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Hellsten's fresh start at UNH is an arrival and a breakthrough

Jan. 17—JAKOB HELLSTEN

Goalie's transfer to UNH a game-changer —B3

Jakob Hellsten came to Durham looking for a fresh start.

The junior goaltender from Ljusdal, Sweden, spent his first two college hockey seasons at the University of North Dakota, where his position has a spotlight something like playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or shortstop for the New York Yankees.

In his time at North Dakota, Hellsten posted a 7-8-2 record.

Transferring to the University of New Hampshire was a game-changer for both him and for his new team.

"I think most athletes go through a period of adversity," said UNH coach Mike Souza. "it's all about how you come out on the other side of it."

With the No. 17 Wildcats, Hellsten currently owns the best goals-against average in Hockey East (1.81), is tied with UMass Lowell's Henry Welsch for the second-best save percentage in the league (.920) and recently was named to the Mike Richter Award watch list. The Richter Award is given annually to the top goalie in NCAA Division I men's hockey.

Hellsten also ranks third in the country in GAA, is tied for 10th in save percentage and owns a 7-3-1 record.

"He's playing unbelievable right now," Wildcats freshman right wing Ryan Conmy said. "Having him in the net, it's just so much confidence. He's so easy to rely on."

Hellsten, who has started each of UNH's last four games — winning three — credited his success this season to working with Wildcats goaltender coach and former Boston University netminder Sean Maguire.

"I can't even put into words how much he's meant for me both on and off the ice and I feel like I've really taken my game to the next level," Hellsten said of Maguire.

Maguire and Hellsten focus on playing to strengths, the goalie said, like his skating and ability to read the play. Hellsten also said he tries not to think too much while he is between the pipes.

When the Wildcats practice two-on-one rushes or breakaways, Hellsten is difficult to score on, Conmy said, because of his shiftiness and ability to fake out skaters.

Hellsten has become good friends with sophomore goaltender Tyler Muszelik and said he has benefited from competing with Muszelik for the starting spot. Muszelik, a Florida Panthers prospect, is 4-3-0 with a 3.44 goals-against average and .869 save percentage. He last played on Dec. 29 in UNH's 6-3 loss at Army.

"I think we just support each other and push each other every day," Hellsten said. "That's what we bring to each other in that way. When one of us is playing, the other guy is always supporting and really happy for him.

"We both want to win no matter who is playing."

Hellsten earned his first college shutout with a 21-save effort in UNH's 4-0 home win over Northeastern on Nov. 18. His mom, Annica, was among the 6,060 fans at the Whittemore Center that night. It was the first time in four years she has seen Hellsten play in person.

"Her being in the stands to see that was really special for me," Hellsten said.

His last time out, on Saturday at then-No. 2 (now No. 1) Boston U., Hellsten allowed two goals in the Wildcats' 3-0 loss. The 23-save performance was excellent, said Souza.

"He's been pretty consistent since the start of the year," Souza said. "It was a matter of him getting his opportunity. He really ran with it when he did."

Hellsten and UNH (11-6-1, 4-3-1 Hockey East) will play a home-and-home series with Connecticut this weekend. The teams play at UConn on Friday night and in Durham on Sunday at 4 p.m. Both games will air on NESN.

UConn (9-10-2, 5-7-1) is fifth in the 11-team Hockey East, two spots ahead of the Wildcats.

The Huskies are coming off a home weekend split with No. 7 Maine, losing 5-3 and winning 2-0.

"They (the Huskies) are not ranked right now and, obviously, that would fuel some fire for us," Conmy said. "They're obviously trying to be where we are right now and we want to be where some of the other teams are. ... Just looking at it that way and just come into Friday and Sunday ready to roll."

ahall@unionleader.com