Minnesota needed a steady presence on defense this year.
Two of the team's seniors have provided just that, but the duo have had different ways of getting there.
Seniors Jack Glover and Steve Johnson will play their last regular-season border battle against the Badgers this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin in a fight for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Johnson has tallied more points than Glover and been a mainstay in the Gophers' defense, while Glover fights for points and has earned his starting position back in his final year.
"They both have had solid years," said head coach Don Lucia. "They've done a good job defending, they've done a pretty good job with the penalty kill [and] they both have a lot of experience."
Lucia has dealt with the problem of a lack of consistent scoring throughout his team's lineup the entire season, and he has relied on his defense to shut down the other offenses in the Big Ten and around the country.
Glover and Johnson fill similar roles with six games left in their final collegiate season, but that wasn't always the case.
"Steve, if you look at him right now, the way we use him, he's playing on the power play, he plays on the penalty kill, he plays five-on-five," said associate head coach Mike Guentzel. "Jack has been a little bit different in that Jack's not really been on the power play, Jack's more of a penalty kill, five-on-five type of guy."
Johnson, an Excelsior native, has played regular minutes and earned time in nearly every game for the past three seasons. In his past seasons, Johnson has had at least 10 points and has been a player on the ice in many situations. He said part of his job as a senior is to make the younger guys feel comfortable.
Glover, a Golden Valley native, has had more ups and downs than Johnson in his career with the Gophers. Glover got into twice as many games in his freshman season as Johnson and they both played full seasons as sophomores. Glover said he and Johnson need to help out younger guys like the older ones before them did.
"Ever since I was a freshman, learning from the older guys [was important,]" Glover said. "Ben Marshall, Mikey Reilly and Brady Skjei, those guys taught us the way to do things on the back end."
Glover said it was a point of pride for the defensive unit and that the young guys have been learning from himself and Johnson, as the defense has been a point of reliance this season.
As seniors, Glover and Johnson have come together and played consistently for the Gophers' defense, with their paths aligning after three years.
"In some ways, they're like a security blanket for you," Guentzel said. "A lot of it is just those guys growing and getting into the habits daily at practice."
With the Gophers' offense struggling compared to previous seasons, the team's defensive corps has risen to the occasion.
Though they aren't vocal leaders, both Glover and Johnson lead by example on the ice, Guentzel said, setting the stage for a unified defensive group. Johnson said they might be quieter, but leading by example on the ice and working hard is what brings the unit together.
Johnson and Glover are close to the final stretch of their collegiate careers, but their different experiences through the hockey program have culminated in a structured defensive unit, the duo both said.
"Those guys, they're just even-keeled," Guentzel said. "They understand the day-to-day routine of practice habits, showing up every day and trying to have a steady day."