Goaltending picture still getting hazier

Justin Johnson replaced Kellen Briggs in both games this weekend.

Ben Goessling

Minnesota men’s hockey goaltender Kellen Briggs emerged from the Gophers’ locker room after a 3-2 loss to Alaska-Anchorage on Friday and said he felt his game was almost back to top form.

Evidently, his standards have either changed or his assessment just didn’t show up in the results.

Whatever the reason, Briggs’ play this weekend – when he was pulled from both games in favor of Justin Johnson – suggested the goalie is a lot further from a 5-1 record in November than anyone thought.

“He needs a couple weeks to get his game back,” coach Don Lucia said. “I’d say our goaltending is a concern right now.”

Briggs was yanked for the third period Friday after he gave up three goals on 18 shots. The sophomore, who relieved Johnson after a similar performance Feb. 5 at Wisconsin, took the loss when Minnesota couldn’t rally for a game-tying goal.

Lucia decided to stick with Briggs on Saturday but pulled him after the Seawolves scored their second goal at 17:28 of the first period.

But in the second game of the series, Johnson wasn’t much better, allowing three goals on 15 shots including Martin Stuchlik’s game-tying tally with seven seconds to play.

“We played our rear ends off for two periods, and we gave it away in the last two minutes,” Lucia said. “That’s what’s frustrating.”

While the Seawolves’ three scores Friday weren’t exactly gifts, Briggs did allow goals on shots he was stopping earlier this year.

The first one came when Seawolves forward Jim Dahl slipped past Gophers defenseman Chris Harrington and banged home a one-timer from Nick Lowe after Briggs was a step late to his right.

Stuchlik put Alaska-Anchorage up 2-0 when he knocked the puck through a crowd and between Briggs’ legs.

Finally, Brandon Segal gave the Seawolves a 3-0 lead with a shot from the point that Briggs barely saw.

“I reviewed the goals with (goaltending coach) Robb (Stauber), and there’s not a lot you can do,” Briggs said. “Some nights, those are going to go in.”

But when Eric Walsky scored from the point with 13:54 left in the first period – on a shot Briggs didn’t even react to and apparently didn’t see – it became more of the same.

He allowed one more goal, moving late to a shot by Chad Anderson with 2:32 left in the first period, and was lifted for Johnson.

Lucia said Briggs won’t play in Saturday’s exhibition game with the U.S. National Under-18 Team.

And much like in the Gophers’ losses to Michigan Tech three weeks ago, Minnesota couldn’t solve a hot goalie and failed to respond with clutch backstopping of its own.

“Teams feed off their goaltender’s confidence,” Seawolves coach John Hill said. “Obviously, they had the situation of pulling their goalie. Teams have to have that confidence.”

While Hill was rejoicing in a tie that he said felt like a win Saturday, Lucia was down the hall searching for answers.

“It’s not just the goaltenders. Last night the winning goal came because guys were puck-staring,” he said. “For the most part, we’ve had trouble scoring and our goaltending’s been average. Tonight we scored enough and gave it away.”