MINNEAPOLIS — Freshman Phil Kessel stole the limelight Friday night at Mariucci Arena, but goaltender Kellen Briggs was the Gophers’ backbone.
With Minnesota leading 3-2 late in the second period, Kessel’s stuff attempt from below the goal line was thwarted when the net came off courtesy of Minnesota State’s Jon Dubel.
Referee Scott Zelkin signaled for the penalty shot, and with the crowd on its feet, Kessel skated in on Maverick netminder Chris Clark, cut to his right and slipped the puck inside the post for his first goal as a Golden Gopher, helping propel Minnesota to a rowdy 5-2 win.
“I was kind of nervous,” said Kessel. “I was going to shoot, but [Clark] took it away, so I deked and shot it under him. I got lucky.”
“I just said, ‘Go take it,’” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia of the advice he gave Kessel.
Kessel’s goal was accompanied by two assists, as Minnesota bounced back from a frustrating first weekend with a 31-save performance from Briggs, whom Lucia called “our best player tonight.”
“He made some big saves on the penalty kill,” said Lucia of Briggs, “and we scored some goals.”
Minnesota State, meanwhile, showed fire early on, but eventually fell to Minnesota’s late onslaught.
“You know, this might sound stupid coming from a coach who just lost 5-2, but I thought that was a pretty good hockey game,” said Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting, whose team hung tough until the Gophers pulled away with Kessel’s goal and another score from Chris Harrington early in the third period.
Kessel’s goal came after the delay-of-game penalty assessed to Dubel, though the Maverick defenseman may have gotten a little shove from behind from a Gopher in the process of dislodging the net. Jutting, however, made no complaint.
“I think that was probably the right call,” he said. “He [Kessel] is a good hockey player, and he made a good play. He found a way to get the job done.”
“It’s not very many guys who can say they scored their first goal on a penalty shot,” said Lucia. “He’ll always remember that one.”
The Mavericks took a 2-1 lead to the locker room after one period, but the intensity and Minnesota’s offense both went up a notch in the second.
First, the Gophers tied it up with persistence around the crease. Goligoski drove the Maverick net for a shot that Clark saved, but rebound whacks by Kris Chucko and Gino Guyer resulted in Guyer’s second goal of the season at 3:39.
The Gophers then took the lead at 6:57. Kessel drove across the circles and had the puck clipped off his stick by a Maverick defender, but Ryan Stoa picked it up and launched a one-timer inside the post for the freshman’s first goal.
At the halfway point of the period tempers flared. Maverick Ryan McKelvie dove in for a loose puck at Briggs’ feet — a little too enthusiastically for the Gophers, precipitating a scrum that left four players in the box.
Another bout followed three minutes later, earning Minnesota State’s Brock Becker and Minnesota’s Justin Bostrom roughing minors, with Bostrom getting the double minor. On the Maverick power play, Briggs rose to the occasion, preserving the lead with stops on McKelvie and Travis Morin.
Kessel put the Gophers up 4-2 with his penalty shot, after which the parade to the box continued. The middle frame saw a total of 14 whistles against the two teams.
And minutes into the third, the 20th penalty of the evening produced the Gophers’ fifth goal. With Kyle Peto off for interference, Ryan Potulny lined up Harrington for a slapshot that beat Clark cleanly to make it 5-2.
Shortly thereafter, Briggs thwarted David Backes on a breakaway and the Gophers killed a minute of Maverick five-on-three, rendering the rest academic — but still lively, with several more penalties and a full-on donnybrook behind Briggs after a collision after the whistle.
“It’s not necessarily our style to try to outhit anyone, but you have to finish your checks,” said Lucia of the Gophers’ more-aggressive-than-usual performance.
Early on, it looked the game could be a breakout for the Mavericks, and more of the same for the Gophers. For the third straight time this season, Minnesota watched its opponent score first, and for the third time, it didn’t take long.
Morin wheeled out of the corner and fired a pass to Austin Sutter in the left faceoff circle, and Sutter’s shot squeezed into the far side of the net to make it 1-0 Minnesota State at 1:19.
“[Less than] two minutes into the game we’re down 1-0, and we fought back,” said Lucia. “That’s a good sign.”
At 19:07 Mike Howe tied the game for Minnesota, cleaning up a loose puck after Clark gloved down a backhander. Goligoski and Kessel picked up the assists.
Minnesota State, though, regained the lead a scant 11 seconds later. McKelvie, the Mavericks’ three-year assistant captain, took the puck away behind Briggs and fed Becker for a one-timer that made it 2-1 Minnesota State heading to the locker rooms.
But the Gophers followed with four unanswered goals, preventing an 0-2-1 start and extending their unbeaten streak against the Mavericks to 12 games.
“The bottom line is we won the game 5-2, and hopefully that’ll relax the team,” said Lucia. “The difference in this game was goaltending.”
The teams meet again at Mariucci Saturday night.