Minnesota seniors power team’s recent resurgence

The six seniors have stepped up to lead the team as the season ends.

Gophers forward Seth Ambroz handles the puck at Mariucci Arena on Saturday, Feb. 7.

Image by Daily File Photo, Alex Tuthill-Preus

Gophers forward Seth Ambroz handles the puck at Mariucci Arena on Saturday, Feb. 7.

by Ben Gotz

Seth Ambroz’s senior year was slipping away as his team continued into a downward spiral.

But now, not only have Ambroz and the rest of the Gophers’ seniors salvaged the season — they’ve brought it back to life.

In the team’s unbeaten stretch of seven games, which ended on Saturday against Penn State, Minnesota’s senior class led the way.

Two seniors recorded hat tricks. A senior provided a game-winning goal in three games, and Ambroz and Sam Warning scored late third-period goals to force overtime in two others.

With six games remaining in their last regular season of college hockey, the seniors are trying to make every moment of ice time count.

“It’s amazing how much it flies by,” Ambroz said. “You really don’t realize it until, obviously, you’re a senior with only six games left in the regular season. It’s been a lot of fun for me.”

Before the Gophers squared off against Ohio State three weeks ago, junior goaltender Adam Wilcox said the team decided “enough is enough.”

Ambroz said he thought it was a message that started from the seniors down.

“As a player, you’ve got to hit that point where you want to change things,” Ambroz said. “I think we did that, and, you know, it starts from the leaders and right on down.”

The Gophers’ seniors put up five of the team’s 10 goals against Ohio State and six of the team’s eight goals the next weekend in their sweep of Michigan.

Senior forward Kyle Rau tallied the second hat trick of his career and added an empty-net goal the next night to seal a victory.

Defensively, the team’s veterans chipped in too, with Minnesota’s senior line of Ambroz, Warning and Travis Boyd holding Michigan’s top line to zero even strength points.

When the stakes got higher, the seniors stepped up.

“I guess almost all the seniors want to be a leader in some way, and that’s how it’s supposed to be,” Warning said.

The seniors’ play and leadership on the ice energized the entire team, junior defenseman Mike Reilly said.

“We kind of feed off them,” Reilly said. “We want them producing and playing at their highest level, and they’ve all been doing well as of late.”

Head coach Don Lucia said the Gophers’ seniors are critical to the team’s success. Seniors take up spots on the power play, penalty kill and four-on-four units.

“It’s their time of the year. I mean, time is running out on their careers, and they’re the ones that have to step up and step forward,” Lucia said. “They’re all playing a very integral role, and that group more than anybody else on our team will determine how this season ends up.”

Ambroz was determined to salvage the season, but after getting the Gophers back on track, the seniors want to go even further.

“We’ve had some great success so far, and we just want to continue that finishing off the season,” Ambroz said.