When it mattered most, one Minnesota senior rose to the occasion.
Gophers forward Brent Gates Jr. was named the Big Ten Second Star of the Week after a four-point performance that completed a sweep of then-No. 12 Arizona State in the last regular season series of the year.
"The great thing with [Gates] is that he's been streaky. I think the streak's waking up, and [it's a] good time for it to happen," said Gophers head coach Bob Motzko, with the team headed into the conference playoffs.
Gates, along with the first line of forwards, which includes junior Rem Pitlick and senior Tyler Sheehy, make up the three highest point scorers for Minnesota. Gates is having his most productive year in his final season with the Gophers, and currently has 30 points on the season.
On the Gophers' senior night on Saturday, Gates' family met him out on the ice to commemorate his four years contributing to the program. When asked about what he remembered when standing on the ice for his last regular season game with the team, he talked about his freshman season, moving into the dorms and recovering from a broken leg he suffered his senior year of high school.
"I hadn't played for half that senior season, and kind of got thrown into some high-level hockey [that was] fast paced. And I was just kind of catching up the whole year, and I didn't like that feeling. I'd never felt that before," Gates said.
He tallied seven points that first year with the Gophers and improved steadily every season after. He tallied 21 points as a sophomore, 26 as a junior and now he has 30 with at least two more games left to play in the season. Though his offensive production has steadily gone up, it has not led to more penalties, as the Grand Rapids, Michigan, native has been sent to the box only one time in 35 games played.
"I'm trying to move my feet more. I think a lot of times in the way hockey's played [in] this day and age, a lot of the penalties are when you stop moving your feet," Gates said. "I think just trying to move my feet more and more for an offensive production standpoint has helped me to stay out of the box."
Gates and other senior line mate Sheehy, who serve as co-captains for the team, look to extend their careers with the Gophers for another weekend. They will play a best-of-three series against Michigan this weekend in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
"This year, being a leader, a co-captain with [Gates], he's been great. Obviously, a guy that a lot of guys look up to," Sheehy said. "He's been a great help this year on and off the ice. One of my best friends, and he's just been great all four years."
Gates and the Gophers played the Wolverines four times this season, and have earned a 2-1-1 record in those games. If Minnesota wins this weekend's series, it will play the semifinal series against the winner of Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin. Ohio State won the Big Ten Tournament and has a first-week bye.
The Gophers are on a three-game winning streak, and head into the tournament having won five of their last six games.
"The only thing we can control is what's right in front of us and how we're playing," Motzko said. "We've been talking about the playoffs, and here they are, and the only thing right now is [the] Michigan best two out of three series."