In the Gophers hockey locker room, freshmen aren’t allowed to touch the aux cord, which grants the holder exclusive control of the music.
Luckily, first-year players have the human playlist, Sammy Walker, to make up for it.
“I’ve never been on a team that loves to sing in the shower as much as this one. Or really anywhere around the rink,” junior goaltender Mat Robson said. “They’re always breaking out in a beautiful harmony.”
There was a short window of time when this season’s freshman class wasn’t quite comfortable at 3M Arena at Mariucci. But as soon as Walker unleashed his set of pipes on his unsuspecting teammates — warbling everything from Jason DeRulo’s “It Girl” to anything Akon to country hits to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” — the freshmen officially made themselves at home. And tunes aren’t the only addition they’re bringing to the team.
Walker and his all-freshman line with wingers Nathan Burke and Blake McLaughlin earn high praise from Gophers coach Bob Motzko. The “BMW Line” first came together in November. Burke scored his first two goals that month, and McLaughlin got his first two last weekend at Notre Dame. Walker has 13 points, fourth on the team.
Senior forward Jack Ramsey joked the three players’ combined weight is about 350 pounds. And while it’s more like 500, the rookies don’t make for a physical line — McLaughlin said he witnessed what was probably the 160-pound Walker’s first hit in a game since eighth grade this past weekend — but they are speedy.
Walker was Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey at Edina last season after being Tampa Bay’s seventh-round pick in 2017. McLaughlin helped Grand Rapids to the state title in 2017 before playing junior hockey last season, and Anaheim drafted him in the third round in 2018. Burke, an older freshman at 20, is the first native Arizonan to play for the Gophers after prepping in the North American Hockey League.
Motzko said the trio plays hard and is a nuisance to opponents, often being the most consistent line at pressuring the other team and rarely letting the competition faze them.
“We’re all freshmen, so if one of us kind of screws up, we don’t have that weight and pressure on us that we let down a senior,” McLaughlin said of what makes his line click. “So just kind of letting loose.”
There’s hard work involved. Motzko says he can never end a drill with McLaughlin because the winger always wants one more rep, even if it’s a wind sprint. But that seriousness doesn’t extend too far off the ice.
“They’re just goofballs,” Motzko said.
Ramsey’s first description of the freshmen was an immediate “loud.” But he also admitted of his four years with the program, this is probably one of the closest teams with no real class hierarchy. Robson said while the freshmen still know their place — such as having to help load and unload the team bus — they also bring out the lighter side in their more wizened teammates.
Burke and Walker live together in the dorms, and McLaughlin rooms with freshman defenseman Robbie Stucker across the hall in a bigger corner room. The freshmen pretty much do everything together, from hockey to school to meals to movie nights to video game tournaments.
“I can’t seem to get away from the guys,” Burke said. “Even on the road, we’re sitting by each other in the locker room.”
And that bond is contagious around the team, just like Walker’s shower concerts. Ramsey said he has joined Walker as one of the directors of this Gophers chorus. Even Robson admitted to chiming in softly in the background despite not being a great singer.
“I remember the first time just going into the shower, just singing. Everyone was like, ‘Who is this freshman coming in here?’” Walker said. “But I think the guys love it. And I think now, they’re more of a musical team.”
Making sweet music together on the ice and off, apparently.