Lucia says Briggs will start Friday but Johnson has earned right to play

Ben Goessling

After getting his first start in 22 games Saturday against Minnesota State-Mankato, it sounds as if Minnesota men’s hockey goaltender Justin Johnson at least has a shot at another one this weekend.

Gophers coach Don Lucia said Wednesday that Kellen Briggs will be back in the net Friday against Michigan Tech at Mariucci Arena, but he added that the Gophers (18-7-0, 11-5-0 WCHA) haven’t made a decision about Saturday yet.

Johnson filled in for Briggs on Saturday, making a career-high 39 saves in a 2-1 win at Minnesota State-Mankato.

“Justin played very well, and he earned the right to get back in there,” Lucia said. “But Kellen’s been our bread and butter. Obviously, we’re concerned about making sure he’s well-rested when March rolls around.”

After a 9-6 Gophers win Friday at the Xcel Energy Center, Lucia made the decision to sit Briggs on Saturday. And while Briggs said he’s ready to play two games this weekend, he wouldn’t mind another night off.

“I want to play every game, but the coaches know what they’re doing,” he said. “I’m not going to complain if I miss a couple more.”

One frosh back, one not

Lucia said defenseman Alex Goligoski will be back from a shoulder injury in time for the Michigan Tech series, but blueliner Nate Hagemo, still nursing a shoulder injury of his own, won’t.

Hagemo injured his shoulder over winter break during the World Junior Championships and came back for the first game, of Minnesota’s series with Colorado College on Jan. 8. But he aggravated the injury and has missed the Gophers’ last three games.

He skated for the first 25 minutes of practice Wednesday before heading off the ice, and Lucia said the team hopes to have him back against Minnesota-Duluth on Jan. 28-29.

Goligoski’s return, however, will allow Andy Sertich, who played defense during the World Junior Championships and again last weekend, to return to his natural forward position.

Atherton enjoying return

One player who has been helped by Goligoski and Hagemo’s absence is junior defenseman P.J. Atherton, who returned to Minnesota’s lineup Dec. 22 after being declared academically ineligible for fall semester.

Atherton, who has played every game since his return, recorded an assist in his first game and scored his first goal of the season Friday against Mankato.

He dropped out of school last spring after his mother was diagnosed with ovarianlike cancer and a neurological disease. But she is doing better – Atherton said she expects to come home from Abbott Northwestern Hospital soon – and the Edina, Minn., native is making the most of his second chance at Minnesota.

“My whole life has changed,” he said. “It’s been different in terms of what I find important and what I need to be doing with my time. It’s been a long road back, but it’s worked out for

the best.”

The Gophers will have seven healthy defensemen once Hagemo returns, meaning Atherton will have to fight for a spot in the rotation again.

“That’s nothing different than what I’m used to; I’ve done that for two years,” he said. “It’s just been nice to get some work in.”