Briggs’ stellar play helps Minnesota to home series sweep

Chris Lempesis

Friday night was relatively easy for Kellen Briggs.

The junior goaltender on Minnesota’s men’s hockey team faced just 21 shots in the Gophers’ 4-2 win over Colorado College. The win was the 57th of Briggs’ career, putting him fourth all-time in wins in school history.

Saturday afternoon, however, Briggs was forced to show he was worthy of such a high place in the annals of Gopher hockey.

Briggs ” a native of Colorado Springs, Colo. (home of Colorado College) ” turned away all but two of the Tigers’ 30 shots in keying the Gophers to a 3-2 victory.

“He was obviously the No. 1 star of the game for us,” said senior defenseman Chris Harrington, who was himself voted the No. 1 star of the game Saturday. “He made some timely saves and that’s what you come to expect out of Kellen.”

Briggs was forced to make timely saves almost from the beginning Saturday. He proved he was up to the challenge by stopping Tigers’ forward Chad Rau’s breakaway about two minutes into the game.

And although he did allow a goal to Colorado College’s Joey Crabb in the first, as coach Don Lucia said, the score could’ve been a lot worse than 1-0 at the end of the period if not for Briggs. The visitors fired a total of 13 shots on net in the first 20 minutes.

As Minnesota’s team defense improved over the final two periods ” allowing just 17 shots ” Briggs remained strong, holding the Tigers off with several key saves to preserve the win.

Briggs certainly left the opposition impressed.

“He played very well all weekend,” said Tigers’ forward Marty Sertich, last year’s Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner. “He’s very good at making the first save and really the only chances we had were when he couldn’t see the puck and on rebounds. So, he did his job.”

Briggs said the performance would probably rank in his top-five best for the season.

“I felt really good,” he said. “I was seeing the puck well. I felt I was moving well, laterally.”

The solid showing also keeps Briggs’ winning streak alive at eight games. He hasn’t lost since Dec. 2 at home against Wisconsin.

Over that same span, it seems as though Briggs has begun to wrestle the full-time starter job away from freshman Jeff Frazee, who has struggled at times this season.

This weekend marks the second big series in the past month and a half that Briggs has played both games in a “crucial” series. On Dec. 9 and 10 Briggs played both games of a two-game sweep at North Dakota.

But Briggs’ performances of late might not necessarily be enough to end the ongoing goalie rotation according to Lucia.

“He’s asserted himself and he’s done what we wanted him to do,” Lucia said. “But that doesn’t mean that he’s going to play every game or anything like that. I might split them next weekend (at top-ranked Wisconsin), even.”

Harrington stopped short of saying he felt Briggs should be the full-time starter, but did say: “Kellen’s taken it upon himself to emerge as a goalie who wants to be in there every game.”