Seth Ambroz cleared his throat, tilted his head back and began to serenade his teammates. The Gophers locker room roared as the junior forward provided a musical rendition of “I Want to Know What Love is” by Foreigner.
The lighthearted moment during the Gophers’ trip to Notre Dame last month is one of many this season centered around Ambroz. The 6-3, 215-pound man with brown curly hair and a big smile has, in many ways, become the life of this year’s Gophers team.
Gophers coach Don Lucia and his teammates refer to Ambroz as the vocal leader, even if his singing voice needs some work. Over the past three weeks, he’s also become a scoring leader, totaling seven points in the past six games.
Four goals, including game-winning goals in the first period on Friday and in the final seconds on Saturday in a sweep of Wisconsin, earned Ambroz Big Ten hockey’s First Star of the week for the inaugural weekend of conference play.
Ambroz has developed a similar star quality off the ice. The Gophers have an ongoing prank that takes advantage of teammates who let their guard down on road trips, and the consequence is singing in front of the team.
“When something like that happens, you have to go all out,’’ Ambroz said. “You can’t just not give 100 percent, so I went out there and gave my best and apparently I have a good voice. … I just want the guys to be loose and have fun, and I think we’ve been doing a good job of that and it’s really starting to pick up here as we get more and more into the season.”
This jovial personality hasn’t always come so natural. The first time Lucia met Ambroz, the then-15-year-old struggled to look his future coach in the eyes and didn’t speak much. Socially awkward is how Lucia described it.
Ambroz left New Prague High School after his freshman year to pursue junior league hockey. He spent three seasons with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL and finished his high school education outside the classroom and without the social experience.
Teammate and housemate Ben Marshall said observing Ambroz’s growth over the past three seasons has been entertaining. He’s opened up and become more comfortable in social settings.
This growth has led to a leadership role. As Ambroz has matured he’s become more relatable and, yes, funnier.
“He’s a character. He’s always in a positive mood. You never see him angry. He’s a funny guy. He’s a joy to live with,” said Marshall, a junior defenseman. “Since his freshman year, he’s really opened up and we’ve gotten to know the real Seth these last couple years. … He’s the type of guy where he knows you don’t need to have the [captain’s] ‘C’ to be a leader. He understands that philosophy and lives by it pretty well.”
Lucia said he has never been around a player who has grown so much as a person, and nobody works harder than Ambroz, the coach added. He’s often first to practice and among the last to leave.
Sophomore defenseman Brady Skjei, who also scored a goal last Saturday and jumped into Ambroz’s arms after he scored the game-winning goal, said the upperclassman is a perfect example that hard work pays off.
Skjei also hopes Ambroz can stay hot. His 12 points (seven goals, five assists) puts him fifth among the Gophers’ top scorers.
If Ambroz is able to keep up the scoring surge he’ll need to improve his celebration, he said. The one thing he learned from watching his game-winning goal several times is “how bad my celebration was. I didn’t even know what to do anymore. I just got excited and lost control, so I gotta work on that.”
The wisecrack did its job, stirring up a handful of laughs.
“You wouldn’t have seen that from Seth a couple of years ago,” Lucia said in reference to his antics. “Seth is, around the locker room and on the ice, probably the most vocal player we have. I don’t think there is any question we look at him to be a leader on this team.”