MANKATO, Minn. — After starting the season with a NCAA Championship hangover, the Minnesota Gophers seem to have things under control. The No. 7 Gophers defeated Minnesota State, 6-0, Friday night in front of 4,740 fans in a game filled with many scrums and hard hits. Minnesota has only lost once in its last 13 games.
The Gophers (12-8-3, 7-7-1 WCHA) were led by freshman goalie Kellen Briggs, who stopped 18 shots to earn his second straight shutout and fourth of the year — a Minnesota rookie record. Gino Guyer led Minnesota offensively with a goal and two assists, and six other Gophers tallied two points each.
“It was a great team effort tonight,” Guyer, a sophomore, said. “We showed we can play tough and get the victory.”
Great for one team, miserable for the other.
“It was just an all-around terrible effort,” said MSU coach Troy Jutting, whose team could only muster 18 shots, and few of those were dangerous. “We did not compete hard enough to win tonight.”
Despite scoring six goals, the Gophers defense was key in the game, just like it has been as of late.
“We’re playing much better defensively right now, and Kellen’s sharp in the net,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “It’s nice to see that effort on both sides of the rink.”
“The whole team is playing really well defensively,” Briggs said. “And that was a goal of ours. We set goals throughout the year, and that’s one we needed to accomplish. We’re starting to do that now. It helps bring our hockey club to another level.”
Minnesota wasted little time showing its dominance offensively as it scored 3:42 into the game on the power play. Junior Barry Tallackson took the puck from the left corner to the front of the crease and slid it into the far side of the net past MSU goalie Jon Volp.
It took just over two minutes for the Gophers to double their lead. After a scramble in front of the net, Guyer found the loose puck and buried it behind a sprawled Volp at 5:52 of the first.
The Gophers cashed in on their second power play of the night to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Sophomore Thomas Vanek set up the play by powering across the slot with defensemen draped all over him. The Austria native found Troy Riddle in front of the net, and Riddle slid the puck between Volp’s legs at 14:20 of the period.
“Our main goal was to put up a goose egg for them in the first period,” Guyer said. “We ended up being up 3-0, and that was huge for us.”
“The key for us was that early in the game, we scored on our first two power play opportunities. We’re able to get that 2-0 lead and play with the lead,” Lucia said.
The first period was filled with numerous infractions, as referee Randy Schmidt called nine penalties. By the end of the game, the teams combined for 108 penalty minutes.
Volp was able to give his team a glimmer of hope by robbing Matt Koalska’s shorthanded breakaway attempt in the final minute of the first.
But that hope died as the Gophers added two more in the second to take a 5-0 lead.
Koalska made good on his second breakaway attempt, as he took a nice pass from Chris Harrington and buried the puck past Volp before plowing into the MSU goalie at 8:50 of the period.
Vanek finished off a shorthanded two-on-one rush with Jake Fleming by tipping in Fleming’s rebound at 16:27.
Grant Potulny notched a goal in the third to cap off the 6-0 game.
“If I knew why (we played like this), it wouldn’t have happened,” Jutting said of his squad that has won only once in its last 11 games. “I don’t know why. It’s disappointing.”
Briggs faced few real chances en route to his shutout. Even when MSU’s Travis Morin had an empty net to shoot at after a three-on-two rush in the third, the Mavericks (4-13-4, 3-9-3) couldn’t score as Morin was unable to get a handle on the puck.
“Tonight I didn’t feel like I had to do a whole lot,” Briggs said. “They (the defense) pretty much took care of it the entire game.”
Briggs has given up one goal in his last three games.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I’m seeing the shots,” Briggs said.
“Kellen was good when he had to be tonight,” Lucia said. “But it’s a lot easier when you’re playing with the lead, especially when you’re on the road. You can keep the crowd out of the game.”
The Gophers have climbed from low in the WCHA standings to all alone in fifth place. But the team is wary of getting too excited over the latest streak.
“Everybody’s pretty confident right now,” Briggs said. “We still have a game tomorrow, so we’re not getting too excited.”
“I think the guys are feeling pretty good about themselves, but we’re still at .500 in the league,” Lucia said. “We’ve still got a long way to go up the mountain. Tomorrow we’ve gotta come out and be mentally ready to go when the puck drops.”