Junior class instrumental in sweep at Kohl

Chris Lempesis

MADISON, Wis. ” Coach Don Lucia has been preaching all season that in order for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team to be successful, it will be the experienced players ” not the much-hyped freshman class ” that have to lead the way.

The juniors certainly proved him right this weekend.

Goaltender Kellen Briggs and forwards Danny Irmen and Ryan Potulny were perhaps the three biggest cogs in the Gophers’ sweep of the Badgers at the Kohl Center.

“I said coming in, “Phil Kessel’s not going to determine whether we win or lose,’ ” Lucia said after Saturday’s 3-1 win. “It’s the older guys. And it was Irmen and Potulny, and those are the older veterans that carried us this weekend, and that’s how it’s supposed to work.”

Irmen and Potulny definitely were taking care of things on the offensive end, combining for four goals and six assists (10 points) in the series. Irmen recorded his second career hat trick Friday and in that same game, Potulny notched a career-high four assists.

The two were big in other areas as well ” especially Irmen.

Take, for instance, the play he made late in the second Saturday with the score tied at 1. Irmen forced a turnover at the Minnesota blue line and fought off two defenders to get a shot. He didn’t score, but he did draw a hooking penalty, negating a Wisconsin power play.

“That’s the type of plays that Danny makes,” Lucia said of Irmen’s play in the second. “Those are the big plays, that maybe go unnoticed, that are the difference between winning and losing.”

Irmen did pay a price, however, as he appeared to be wearing a sling on his right arm after Saturday’s game. Nothing is known yet about the extent of the injury or if he will miss any time.

As Irmen and Potulny were powering the offense, Briggs was holding it down in the other end.

Playing both nights for the second weekend in a row and third time in the last month and a half, Briggs was strong throughout.

He stopped 63 of 68 shots in the series and really only had one down frame, the third period Friday. And while he did allow three goals in that period, at least one of those would have been awfully hard for any goalie to stop.

His best period was probably the first period Saturday, one that eerily mirrored the first period of last Saturday afternoon’s game at home against Colorado College.

While the rest of the team came out sluggish, registering just three shots on goal, Briggs was there to bail them out, stopping all but one of Wisconsin’s 14 shots. In the hands of a lesser goalie, things could have gotten out of hand. And he didn’t allow any more after that, prompting sophomore forward Ben Gordon to call his performance “unbelievable.”

The pair of wins now gives Briggs 10 consecutive victories.

“That’s something I really pride myself on, more than save percentage or goals against,” Briggs said of the win streak. “I like the wins.”

And if the veterans ” Briggs, Irmen and Potulny especially ” continue to turn in showings like this weekend, there could be a whole lot more for Minnesota to enjoy.