Wilcox Signs with Tampa Bay Lightning

Ben Gotz

The Gophers will have a new face in net next season.

Junior goaltender Adam Wilcox signed a two year entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday night, and will report to the team's AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, on an amateur tryout agreement. Wilcox was drafted by the Lightning in the sixth round – 178th overall – in the 2011 National Hockey League draft.

"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. "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."

The South St. Paul native was one of the most celebrated goaltenders in program history in his time at Minnesota, and finished his career with a record of 73-26-15. Wilcox started in net for the Gophers from his freshman year onward, and holds program records in save percentage (.922) and goals against average (2.09). Wilcox is also tied for the program record in shutouts with 13.

"Adam has been a cornerstone for our program over the last three years, and he's certainly an elite goaltender," head coach Don Lucia said in a statement. "He's been a vital contributor to our success here, and we wish him nothing but the best as he continues his career."

Wilcox doesn't have the typical size of an NHL goaltender, but his athleticism and aggressiveness in net helped pilot his to success with the Gophers. Wilcox was named a second-team All American and the inagural Big Ten Player of the Year after a standout sophomore campaign where the Gophers finished as national runners-up, and was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and Mike Richter Award.

After exploring the idea of leaving Minnesota early, Wilcox and his signature "Iron Man" mask returned to campus for a third season, but the netminder struggled for the first stretch of his career in the middle of the season. As a whole, the Gophers didn't live up to expectations, losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota-Duluth.

Wilcox is the fifth former Minnesota player to sign a pro contract this year, followng seniors Seth Ambroz, Travis Boyd and Kyle Rau, and junior defenseman Brady Skjei.

The Gophers will now have to search for a replacement in goal for the first time in three years. Freshman Nick Lehr made two appearances for the Gophers last season, winning the only game he started against Michigan State. In over 93 minutes in goal for Minnesota Lehr gave up five goals (3.41 GAA) and stopped 37 of 42 shots on goal (.881 save percentage). Junior Ryan Coyne was the Gophers third string goaltender last season, and did not made any appearances during the regular season.

The Gophers have a pair of junior hockey commitments that could join the team next year in Eric Schierhorn and Logan Halladay. Schierhorn is an Anchorage, Alaska native currently playing with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. In 41 games, Schierhorn has a 2.41 goals against average and .929 save percentage. Halladay, who hails from Cary, North Carolina, has struggled this season with the Bloomington Thunder, with a goals against average of 3.21 and a save percentage of .892. The Gophers will almost certainly bring one of the commitments to campus next fall to compete with Lehr for the starting job.