Intrastate rivalry begins new chapter

St. Cloud State beat Minnesota in the WCHA Final Five a year ago.

Mark Remme

While offense hasn’t been hard to come by for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team – which has scored five or more goals in six of its first nine games – it might be the goaltending of both sides that stands out in the series against St. Cloud State this weekend.

The second-ranked Gophers take on the 16th-ranked Huskies in a home-and-home series this weekend with the first game taking place at Mariucci Arena today at 7:07 p.m. Saturday’s finale will be at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud starting at 7:07 p.m.

Fans at both venues should be treated to goaltenders standing tall in the crease.

St. Cloud State senior goaltender Bobby Goepfert, who earned first-team Western Collegiate Hockey Association honors and was also an American Hockey Coaches Association’s West Second Team All-American last year, looks to improve his 2-1-0 record against the Gophers.

His pure numbers in net show why he generated such individual accolades last season.

Goepfert owned a 2.20 goals against average last year and has given up 2.96 goals per game this year.

Minnesota senior defenseman Mike Vannelli said he knows how tough Goepfert can be in the net.

“He’s starting to become a pretty well-known goaltender,” Vannelli said. “He can stand on his head and sometimes steal a game – we’ll have that in the back of our minds.”

Last weekend in a 2-2 tie with North Dakota, Goepfert steered away 40 of 42 shots on goal. The senior netminder has been strong between the pipes, but the Huskies haven’t capitalized on his strong performances, only averaging 2.8 goals per game.

Minnesota coach Don Lucia said he wasn’t surprised by Goepfert’s efforts last Saturday.

“Well I saw he had 40 (plus) shots and gave up two (goals): that’s Bobby Goepfert,” Lucia said. “We’re going to work to score goals – get traffic in front and get to the net for the rebound.”

Sophomore forward Blake Wheeler said he saw how tough Goepfert was to beat during Minnesota’s series with the Huskies in late October last season.

“He was the key to a lot of their success last year,” Wheeler said. “He was a rock in that net.”

Staring Goepfert down on the other side of the ice will be two goalies who also know a thing or two about stopping pucks.

Gophers senior Kellen Briggs and sophomore Jeff Frazee have produced stellar goaltending for a team who has given up 1.7 goals per game on average.

Briggs notched his school-record 12th-career shutout two weekends ago in a 2-0 victory over Colorado College, contributing to his 1.33 goals against average this season.

Wheeler said Briggs is bringing the same consistent goaltending he produced last year to the table again this season.

“We know what we’re going to get each night, and that’s a great thing to have back there,” he said.

Frazee’s play matches Briggs save for save, as the sophomore sports a 1.67 goals against average, while playing in three more games than Briggs this season.

Coach Don Lucia said Frazee is a different player than he was last year.

“He’s a better conditioned athlete, he’s more motivated, he’s mentally stronger than he was a year ago,” Lucia said.

For both teams, that solid, consistent goaltending is the backbone for cracking the top 20 in the national polls.

And even though Minnesota’s highly productive offense will be coupled with St. Cloud State’s relatively silent scoring, this series should be decided between the pipes.

“Night in and night out, both guys are giving us a chance to win,” Lucia said. “We couldn’t be happier with the way they’re performing this year.”