Fortunate Friday should be gainful for Gophers

Strong goaltending and a little luck keyed Minnesota’s overtime win at St. Cloud State.

by Ben Goessling

If Minnesota’s men’s hockey team ends up winning the WCHA title in March, it will be games such as Friday’s that will be seen as the difference-makers.

Minnesota probably stole at least one point – and maybe two – from St. Cloud State at the National Hockey Center with a little luck and a whole lot of goaltender Kellen Briggs.

With the top-ranked Gophers’ killing penalties for 7:03 in the third period, Briggs kept the score tied with a handful of big saves, including two in which he denied the Huskies on point-blank attempts from the slot.

And with the Gophers unable to solve Huskies goalie Tim Boron on the other end, they needed a couple fortuitous bounces to even get to overtime. For instance, in the first period, St. Cloud State had a long shot bounce off a Minnesota defenseman and nearly slip past Briggs.

“It came in, and it didn’t hit my stick. When I went down to get it, I thought it was in the net,” Briggs said. “I turned around, and I saw it squeak past the post. I saw a couple weird bounces later in the game too.”

The biggest break came in overtime, when forward Jake Fleming had a rebound come right back to his stick, setting him up for the game-winning goal with 2:39 left.

The senior – never one to rely too heavily on luck – said he knew the game was over as soon as the puck came back.

“I was a little surprised it came back,” he said. “But the goalie was completely out of position.”

It was one of Boron’s few mistakes, as the sophomore made 32 saves, including 14 in a first period in which the Gophers got one goal but probably could have had more.

“We had a great first period. I thought we could have been up two or three,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “Boron played very well. We had some great chances to score, but he made some outstanding saves.”

With the game tied 1-1 in the third period after the Huskies’ Matt Hartman slipped a shot Briggs would normally stop through his legs, Minnesota proceeded to shoot itself in the foot with numerous penalties.

First, defenseman Nate Hagemo was called for holding after losing his stick and subsequently bear-hugging a Huskies player in the corner of the Gopher’s zone.

It took a big butterfly save from Briggs at 9:56 to keep St. Cloud State off the board on that power play.

But less than two minutes later, Alex Goligoski was called for hooking after a takedown on an odd-man rush, and Chris Harrington took a tripping penalty with 3:33 left that nearly resulted in a Huskies goal on a shot that bounced just wide.

But winning games such as Friday’s is the mark of a championship contender. And if the McNaughton Cup visits Minneapolis next spring for the first time since 1997, you can bet Minnesota will point to a December visit to St. Cloud as a big factor.

“This team is so good right now,” Hagemo said. “Anybody would do anything for anybody else in that locker room. We’re finding ways to win.”