“Can you guys be serious!” Travis Boyd barked at his senior linemates. The centerpiece of the Gophers’ all-senior line was playfully keeping his wingmen focused during a photo shoot this week. He also made the decision that they wouldn’t smile, and then changed the look to a half-smile.
Sam Warning and Seth Ambroz obliged, and the photo op moved on successfully, offering a glimpse of why this unit has been so effective since being meshed together a month ago. Each of the three knows his role, their styles complement one another and their newfound chemistry has transformed the trio into one of the hottest lines in college hockey.
Boyd, Warning and Ambroz scored 28 points in February, all while often being tasked with shutting down opponents’ top lines. Their spark on both ends of the ice fueled the Gophers’ 6-2 stretch over the past month that has them three points out of first place in the Big Ten heading into the weekend series at Ohio State.
“It has been big lately,” Warning said about their production. “On our team, you have other lines step up [at different times], and I think the line of me, Travis and Seth has been playing well. I think we’ve been clicking in practice lately, too, so we’ve been carrying that over to the games.”
The line has scored a point in seven of the past eight games, led by Boyd’s 13 that included a hat trick and an assist against Ohio State on Feb. 7. They had 10 points — Warning and Ambroz each had three assists — in the 6-2 victory over the Buckeyes that night to help secure the Gophers’ first series sweep since late October.
“It’s fun playing with the guys,” said Ambroz, the right wing big man. “I think for us, we’ve been here since Day 1 together, so it’s nice coming together here at the end [of our college careers] having success. We’re able to communicate well and understand each other’s ideas of what we’re doing on the ice and off the ice. We just get along well and it’s going well and hopefully it continues.”
Boyd directs the line at the center position and has established an important role offensively and defensively. Despite missing seven games earlier this season because of an injury, he leads the team with 16 goals and is tied for second in points with 33.
Warning, the speedy forward from Missouri, has shown more consistency at left wing over the past month, halting the revolving door of linemates Boyd had learned to play with in recent years. Warning gave up his spot on the first line with Kyle Rau and Hudson Fasching to help address depth issues earlier this season, and Connor Reilly’s injury forced the coaching staff to make another change and push Boyd and Ambroz up to the second line with Warning.
“We were trying to get some other guys going. Ambroz got going. We had to get Sam going and scoring at the same pace he did a year ago,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “… That line has played very well. They’re good on both ends of the rink and we need those guys to score.
“When they’ve played well, obviously they’ve had a big impact.”
The coaching staff continues to reward the seniors by starting the line in four of the past eight games. The line also has been given significant ice time in the final minutes to close out some recent games.
“I think it just comes down to all of us being around here for a while and knowing how things go and how we play,” Boyd said. “Being able to take that off-ice chemistry and relationship and move it to the ice just makes it so much easier.”
With the Gophers’ standing in the Big Ten race on the line in mid-February, the all-senior line was tasked with shutting down Michigan’s top line, the centerpiece of the nation’s top offense. The Wolverines scored only two goals over two games, and their top line had just one point, an assist.
“It gives us confidence,” Boyd said of the challenge of shutting down other team’s best forwards, “and lets us know we can skate with anyone out there. And that our line, we’re pretty darn good.”