As the Gophers have struggled in recent games, losing six of the last eight to Big Ten opponents, the top line of forwards' production hasn't stopped, stuttered or even plateaued.
In fact, it's gone up.
"Those top guys, to me, have been very strong for us and they continue to be playing at a real high level," said head coach Bob Motzko. "I feel bad for that group right now, of our older guys, because they've played hard, they've been great teammates. Our attitude, as down as we've been, they're positive."
The top line of forwards consists of a group of three upper classmen: senior wingers Brent Gates Jr. and Tyler Sheehy and junior center Rem Pitlick. The three forwards account for a combined 37 points in the last eight games, which is an average of 4.6 points per game.
The two seniors have never had a losing record with the Gophers in their four years, but now the team needs to win five out of the last six games to end the regular season above .500.
The three averaged 2.7 points per game together in the 21 games at the beginning of the season. The "GPS" line, as they've been called, didn't start the season skating together exclusively. They started playing as a line during the 10th game of the season against Michigan State, when Minnesota won 7-2. Motzko saw what the three could do and decided it would be a powerful line. They've been together ever since.
Gates, Sheehy and Pitlick are the top three leading Gophers point scorers. The players combine for 93 total points on the season, the same as the next six players on the stat chart combined.
"I played a little bit with each of them in the past, and really liked playing with those guys. And both can really shoot the puck," Sheehy said. "I think, right now, with those guys scoring a lot of goals, I've just kind of been trying to put the puck on their stick as much as possible."
The trio shines in the power play as well, leading the Big Ten with a 26.7 percentage of success when a conference opponent takes a penalty. Sheehy and Pitlick have skated with each other in previous seasons, though they don't spend much time outside of hockey together, Pitlick said.
"I think we get a lot of that on the road, to be honest there's a lot of ways to look at it," Pitlick said about the importance of spending time outside of hockey. "Yeah, I think it's good to be friends with everyone, but obviously people are doing different things all the time. We have school, we have other commitments and stuff like that, so we spend a lot of time at the rink, and then on the road as well, so I think that's where we build a lot of our relationships."
Minnesota will play its last away Big Ten series at conference-leading No. 2 Ohio State over the weekend.
When the Gophers played the Buckeyes at home in the third Big Ten series of the season, they tied both games, but the Gophers got scored on in double overtime in both games to miss out on the extra conference point. Ohio State lost one of its last 15 games, and won seven in a row. The two Buckeyes goalies, Tommy Nappier and Sean Romeo, have split time in the crease almost evenly this year. Nappier ranks No. 1 in the country in terms of goalie winning percentage.
"They're playing both guys and they've lost one game in 15, so they got a system going right now that's going," head coach Bob Motzko said.
Ohio State won the last seven games on its schedule, with sweeps over Penn State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
Motzko said the Gophers will play both Mat Robson and Eric Schierhorn during the two-game series. Sheehy is the second-leading point scorer among active skaters (142 points) in the NCAA, just behind the Buckeyes' Mason Jobst (161 points). It will be Sheehy's last regular season road trip.
"[I] definitely think about it a little bit. Time's winding down ... so a little bit emotional about that, but I think you just got to make the best out of it," Sheehy said.