|Idaho Steelheads goaltender Kellen Briggs has a 15-10 record this far in his first season after playing four years at the University of Minnesota.
Idaho Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal certainly didn’t expect this, either. The Kelly Cup winner must have at least been a tad worried when he was informed that Steve Silverthorn was going to the American Hockey League for good.
But thanks to Briggs, everything in Idaho is just fine. The rookie netminder, who played four years at the University of Minnesota, has won 15 of 25 games for the Steelheads while posting a 2.22 GAA and a .927 save percentage. His play has helped Idaho pull within a point of the Victoria Salmon Kings for the West Division lead.
“I really didn’t know what was going to happen or what the situation was going to be,” Briggs told NHL.com. “Pro hockey for goalies … things can move very quickly. I felt that if I was given an opportunity to play, I was going to play my best and try to help the team win games.”
It’s not the first time Briggs has done that. The 24-year-old won 84 games during his impressive collegiate career, which prompted Laxdal to recruit the Golden Gopher last summer. After watching Briggs during training camp, Laxdal sent last season’s backup, John Daigneau, to the Pensacola Ice Pilots. He was convinced that Briggs could be a sufficient No. 2. Little did he know what Briggs would soon become.
“John didn’t get a lot of ice time last year, and we knew Kellen’s pedigree at Minnesota,” Laxdal said. “He obviously comes from a pretty good program. It was kind of a no-brainer, but John was a great backup. When Steve got called up for the rest of the year, Kellen was right there to take over that No. 1 spot. He’s done a great job in the role.”
Briggs said he’s developed a friendship with Silverthorn after the latter took Briggs under his wing early in the season. Even though Silverthorn is now deservedly at the Triple-A level, the two remain in constant contact.
“Steve works extremely hard and he’s extremely dedicated,” Briggs said. “That really helps keep me focused on the ice and off the ice. He’s a really good guy. I talk to him every once in a while. When he was down here, we definitely had a friendly competition. That always brings out the best in a goalie.”
It certainly has brought out the best in Briggs, who earned his first trip to the American Hockey League over the weekend. The rookie was called up to the Houston Aeros for a three-game road trip. While Briggs didn’t see any action, he was grateful for the experience.
“It was good,” Briggs said. “It was a three-day road trip with three different teams in three days. It’s good to get some experience and travel around see some of the AHL rinks and teams and get a feel for the league.”
Laxdal was more than happy to send Briggs to Houston after the Aeros’ NHL affiliate, the Minnesota Wild, asked if they could take a look at the Colorado Springs, Colorado native. The Steelheads’ coach believes it’s only a matter of time before Briggs follows in the footsteps of Silverthorn, who may very well have played his last ECHL game.
“I think he’s going to get there,” Laxdal said. “Minnesota wanted to call him up and take a look at him and see what he’s like off the ice. I think it was a great chance for Kellen to show himself and what kind of person he is. Hopefully that leads to bigger and better things for him.”
Things have been better for the Steelheads in recent weeks, as they’re hot on the tails of the Salmon Kings with 16 games remaining in the regular season. Victoria has two games in hand on Idaho, which is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games. The Steelheads return to the ice Wednesday night, when they host the Bakersfield Condors at Qwest Arena.
The last 16 games of the season and the Kelly Cup Playoffs seem to be the focus for Briggs, rather than another opportunity at the AHL level. Briggs was asked if he’s thought more about an AHL tryout invitation next fall after his recent – albeit, brief – promotion to Houston.
“I don’t know … I have to see where the rest of this year leads me,” Briggs said. “I’m really focused on playing well for the Steelheads for the rest of the year and try to defend that Kelly Cup. Whatever opportunities arise, I’ll take them head-on when they come to me.”
After watching Silverthorn lead his team to a Kelly Cup title last year, Laxdal certainly knows a good goaltender when he sees one. The Steelheads’ coach made it sound as if Briggs – who, like Silverthorn, was not drafted -- is a diamond in the rough.
“He’s had a pretty good learning curve,” Laxdal said of Briggs. “He’s probably a step ahead of Steve Silverthorn at this time in his career than Steve was. Once Kellen got the ball rolling, he’s been a competitor and a real athletic goalie. He’s been awesome.”
Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.