Gophers extend unbeaten streak to 18 games

Sophomore goalie Jeff Frazee picked up his eighth win in 10 starts this season.

Mark Remme

>HOUGHTON, Mich. – The weekend theme for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team proved to be fast starts and first-period goals.

The top-ranked Gophers outscored Michigan Tech 6-0 in the first period during their Western Collegiate Hockey Association matchup in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, breezing to a 4-1 win Friday and a 5-2 victory Saturday.

The pair of wins extended Minnesota’s unbeaten streak to 18 games.

The Gophers (15-1-3 overall, 9-0-3 WCHA) came out firing early in Friday night’s contest, scoring three goals on 13 shots in the first period against a Huskies team that gave up only 21 shots per game coming into the evening.

One of those early tallies came from freshman center Kyle Okposo, who scored twice on the evening.

His goal in the first came on a breakaway where he found twine on a backhander, beating sophomore goalie Michael-Lee Teslak.

Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell said Okposo, the seventh overall pick by the New York Islanders in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, is complete in all facets of the game and joked that Okposo beginning his professional career early would make his life easier as an opposing head coach.

“The Islanders can have him anytime,” Russell said. “In fact, I might call the Islanders and say, ‘Here’s a kid, you gotta have him now.’ “

Teslak also surrendered one goal each to senior forward Tyler Hirsch and freshman forward Tony Lucia before being pulled at the first intermission in favor of sophomore Rob Nolan.

Though the two Huskies goalies normally rotate every other game, it was unusual to see each play in the same contest. Teslak and Nolan came into the game with the top two goals against averages in the WCHA at 1.83 and 1.96, respectively.

“Our goaltending this year has been fantastic, but it was an off night for Michael-Lee Teslak,” Russell said. “I thought two of the goals in the first period were not real good goals.”

By contrast, Gophers senior netminder Kellen Briggs shut Michigan Tech (6-8-2, 3-7-2) down, making 16 saves on 17 shots.

The only goal he gave up came while trying to play the puck at the blue line on a Gophers power play. Briggs turned the puck over and Huskies junior defenseman Jake Wilkins took advantage of the empty net.

But despite the single blemish on the scoreboard, Briggs shut the door and earned his 74th career win, moving him to second all-time in school history.

He moved past Rob Stauber and sits nine wins behind Adam Hauser’s school-record 83 wins.

“(Briggs) is a competitor,” Hirsch said. “You kind of expect that out of him Ö he’s a real reliable goalie and he’s good to have on the team.”

Minnesota picked up Saturday right where it left off the night before when junior forward Mike Howe scored on a 2-on-1 just 1:14 into the game, and Lucia netted his second goal of the weekend just 1:57 later.

“(Saturday) was almost a replay of last night’s game,” coach Don Lucia said. “We came out real strong in the first period.”

The Gophers used that same explosive scoring philosophy again in the third with freshman forward Jay Barriball scoring on a breakaway just 1:31 into the period, and Okposo finding the net 1:40 later to earn his team-high 15th goal.

“In the locker room between the second and the third we said we needed to come out and get a couple goals,” Barriball said. “It was 3-1 and the next goal was going to be the biggest goal.”

On the other end of the rink, the Huskies tested Minnesota sophomore goaltender Jeff Frazee more than they did Briggs the night before, but the results were the same.

Frazee stopped 25 of 27 shots he faced and picked up his eighth win in 10 starts this season, but he said the players in front of him have been a big part of his and the team’s success.

“We’ve got leaders that step up and take over,” Frazee said. “I think that just shows the character and chemistry in the locker room.”

In the midst of an unbeaten streak that extends back 64 days, the Gophers can enjoy a two-week vacation before the Dodge Holiday Classic on Dec. 29.

And in the process, they can continue nurturing a special chemistry that allows them to rely on different players almost every night.

“We’re all really close as a team and we get closer every weekend,” Barriball said. “We’re hanging out with each other and it’s almost like a family – it’s awesome.”