Gophers need another strong performance from Briggs

Lou Raguse

After last Saturday’s 5-2 win over Alaska-Anchorage, Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia was asked what he thought of goaltender Kellen Briggs’ performance.

“He only let in two goals a game,” Lucia said. “We’ll take that any time.”

As the Gophers head to Denver this weekend with a chance to clinch home ice in the playoffs, they will need another big weekend from Briggs as he squares off with Woodbury, Minn., native Adam Berkhoel.

The Gophers are in fifth place in the WCHA with 27 points, but Denver is right behind them with 23. One win this weekend will guarantee the Gophers play their first-round WCHA playoff series in Mariucci Arena.

“We’re looking for that, but we want to sweep them,” Briggs said. “We need to keep this thing going now and into the playoffs.”

Minnesota hit a roadblock two weeks ago when it was swept by league-leading Minnesota-Duluth, but rebounded last week by sweeping Alaska-Anchorage.

Now, third place in the league is a long shot but fourth place is easily attainable as the Gophers face St. Cloud State next weekend.

To do so, Minnesota will have to fare well against the Pioneers, who started the season 8-1 before succumbing to injuries.

That first loss came in Minnesota as Briggs posted his first standout performance in a Gophers jersey. Denver coach George Gwozdecky was impressed with Briggs in both games of the series – the first against a team from his home state of Colorado.

“We just hope he can go back and play as well against Denver as he did in Colorado Springs,” Lucia said of Briggs’ two wins in his hometown against Colorado College.

In their Oct. 31 win over Denver, the Gophers also scored four goals on Berkhoel in less than two periods – a feat not replicated by many teams this season.

Berkhoel has a 2.56 goals against average and a .915 save percentage this season.

Saturday, when Denver defeated Michigan Tech 3-0, Berkhoel posted his fifth shutout of the season.

“He’s played well,” Gwozdecky said. “At times he hasn’t had a whole lot of support, but we’re really pleased with his game at this point.”

Berkhoel’s supporting cast has improved lately, as the Pioneers are on a five-game winning streak.

The road trip to Denver will be the first for many Minnesota players. And for past Gophers teams, the road trip has usually been a tough one. Minnesota hasn’t swept in Denver since 1996.

Still, with playoffs around the corner, most of the Gophers agree that one win will not be enough.

“We’ve got to beat these guys and keep them behind us for good,” Gophers forward Andy Sertich said.