Minnesota’s Matt Leimbek has been wallowing in the muck of the practice squad for the majority of the year.
After this weekend, expect to see him in the lineup every weekend.
Leimbek was instrumental in the Gophers men’s hockey team’s sweep of Michigan Tech, scoring two goals and three assists over the weekend, after scoring just seven points in his previous 43 games as a Gopher.
“I understand that all I can do is go all out every night,” Leimbek said. “If you work hard in practice it’s going to carry over onto the games.”
The sophomore from Rochester, Minn., is not only one of least-known players, he’s also one of the smallest.
Standing all of 5-feet-9 and weighing less than 190 pounds, the diminutive Leimbek makes up for lack of size with traits and talents that can’t be taught.
“He doesn’t have much speed, but he has great hands,” coach Doug Woog said. “He can see the rink, make plays, even though he’s undersized. He can make a play and find someone who can.”
The unique ability to score and find the open man in a game that prides itself as the fastest on Earth is a special and uniquely intuitive ability.
Leimbek’s senses must have been peaking in this series, because he not only padded his own stats, but also helped resurrect a very sluggish power play unit.
“It’s kind of funny using a 14th or 15th guy on the power play,” Woog said. “But he has that touch with the puck.”
Another factor that’s played in Leimbek’s favor is something he might take for granted: He plays on the fourth line.
But for some reason, the fourth line often brings out the best in the Gophers, and this weekend was no exception. One of the players who was paired up with Leimbek on the fourth line was senior Mike Anderson.
“After being here four years, it’s just awesome to see a younger guy step up and get some breaks,” Anderson said. “When you’re on a roll like that (on the fourth line), you just focus — do your job — and that’s what we did. I think that when you just focus, you don’t worry. Maybe that’s why we’re producing.”
On the fourth line, the players aren’t expected to become Wayne Gretzkys; all they have to do is keep the puck in the offensive zone and play solid defensive hockey. The points are gravy.
And with Leimbek’s offensive output, the gravy boat was overflowing.
“I’ve just been working hard,” Leimbek said. “I’m just lucky the puck found my stick.”
The work ethic that Leimbek and his fourth-line mates have shown will need to be continued if Minnesota expects to keep the puck bouncing their way.
But it’s all about patience if you ask Leimbek.
“I was recruited here to make plays,” Leimbek said. “Scoring goals took a little longer than most players, but it came.”
If he stays on his roll, the wins could keep coming for the Gophers as well.