MINNEAPOLIS -- When Don Lucia first recruited Seth Ambroz as a high schooler in New Prague, Minn., the 15-year-old forward barely had the self-confidence to look the Gophers' head hockey coach in the eyes. He was, as Lucia said, socially awkward.
Yet somehow, Ambroz has gone from a shy teenager to a vocal leader of the top-ranked team in college hockey.
"We've got a young team, a lot of quiet guys," Ambroz said. "I just like to joke around or get them to smile, get them going, get them happy."
Most of the time, that simply means a little pregame chatter or talking on the ice during a game. In one instance earlier this season, however, it meant singing a song in front of the entire Minnesota team.
When the Gophers traveled to Notre Dame in early November for a two-game series, the typical road-trip shenanigans took place and included some pranks. That resulted in Ambroz doing his best rendition of "I Want to Know What Love Is" by Foreigner.
"When something like that happens, you've got to go all out. You can't just not give 100 percent," Ambroz said of his "American Idol"-worthy performance. "I went out there and gave it my best. Apparently I have a pretty good voice."
Ambroz politely declined to give a sampling of his vocal talent during a recent media session, perhaps still showing a bit of that shyness Lucia first saw in him as a teenager several years ago. Given the way Ambroz has played on the ice, though, he's probably smart to put his singing career on hold.
After a four-goal weekend against rival Wisconsin, Ambroz was named the Big Ten's First Star of the week. The four goals now give Ambroz a team-high seven on the year to go along with five assists in 14 games.
The improvements the Gophers have seen from Ambroz on the ice have coincided with the confidence and maturity he's exhibited off it.
"His confidence as a person and a player has shown through," Lucia said. "I'm just happy for him because I don't think anybody works harder than Seth does to become a good player. … Any player wants to have success offensively, and he's no different. But Seth's the type of player that's out before every practice, stays out after, works on the elements of his game that makes him a good player."
Ambroz was credited with the game-winning goal in Friday's 4-1 victory over Wisconsin, during which he also added an empty netter to seal the win. Saturday's goals carried a bit more levity in Minnesota's 4-3 victory to complete the sweep of the Badgers. His second tally of the night came with just 34 seconds left in regulation and broke a 3-3 tie.
Of the 21 goals Ambroz has scored in a Gophers sweater, he said his game-winner Saturday was arguably the biggest.
"Hopefully, I can score one that matches that one," Ambroz said.
Regardless of how many goals Ambroz scores from here on out, it's evident that he's had an impact on this young Gophers team with his leadership. Since co-captains Nate Condon and Kyle Rau are more of the lead-by-example types, someone has had to fill the void as the vocal leader.
Enter Ambroz, the Foreigner-singing, goal-scoring junior who doesn't have a "C" on his jersey but plays like someone who does.
"He's always talking in the locker room, always getting the guys going," said sophomore defenseman Brady Skjei. "It kind of just shows how hard work pays off. A kid like that works hard all the time and definitely earns those four goals. We're all happy for him. Hopefully he stays hot."
For someone who scored nine goals and had seven assists as a sophomore last year, Ambroz likely never expected to be scoring at the rate he has been lately. He's nearly matched that total before the midway point of his junior season.
He also never anticipated being in the role he's in as a vocal leader, but he's embracing every minute of it.
"I kind of carried that over through juniors," Ambroz said. "I started just talking a lot, having fun, just trying to get the guys going. I feel like it's developed over a couple years. I've learned to just not even care what people think when I say some stupid stuff."
Or when he sings Foreigner.