Ever since Gophers freshman goaltender Adam Wilcox was a child, he needed two of everything.
"For Christmas, he always got double toys," said Al Stalock, Wilcox's older cousin who plays goalie for the American Hockey League's Worcester Sharks. "If it was a truck, he'd keep one in his closet and play with the other."
Wilcox has tried to psychoanalyze this quirk and may have had an epiphany. Perhaps this was the earliest indication of a future vocation as a goaltender.
"It was like I wanted a backup just in case something happened to the starter," Wilcox said.
Eleven games into his collegiate career, the exuberant native of South St. Paul has emerged as the Gophers' clear-cut starter. Wilcox carries a 6-1-2 record, .924 save percentage and WCHA-best 1.55 goals-against average into this weekend's series at the University of Vermont.
He turns 20 Monday yet has remarkable self-confidence. Unlike many goalies who become recluses in order to focus before games, Wilcox spends his pregame talking and goofing around with teammates so he doesn't get too tight or nervous.
"He's more outgoing than a lot of the goalies," said coach Don Lucia. "You can use the term he's more normal."
'Plays the puck more than anybody I've had'
Wilcox has given the Gophers a chance to win every game not only with reliable, often clutch goaltending, but also with superb playmaking ability.
"He plays the puck more than anybody I've had," Lucia said. "You want to temper and control it, but you don't want to take away from that strength because it's also what makes him good."
Wilcox admits, "I like to move around. I get bored sitting there and like to dictate some of the play," although there have been some close calls with Wilcox's straying that have nearly given Lucia a coronary.
"Every couple plays, I'll look over and get the death glare," Wilcox said.
Just like he loves to leave the crease, Wilcox loved to leave the pocket as a quarterback at South St. Paul. During his junior year -- his last year of high school before leaving to play junior hockey -- the Packers switched to the option to capitalize on Wilcox's athleticism and intelligence, coach Chad Sexauer said. Wilcox accounted for 1,460 yards and 20 touchdowns (13 rushing).
Maybe it's genetics. Stalock, a former first-team All-America at Minnesota Duluth, loves to play the puck, too. Despite a five-year age difference, Wilcox often tagged along when his cousin went to the gym or hit the ice.
"I don't know what it was about me that made Adam want to be a goalie, but maybe I should have talked to him a little more and straightened him out," kidded Stalock.
The Wilcox chronicles
Like his on-ice persona, Wilcox has a gregarious personality off the ice. He is proud to tell you he can align a Rubik's Cube in a minute, that "any day of my life is on video in my basement."
"[My parents] have filmed me from the day I was born," Wilcox said. "I was over there the other day and my mom pulls one out when I was four doing an Easter Egg hunt. I always kept stashes of things. There's all these videos of me running to the corner stashing away the weirdest stuff, like my dad's T-shirt or my mom's shoes or some toy."
With goalie Mike Shibrowski out until after Christmas, the Gophers' cage belongs to a kid who stashes away stuff. Wilcox is hardly worried, and Stalock believes one reason his cousin is so confident is because he has faced so many shots the past three years from NHL shooters at Octagon's annual pre-training camp skates in St. Louis Park.
"He never looks out of place, and this is against the best of the best," said Stalock. "It's funny. Most felt with all the guys up front and on the back end returning on the Gophers that goaltending was the question mark coming into the season. As of now, it seems Adam's the solution and hopefully a long-term solution."
It's early, but Wilcox, a 2011 sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, looks to have a bright future. He's focused on the present and has vast expectations for this season.
"I've got to keep pushing every weekend to get better and better," Wilcox said. "We're 7-2-2, which is a great record, but in the locker room right now, we know we haven't hit our stride. We can be way better than this. We definitely have the team to go all the way. We've just got to put our minds to it."