Briggs taking command as Gophers’ top netminder

The sophomore set a Minnesota freshman record with 25 wins last season.

Mike Mullen

Judd Stevens and Robb Stauber can see it, and Kellen Briggs can feel it.

With one successful year as Minnesota’s goaltender under his belt, Briggs said he feels more confident than he did as a freshman.

“Absolutely,” Stevens, a senior defenseman, said. “Now he has tons of game-time experience. He’s been to the NCAA Tournament, he’s played in a (WCHA) Final Five – he’s been the most valuable palyer of a Final Five.”

Briggs started his season on a high note this year, making a career-high 32 saves in a 5-2 win over Denver on Saturday. For his effort he was named the WCHA defensive player of the week.

Last year, Briggs got his shot between the pipes after Justin Johnson couldn’t hold the position. But even after proving himself by winning 25 games – a freshman school record – Briggs said he still plays as it’s his job to lose.

“I still feel like I have to prove myself every time I get on the ice,” Briggs said. “I can’t take a night off – (that pressure) is what keeps me motivated everyday.”

And apparently, it kept him motivated over the summer. After playing at a few camps in the offseason, Briggs came into practice this year in improved shape from his first year.

This was proven early, as Briggs performed well during the Gophers’ Ironman event, which measures speed, strength and other physical skills. Briggs surprised some teammates with how well he did in the contest, including his team-best, 32-inch vertical jump.

“I think he placed around 10th on the team, and that’s out of 26 great athletes,” Stevens said. “He came into the year in great shape. I think he dropped a few pounds from last year, and he definitely gained some quickness.”

Stauber, the goalie coach who volunteers to work with Briggs twice a week, said quickness is imperative to the netminder’s style. Because Briggs favors the butterfly-save selection – which calls for the goalie to drop down to cover the ice with his spread pads – lateral movement is at a premium.

“He moves very well from left to right,” Stauber said. “He’s very good at – when he goes down, and he’s committed to making a save – he can see a change in the puck’s direction and make the adjustment.”

Briggs prefers to make stops in the butterfly, which is fine with Stauber – so long as he has other saves he can make. From a technical standpoint, the goal of their work is to make Briggs more comfortable in knowing when to drop down, and when to stay on his feet.

Both Briggs and Stauber said they feel it’s too early in the season to make much of a statement on how the sophomore netminder is playing. But Stauber said that Briggs’ building confidence is obvious and rubbing off.

“His teammates can see that he’s gaining confidence,” Stauber said. “And I’ll bet that he sees that same confidence coming from his defensemen. They’re comfortable with him behind them.”

Stauber knows a thing or two about great goaltenders. During his career with the Gophers, he won 73 games, and in 1988 was honored with the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player.

And he said that Briggs has things in common with the best goalies he’s seen.

“He’s got that great goaltender mentality,” Stauber said. “It’s just an incredible will to keep the puck out of the net.”