MINNEAPOLIS - The final buzzer sounded Saturday as Colorado College left wing Brett Sterling glided up the ice, sucking wind with his hands glued to his knees.
Sterling was gassed. So were his teammates. And CC coach Scott Owens had run out of patience. The Tigers suddenly aren’t far from empty. Freshman phenom Phil Kessel scored the game-winner on the power play 12 minutes into the third period, and No. 3 Minnesota pushed No. 7 CC closer to the breaking point in a 3-2 win before a standingroom-only crowd of 10,191 at Mariucci Arena. It marked CC’s fourth consecutive loss and the second time the Tigers (17-10-1, 9-8-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) had been swept in back-to-back league series since Owens replaced Don Lucia, who now coaches Minnesota, after the 1998-99 season. Also, the Tigers dropped to fifth in the WCHA after North Dakota beat Minnesota State-Mankato later Saturday. “This is a tough one to swallow,” CC defenseman Brandon Straub said. “There’s a lot of almost broken hearts. There were a lot of guys who gave it their all out there, and we thought we had them.” Kessel’s game-winner, which broke a 2-2 tie, came after right wing Jimmy Kilpatrick received an interference penalty for knocking down center Ryan Potulny. Defenseman Brian Salcido almost cleared the rebound on right wing Danny Irmen’s slap shot from the point, but Kessel beat goaltender Matt Zaba to the left post to give Minnesota (16-6-4, 11-5-2) the lead. Kessel, who is projected to be the No. 2 pick in the 2006 NHL draft by the Central Scouting Service, has 31 points and a team-high three game-winning goals. “We were winning these games against not as strong of opponents early in the year,” said Owens, whose team outshot Minnesota 30-29 but went 0 for 6 on the power play. “It’s a shame we didn’t get at least a point out of it because I thought we certainly deserved it.” Owens shortened the bench in the third period, trying to find a spark that would help CC draw even after defenseman Chris Harrington’s goal put Minnesota ahead 2-1 with 0.9 of a second left in the second period. Harrington scored on a shot from inside the blue line that deflected off defenseman Brandon Straub’s stick. Center Marty Sertich tied the score less than eight minutes into the third period when he beat Colorado Springs native Kellen Briggs (12-4-2) high to the glove side. Kilpatrick set up the goal by backhanding the puck away from the boards, and defenseman P.J. Atherton couldn’t stop Sertich’s shot from the high slot. CC’s best chance after Kessel scored went by the wayside when left wing Aaron Slattengren was whistled for a hooking penalty 15 seconds into a power play. With Zaba pulled for an extra attacker in the final 40 seconds, Briggs blocked Salcido’s shot from the blue line and denied right wing Joey Crabb on a backhand attempt. Asked if Briggs was the difference, Owens said, “Are you serious? The difference in what? Yeah, I guess he was the difference. Kellen Briggs was the difference.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0256 or email@example.com NEXT North Dakota (17-10-1, 10-8-0) at CC (17-10-1, 9-8-1), 7:37 p.m. Feb. 3, 1240 AM