Consistent Briggs adding to legacy

Mark Remme

Four years ago, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team came into its 2003-2004 campaign preparing to defend its back-to-back national titles with would-be junior goaltender Travis Weber between the pipes.

At the time, coach Don Lucia’s most recent goalie recruit, a United States Hockey League athlete playing out of Sioux Falls named Kellen Briggs, figured he wouldn’t be seeing significant playing time in his first season at Minnesota.

But Weber withdrew from school for personal reasons and Briggs found himself as “the man” from day one. Looking back, his arrival proved to be both pivotal and timely.

“(Briggs) came in and stabilized everything,” Lucia said. “When he came in as a freshman, it was right when Weber elected not to return. He basically came in as a freshman and became the starting goaltender right from the beginning. He’s been terrific so far.”

Jumping ahead, as Briggs prepares to enter his final run through the NCAA tournament, there’s not much he or the teams he’s backstopped for haven’t accomplished in his tenure.

His 83 career wins tie him with former Gophers standout Adam Hauser – for most in school history and for most in Western Collegiate Hockey Association history. His goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts, are also team records.

Briggs was part of two teams to hoist the MacNaughton Cup. Twice he’s won the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA Final Five champion, and his performance in the 2005 NCAA tournament earned him West Regional Most Outstanding Player honors en route to a Frozen Four loss to North Dakota.

His individual and team accolades prompt his teammates to describe him with one word: consistency.

“He (tied) the record for WCHA wins, and you don’t do that by accident,” junior forward Ben Gordon said. “He comes out to practice and works every day.”

A native of Colorado Springs, Colo., Briggs worked his way to the United States Hockey League and found himself in the midst of future Minnesota standouts.

Briggs’ coach during his first year with the Stampede, Bob Motzko, left Sioux Falls to become an assistant coach under Lucia at Minnesota. Motzko’s ties allowed a pipeline of Stampede players ranging from Thomas Vanek in 2002 through Jay Barriball in 2006 to join the Gophers roster.

Briggs was no different.

“Motz called me and I verbally committed around Christmas time,” Briggs said. “I didn’t make a visit – as soon as Minnesota comes knocking you don’t turn them down.”

Teammates say Briggs came to play year in and year out, and he did it while splitting time with Justin Johnson in his first two years and sophomore netminder Jeff Frazee this season, as well as last.

But despite the conference wins record, Briggs never won All-WCHA recognition.

“I think (his play) gets overshadowed a little bit, but I think a lot of goalies do in our program,” Lucia said. “The bottom line is we win, and that’s how every goalie should be measured.”

Briggs said his expectations for individual recognition are high, but they never overshadowed his team.

“I knew I wouldn’t be getting shutouts every single night, but I wanted to give them a chance to win every night,” Briggs said. “If you have that mindset, things kind of take care of themselves.”

Now, in 2007, Briggs looks to add the final piece of the puzzle to his career, that being a national championship.

If he did so, he’d follow in Hauser and Weber’s footsteps as the third consecutive starting goalie to earn a national crown for the Gophers.

And to do so, Briggs must elevate his game in April, something that’s been a shortcoming in his career.

“Obviously in the playoffs the past few years I haven’t played the best I could,” Briggs said.

But Gordon said Briggs’ determination is what keeps teammates confident he’ll do what’s necessary to win.

“Kellen is a consistent-style goalie,” he said. “He’ll make the saves he needs to make.”