goalie platoon in Green Bay (USHL) with now-Miami goalie Ryan McKay. "I don't want anyone else to do my job for me. I always want to be out there and give my team the best chance to win."

The soft-spoken 6'1", 188 lbs Wilcox, a marketing major at Carlson School of Management, attributes his work ethic to family and growing up in South St. Paul.

The first-ring suburb (appropriately) just south of St. Paul historically is home to the Union Stockyards. While smaller and more blue-collar than many other Twin Cities suburbs, it remains a breeding ground for hockey. Several players, such as Wilcox's cousin Alex Stalock (now in the NHL with the San Jose Sharks), former UMD defenseman and present Carolina Hurricane Justin Faulk, and former Minnesota head coach Doug Woog.

He's now the latest, having been in net ever since he was hit the goalie bug at age 5.

"Growing up I played a bunch of different sports. I didn't have anything handed to me. (South St. Paul) was kind of one of those towns where it was a pretty small school so our teams were either skilled or they were really bad," Wilcox said. "In football we had a season where we didn't win any games, but it was one of those things where you work really hard and have fun with friends."

That has helped in recent weeks. Most of Wilcox's first two seasons have gone by smoothly. They further raised expectations. His sophomore save percentage (.932%) was the highest in Minnesota history and he also holds the two lowest goals-against-averages.

Almost always emotionless in the cage, the junior, like the superhero he portrays, made the difficult look easy and appeared on Sportscenter's Top 10 plays multiple times.

When Minnesota struggled in December and January, however, so did he. Pucks went in off weird angles, shots normally expected to save were not and the Gophers gave up several third period leads leaving Wilcox the scapegoat.

At Michigan he was pulled from the game for the second time ever. Two weeks later his save percentage for the month January ended up being a lowly (for goaltendring standards) .865%. While odd to see him struggle, he was allowed to work through the troubles in net and had the support of both Lucia and his teammates. It was less odd to go that long without having one.

Faced with a challenge for the first time in college, the goalie went back to work although it was hard to keep a positive frame of mind, he said.

"It's definitely on Mondays tough to keep 100% positive mindframe and keep looking forward when there's maybe a weekend you got swept when you definitely should have or it was a bad weekend, but there's never a point where it's like ‘oh this is terrible.' You have to stay pretty level. I have to throughout the year because there are going to be downs no matter what."

Every time he tried to fix something specific in practice another would pop up. The end result was going back to the basics and working on the same three things every week rather than trying to fix a tweak.

It paid off at home last weekend down the stretch with the goalie making a highlight final-minute save on Michigan's Justin Selman to keep an extra point or two and temporarily write a happy ending.

"He's someone we always trust. He's kind of been the backbone ever since he stepped on campus, making big saves and always kind of bailing guys out at times," Minnesota junior defenseman Mike Reilly said about his goalie.

Minnesota has won its last four games - having given up 2 goals or less in each of them - and is now tied with Michigan for first in the Big Ten rather than third or fourth. Over that stretch Wilcox has looked closer to his sophomore season, in which he was nominated as a Hobey Baker top-10 finalist and one of five finalists for the inaugural Mike Richter Award, given out to the country's best goaltender. (UMass-Lowell's Connor Hellebuyck won the award.)

Saturday's 2-0 game was his 11th career shutout, putting Wilcox only 2 behind Kellen Briggs in another record or milestone out there for him. Although he has a few individual records, several more would be attainable if he stays for his senior season. It's not something he looks at too specifically, letting the numbers speak for them and leaving a mark with results.

"I hope so," Wilcox said about leaving a mark. "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."

Records or trying to turn around a bad stretch into something more consistent are not a single way to judge leaving a mark because, as Wilcox points out, there are two sides to every superhero. Iron Man isn't the more interesting one in the suit. Tony Stark is when he is out of the equipment.

There is more than one side to goaltenders too. Even ones who are consistently there on the ice in judgment positions that get taken for granted.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --