Elliott sparkles as Gophers stumble

Chris Lempesis

There were many glaring differences between Minnesota’s men’s hockey team and Wisconsin this weekend, but no contrast was more visible than the one between the pipes.

Wisconsin goaltender Brian Elliott was a ” if not the ” key player in the Badgers’ sweep at Mariucci Arena. Elliott outplayed Minnesota’s usual rotation of junior Kellen Briggs and freshman Jeff Frazee.

Elliott stopped 67 of 70 shots faced in the two games, including 32 of 32 Saturday in his team’s 4-0 blanking. He was named the No. 1 star of the game for his efforts in that contest.

“Hey, when you… 67 out of 70, that’s a pretty good weekend,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said.

“Our goaltending couldn’t match Elliott this weekend.”

This was no more obvious than in a pair of moments: one in the first period Saturday and one in the third period Friday.

On Saturday, with Wisconsin leading 1-0 with just more than eight minutes remaining, junior Ryan Potulny took a pass from Mike Howe, cut across the net and the tying goal seemed almost assured.

Potulny went backhand with the shot but, at the last instant, Elliott slid his glove out to make the impressive save. The stop was a major turning point in the game. Offensively, Minnesota never seemed to truly recover from that point on.

“You know what’s a standard line with young goaltenders is?” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “You tell them, “Stop all the ones you should and three out of the five that you shouldn’t.’ Well, that was one of the five.”

On Minnesota’s end, Frazee allowed a pair goals in the first. He gave up two more in the second and was pulled in favor of Briggs for the third period. In all, the freshman let in four goals on 20 shots.

While Briggs was solid in the third Saturday, he also experienced his fair share of trouble Friday, allowing four goals on 25 shots.

When asked to assess Briggs’ performance Friday, Lucia responded with a lengthy pause before finally saying, “He was OK.”

Elliott was considerably better than “OK” Friday. And this time it was his pad work that was responsible for a crucial moment in the contest.

With his team clinging to a 4-3 lead in the final minute, sophomore forward Ben Gordon had the puck on his stick right out in front of the crease with a great look at the net.

Gordon put a shot on net but Elliott got his pad out to keep the puck out of the goal. Wisconsin ultimately held on for the 4-3 win.

After Saturday night’s shutout, Eaves compared Elliott’s performance to that of a vacuum.

The fact that Elliott was pulling in almost everything “coupled with Frazee and Briggs’ inability to keep up ” is a big reason the Gophers came out of the weekend with a grand total of zero points.

Kessel shut out

For standout freshman forward Phil Kessel, the weekend series was a first ” although not a good first.

Kessel, a native of Madison, Wis., was held without a point for the weekend. It is the first time all season Kessel has gone a weekend without either a

goal or an assist. The zero-point showing comes on the heels of Friday’s announcement that Kessel was named CSTV/WHCA National Division I Rookie of the Month for November.

The Badgers’ defense clearly targeted Kessel and was successful in making him a nonfactor in the series.

In fact, Kessel had almost as many penalties (three) as shots on goal (four) for the weekend.

Attendance up

The Gophers might have been swept, but that certainly didn’t have anything to do with the crowd.

Minnesota had its largest single-game attendance of the season Friday with an announced crowd of 10,195. The crowd was even larger Saturday, with 10,203 attendees at Mariucci.

Although they were considerable-sized crowds, empty seats were still noticeable both nights.