Briggs’ return to Denver is much more encouraging

Goaltender Kellen Briggs was pulled from both games in Denver last season.

Ben Goessling

DENVER – It wasn’t a perfect weekend for Kellen Briggs. Actually, it was probably his most harrowing of the season.

But after last season’s trip to Denver, Briggs couldn’t complain.

The sophomore goaltender, who junior defender Chris Harrington admitted was left for dead several times Saturday night, managed to backstop Minnesota’s men’s hockey team to a split against a furious Denver charge this weekend.

He turned away 34 shots in Friday’s 5-4 win and made 23 saves through the first two periods Saturday before Denver broke through in the third.

Briggs, who was pulled in favor of backup Justin Johnson after giving up three goals on six shots and two goals on four shots in Denver’s sweep of Minnesota last year, redeemed himself with Friday’s win.

“The last 15 minutes (of Friday’s game) were exciting,” Briggs said. “It’s not the way I like them to be, but I’ll take it if we win.”

The Colorado Rapids, Colo., native stopped 15 shots in the second period of Friday’s game and appeared headed for an emphatic turnaround from last year – until the Pioneers bagged four third-period goals, including three from the slot.

Gophers coach Don Lucia said he didn’t fault Briggs for Friday’s Denver rally.

And with good reason.

Minnesota’s defensive lapses carried into Saturday, when Denver repeatedly dropped forwards in front of the net and ripped tough shots at Briggs.

Three of the four goals Denver scored on Briggs were from just outside the crease, and the fourth was from the slot.

Lucia, who intimated Briggs didn’t get a lot of help Friday, flat-out said it Saturday.

“Some of our young defensemen struggled this weekend, and that’s part of the building process,” Lucia said. “I thought our defensemen did not do a great job with our gaps and sealing people off in our own zone.”

Harrington had no problem with the blueliners accepting blame for the loss, saying the Gophers’ defense played “awful.

“The reason we lost tonight was definitely because of the defense, I’ll say that for sure,” Harrington said. “You give them second and third chances in front of the net, and Kellen can’t save all of them. When they have the puck in our zone for 15 minutes in the third period, it gets pretty tough.”

The characteristically calm Briggs was no different after Saturday’s loss, however. For him, any success in Denver’s Magness Arena was a step forward.

“It’s nice to come in here and do well in this building. Last year was absolutely terrible,” he said. “I felt more comfortable here this year, and I’ll be more comfortable next year when we come in. It’s definitely a positive.”