Formality to reality: Gophers take No. 1

Coach Don Lucia downplayed the importance of the ranking this weekend.

Ben Goessling

As expected, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team took over the top spot in the new U.S. College Hockey Online poll when the rankings were released Monday.

Minnesota (10-3-0, 6-2-0 WCHA) moved up from the third spot after 5-1 and 5-0 drubbings of Michigan and Michigan State, respectively, in the College Hockey Showcase during the weekend.

Minnesota received 36 of a possible 40 first-place votes, taking the top spot from Michigan.

But you won’t get any talk about the importance of the top spot from Gophers coach Don Lucia, who repeated over the weekend that he doesn’t vote in the polls, couldn’t care less about them and is only concerned with the year-end Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA Tournament selection process.

But Lucia did have one piece of advice for the pollsters concerning third-ranked Colorado College, Minnesota’s opponent this weekend.

“CC’s sitting with two losses. They can hold the mantle, as far as I’m concerned,” Lucia said Saturday.

Minnesota had not occupied the poll’s top spot since it was ranked first in the 2003 preseason poll.

Briggs nearing record

Just 13 games into his sophomore season, goaltender Kellen Briggs is already closing in on the school record for shutouts.

He blanked Michigan State on Saturday for his third shutout of the season and seventh of his career, tying him for second place on the school’s all-time list with Steve DeBus, John Blue and Jim Mattson.

With another shutout, Briggs would tie Adam Hauser for first place on the list.

The Colorado Rapids, Colo., native stopped 23 shots against the Spartans on Saturday and praised his defense for the light workload.

The WCHA recognized this team effort Monday by awarding Briggs and freshman defenseman Alex Goligoski co-defensive player of the week and rookie of the week, respectively.

“I faced maybe five scoring chances all night,” he said. “This was a team shutout.”

Lineup shake-up

Freshman Evan Kaufman played his second game of the year Saturday, skating with Ryan Potulny and Danny Irmen on the Gophers’ top line.

Kaufman only took one shot and drew two penalties, but he did finish the game with a plus/minus rating of plus-1.

Entering the weekend, Lucia said he was leaning toward starting backup goalie Justin Johnson on Saturday but decided to stick with Briggs.

Forward Barry Tallackson and defenseman Peter Kennedy, who both missed the weekend with injuries, will be evaluated for the Tigers series later this week.

Penalty shots

– Minnesota Wild first-round pick A.J. Thelen, a Savage, Minn., native, did not have an enjoyable trip to his home state.

Thelen finished at minus-2 after his line surrendered goals to Kris Chucko and Potulny, and he got into a shoving match with Chucko that earned both players roughing penalties with 1:33 left in the first period.

– The Gophers debuted their new third jerseys during the weekend, sporting a throwback look similar to the uniforms they wore in the 1960s.

The white jerseys had “Gophers” running diagonally down the front and a tie-string collar.

– Kyle Okposo, a junior at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn., made an unofficial visit to Minnesota during the weekend and visited the locker room after the Gophers’ win Saturday.

Okposo, a forward, finished second in scoring on the U.S. Under-17 Select Team, which took second place in the Five Nations Tournament during the summer in Europe.

Wendell earns honor

Minnesota women’s hockey forward Krissy Wendell was named WCHA offensive player of the week Monday after scoring a pair of hat tricks in a weekend sweep of Northeastern and Harvard.