Sophomore forward off to strong start for Minnesota

Gates Jr. leads the team in goals through two games this year

Gophers forward Brent Gates chases down a Duluth player attempting to catch the puck in the second period at Mariucci Arena on October 16, 2015.

Sam Harper

Gophers forward Brent Gates chases down a Duluth player attempting to catch the puck in the second period at Mariucci Arena on October 16, 2015.

Drew Cove

In two games, Brent Gates Jr. has accomplished what took him 35 games last season.

Gates has at least one goal in every game so far this year, and he has an official total of three goals in the two-game series in Alaska in early October. He also recorded two goals in Minnesota’s exhibition victory Friday.

“I’ve just been trying to keep it simple,” Gates Jr. said. “I know my shot is one of my strengths. It’s just been a matter of being able to get to open ice. Now that my skating has improved, and I’m healthy, I think I’m able to get to the open ice — and therefore, I can get the puck, and my shot takes over.”

The sophomore scored seven total points over the course of 35 games played last season, consisting of three goals and four assists.

This season, Gates Jr. has recorded three goals and no assists in two games. Though it doesn’t officially count, Gates Jr. also scored two goals and one assist in an exhibition game last week.

Forward Vinni Lettieri, Gates Jr.’s linemate from the 2015-16 season, said he likes talking about Gates Jr. a lot.

“He’s improved so much from his freshman year,” Lettieri said. “I’ve seen him in the summertime putting in his extra work in the weight room. It’s unbelievable how much he has improved in his skating and his shooting, and he’s having a great year so far, and we’ve only played three games.”

Head coach Don Lucia said he has seen a “noticeable difference” in Gates Jr.’s game. Lucia observed a lot of the same things that Lettieri does in Gates Jr.

“His skating is better, [he spent] another year in the weight room,” Lucia said. “He’s learning how to compete at a higher level day in and day out.”

Although Gates Jr. has scored three times in the first two games of the season, No. 7 Minnesota is now focused on the next opponent on the docket, No. 14 St. Cloud State.

Minnesota comes into the weekend with a record of 2-0-0 and one week removed from an exhibition game that saw a goal-scoring surge from six different plays and eight different point producers in a 9-0 victory over the U.S. Under-18 Team.

St. Cloud State is the first ranked team Minnesota will play this season.

“They’re always a really good transition team,” Lucia said. “They’re good off the rush, and they’re going to make plays.”

Gates Jr. has the opportunity Friday and Saturday to get on a goal-scoring streak and ultimately help his team win.I feel really good,” Gates said. “I’ve just been trying to keep it simple and find the open ice.”