The first words out of Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia’s mouth following Friday’s 9-2 win over Minnesota State-Mankato didn’t seem appropriate after a blowout win.
“It started with Kellen,” Lucia said, referring to sophomore goaltender Kellen Briggs. “I thought Kellen was our best player tonight.”
What? After Lucia’s offense scored nine goals?
Upon further review, Briggs’ career-high 40 saves on 42 shots was key in a game Lucia said was closer than the final score indicated. And the Gophers’ top backstop’s performance in Saturday’s 3-2 win was further evidence of a maturing process that has Lucia gushing.
Friday’s performance pushed Briggs’ career save percentage to the .900 mark, and he increased that figure Saturday by saving 25 of 27 Mavericks shots in Minnesota’s 3-2 overtime win.
“It’s always a goal to be at .900 or a little bit over that, even,” Briggs said. “That’s one of our team goals – not just an individual goal.”
And for good reason.
In his career, when Briggs saves 90 percent of the shots he faces, he is 23-0-0.
Had Saturday’s game seen a scoreless overtime, the tie would’ve been the first time Briggs didn’t win with a save percentage at or above .900.
For the season, Briggs is 5-1-0 with a 1.66 goals against average and a .940 save percentage.
For a Gophers team that wasn’t expected to score a lot of goals this season – a prediction that seems less likely now that they have scored 18 over their last three games – Briggs’ emergence is paramount.
“I think he’s just gaining confidence game by game,” senior forward Garrett Smaagaard said. “We saw it again (Saturday). He’s playing unbelievable.”
Saturday was further evidence of Briggs’ progression. But Friday was one of his best performances in a Gophers uniform.
After Minnesota State-Mankato forward David Backes scored on the power play 1:17 into the game, Briggs collected himself and went to work.
He turned away 10 shots in that first period, eight in the second – allowing one even-strength goal – and 22 in the third without letting anything get past him.
Though the majority of the Mavericks’ 42 shots came with the outcome seemingly set, Briggs got a workout the likes of which he hadn’t seen in his tenure with the Gophers.
It was just another step, and he came back the next night and put out an equally solid effort to again give his teammates a chance to win the game.
It took them overtime Saturday, but they had the chance.
And leave it to Lucia to lay credit where credit is due.
“Kellen was very good for us again (Saturday),” he said. “He’s had a great start to this season, and he’s a big reason why we won both games this weekend.”
At that point, it seemed appropriate.