The Gophers men’s hockey team hasn’t had a goal-scoring defenseman since Mike Crowley roamed the blue line from 1994 to 1997. In fact, the lack of offensive defensemen has become a glaring deficiency for the Gophers, who usually boast some of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
But that trend might be changing with the emergence of freshman defenseman Jordan Leopold — although he isn’t willing to admit it.
“I shoot sometimes and it goes in,” Leopold said. “I’ve just been in the right place to shoot.”
Lucky or not, the rookie from Robbinsdale, Minn., has been the Gophers’ saving grace recently. He currently has five goals, which would have led the team for goals by a defensemen last season.
Even more impressive than Leopold’s point production is his steady performance in bolstering a defense that’s played poorly at times.
“He’s been terrific,” coach Doug Woog said. “He dances around, he gets the puck over the red line on the power play. He doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s a godsend for our needs.”
The reliability of Leopold has added much to a team that is thin on defense. A player who can hit the ice without Woog worrying about the liabilities of his game can be an immeasurable asset, even if it doesn’t always show up in the box score.
Another amazing thing about the progress of Leopold is that he wasn’t exactly a scoring leader at Armstrong High School. He scored 11 goals and chipped in 12 assists in his final season before leaving to play for the U.S. Developmental squad in Ann Arbor, Mich.
But the Gophers are definitely pleased with Leopold’s coming of age.
“He’s playing very well,” senior captain Wyatt Smith said. “We always want a freshman that steps up. We’ve had Reggie (Berg) and Mike Crowley that have done it. Now we have Jordan and (goaltender Adam) Hauser really stepping up and playing well.”
Leopold’s effectiveness has taken some of the pressure off Smith and Berg to be the big scorers every night. He also gives the Gophers one extra gun and a solid quarterback on the power play.
At no other time was this more true than in Friday’s 3-2 loss to Michigan, in which Leopold scored both goals.
Leopold seems to be improving at an exponential rate right now, but that doesn’t mean he has reached his full potential. Smith said the freshman still has some growing up to do.
“It’s a little easier when you’re scoring points,” Smith said. “You’re not holding the stick as tight like a lot of young guys do coming in.
“At a maturity level, he’s at the same level with the rest of the freshmen. But he’s taking his chances and rolling with it, and nothing but good things are coming from him and from this team.”
And with his solid defensive play, excellent puck-handling skills and good vision on the ice, the future is only looking brighter for Leopold. But the freshman just thanks luck and the bounce of the puck for his recent performance.
“There’s some luck to it,” Leopold said. “I’m just in the right place at the right time. You just got to shoot the puck, hope it goes in.”
If the fickleness of luck continues to fall in Leopold’s favor, it can only mean good things for the Gophers later on down the road — especially if some of that luck rubs off on the rest of the team.