‘Junior’ emerges as one of Gophers’ top scoring threats

Brent Gates Jr. has scored four goals in his last eight games.

Gophers forward Brent Gates Jr. chases after the puck against Ohio State on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016 at Mariucci Arena.

Daily File Photo

Gophers forward Brent Gates Jr. chases after the puck against Ohio State on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016 at Mariucci Arena.

Drew Cove

Forward Brent Gates Jr. hears the name junior a lot these days.

His nickname is ‘Junior’, and now fitting enough, he is in his junior year at Minnesota. Gates Jr. is finding scoring success this season. He has scored four goals in his last eight games.

“My dad and my name is Brent Robert,” Gates said. “That’s … why my parents decided to [call me Junior], around the house. It’s easier to call me Junior than Brent and have both of us turn around.”

Gates Jr. said he’s heard the ribbing of being a junior back in high school, so now four years later, it’s nothing new.

Gates Jr.’s father, Brent Gates Sr., played baseball at Minnesota and at the major league level for seven years.

Sports aren’t exclusive to the people named Brent in the Gates’ family. Athletics also extends to Junior’s mother. Gates Jr.’s mother, Tiffannie, played volleyball at Arizona State.

He said that almost his entire family plays sports, including his parents, four siblings, and even two aunts who played tennis. His sisters play volleyball, and his younger brother plays baseball and football.

“Right from an early age I played all these sports, [I] tried them all out,” Gates said. “It’s always been a part of my life, sports have never left, and growing up it was always sports and school, then friends came after that.”

Gates Jr. is now an upperclassman for the Gophers. He is in the second half of his collegiate career already, but he’s only 20 years old.

“You’ve got a lot of freshmen in college hockey that are older than he is, as a junior,” said head coach Don Lucia. “He came in as one of the youngest players in college hockey just turning 18 in [August].”

Lucia said some of his development into this season from the beginning of his career has been largely building strength, which can’t happen in a blink of an eye.

Gates Jr. has moved to Minnesota’s top line in recent weeks, alongside forward Tommy Novak and captain Tyler Sheehy. Although the line is made up of people from three different states, the chemistry has shown itself since the line has existed.

“He gets really competitive on the ice,” Novak said. “He gets fired up, and that can only feed his game, [it] makes him better.”

Gates Jr., as a goal scorer, has scored in bunches for Minnesota in his time. Although he only had seven points in 35 games his freshman season, his goal scoring ability came to fruition last season when he scored 21 points, 14 of those goals.

Gates had three multi-goal games last season, including a hat trick against Mercyhurst in the Mariucci Classic.

In the last four series Minnesota has played, Gates has a goal each weekend, and multiple assists around it as well.

“That’s my strong suit, I just try to get open and find spots where I can get the puck and score,” Gates said. “I feel there’s no one better than Tommy [Novak] at finding the open guy.