BUFFALO – Early in goalie Adam Wilcox’s childhood, the NHL hadn’t returned to Minnesota yet. So the South St. Paul resident began cheering for legendary goalie Dominik Hasek and, ironically, the Sabres.
“Minnesota didn’t have a team, so I always rooted for Hasek and the Sabres,” the loquacious Wilcox said Friday after the Sabres recalled him from the AHL.
Wilcox, 25, couldn’t stop smiling during his short chat with the media. He said his third trip to the NHL “still feels like the first time.”
“I’m honored to be up with the Sabres here, even if it is the final week, it’s just really cool,” said Wilcox, who has sported a Sabres mask all season. “I’ve had a smile on my face the whole time.”
Wilcox spent time in the NHL last season, dressing as a backup five times with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, according to NHLbackups.com.
But Wilcox, Linus Ullmark’s understudy most of this season with the Rochester Americans, has never appeared in an NHL game.
Ullmark and goalie Robin Lehner both missed Friday’s practice and are day-to-day, Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
The Sabres summoned Wilcox because Lehner tweaked a lower-body injury and removed himself from Thursday’s 6-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, Housley said. Ullmark suffered a concussion Monday hours before his scheduled start against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Sabres have five games left in their miserable season. Housley said goalie Chad Johnson will start tonight’s road tilt against the Nashville Predators. He wouldn’t say if Wilcox would receive his first NHL action next week.
“I’ve always got the butterflies in my stomach either way,” Wilcox said of possibly playing.
The 6-foot, 189-pound Wilcox signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Sabres on July 1 because he believed the organization offered “a good fit.” He also knew Rochester well from playing so many games there as an opponent.
“I’m really glad I signed here,” he said.
The University of Minnesota product is 11-7-2 with a 2.82 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage in 28 games with the Amerks this season. Since turning pro late in 2014-15, he has compiled OK numbers – 45-34-22, 2.87 and .901 – in 104 AHL appearances.
Wilcox, however, rarely tries to emulate Hasek’s unorthodox style.
“Whenever I do nowadays, my goalie coach is kind of like, ‘What are you doing?’” Wilcox said. “It takes away from being controlled, but I don’t think anyone can replicate what he did.”
Wilcox said he likes to “battle and compete.”
“Sometimes it gets me a little out of control, so the big thing for me is just continuing to calm my game down, being more composed, be more controlled and then compete and battle and flop around when you have to,” he said.
Wilcox, of course, knows plenty of the Sabres. Six current players spent time in Rochester this season. Wilcox also played in one NHL preseason game.
His teammates made him say a few words Friday as he led them in their stretching.
“I had to give a little speech there, I didn’t expect that, I had to think on my toes,” Wilcox said. “It’s obviously easy to talk around these guys, they’re a great group of guys.”
Housley, who’s also from St. Paul, said Wilcox’s upbeat personality and work ethic make him a likable teammate.
“He’s the pride of South St. Paul,” he joked. “He’s a great kid, and that’s why we signed him. He just brings energy, he just works hard down there. I think the guys really appreciate the work that’s he’s given in that role behind Linus at the time and he’s won some important games.”