A simple coffee order reveals the essence of Brent Gates Jr.’s personality.
“Just straight diesel. Just black,” the Gophers senior winger said this week, before pausing with a little smile. “No, I put a little bit of cream and sugar in there.”
Gates is all about maintaining balance, whether related to his caffeine intake or his hard-earned five-game goal streak. The Michigan native is definitely invested in seeing his streak continue this weekend at No. 9 Notre Dame, but he’s also making sure his run doesn’t become an obsession.
“You want the confidence from it,” Gates said. “But you also don’t want to get to a point where you’re gripping it tight in the third period because you’re like, ‘Oh, I want to keep the streak alive.’ And then that’s all you’re thinking about. It kind of takes over your game.”
Toeing that fine line is something he learned from having parents who were athletes. His mother played volleyball at Arizona State while his father was a Gophers baseball player who went on to play seven major league seasons, mostly for the Athletics and Twins as an infielder.
Gates’ four other siblings latched right on to their parents’ sports. Gates played high school baseball, but he’s the first one in his family to pursue hockey and has tried encouraging his youngest brother to do the same.
Gates believes baseball is the toughest sport mentally and credits his father, Brent Sr., for teaching him how to keep an even-keel through good times and bad.
Even off the ice, Gates seems to keep a level head, being candid about his team’s struggles early in the year while doing his best to lead by example. He refused to let frustration deter him, again crediting his father.
“He knows what it takes to get to the next level because he played at the highest level,” Gates said. “A lot of kids don’t necessarily have that every day. They don’t have that influence that really knows exactly what it takes. And I think that’s helped me so far.”
It seems to have stabilized him the past couple weeks, at least. His goal streak, which started at Michigan on Dec. 8, is his longest since he started playing elite-level hockey. Now he has a chance to extend it at Notre Dame, the school he originally committed to before picking Minnesota.
Gates, third on the Gophers with 15 points on eight goals and seven assists, is just trying to keep “riding the wave.” Part of that is sticking with his usual routine, though that is more about comfort than superstition.
He eats a good pregame meal, takes a nap, drinks a slightly sweetened coffee before heading to the rink. There, he has a snack and plays soccer with his teammates. In warm-ups, he tries to make at least one backhand pass from the right corner into the net before the 2-on-1 drill is finished.
He does a specific handshake with fellow senior Jack Ramsey. He has another scheduled handshake with fellow co-captain Tyler Sheehy in the tunnel right before the game and has to skate out right after him.
Sheehy called his linemate’s hot streak “incredible” and hopes to assist in it continuing.
“He’s got such a great shot, and he’s been using it quite a bit lately on the power [play],” Sheehy said. “We’ve kind of been setting him up, and any time he can get the puck on his stick and have an opportunity to shoot, there’s a good opportunity that the puck’s going to be in the back of the net.”
Gophers coach Bob Motzko said he’s seen rolls like this last the rest of the season, at least in terms of confidence if not goals. And he’s happy to leave Gates unbothered in his pursuit of that.
He wouldn’t want to throw off that balance, after all.
“I don’t talk to him. Just let him go,” Motzko said. “Hopefully, it’s contagious.”