Blake Gober was a little sheepish when discussing his game-winning, overtime goal to beat Michigan three weeks ago.
It was just the second goal of the sophomore’s college career and helped deliver a dramatic comeback win against the Wolverines. The fans inside Pegula Ice Arena erupted into a deafening roar, a special moment in any hockey player’s career, but especially for someone who had struggled to see playing time.
“That was awesome,” the sophomore said earlier this week, grinning as he once again got to savor that moment before passing along the accolades to James Robinson, who swooped behind the net and fired what amounted to a bank shot as Gober was getting pulled down to the ice.
“I don’t think I can take too much credit for that, though. James Robinson made a great play on that. I thank him for shooting that off my foot.”
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Gober will take the highlights where he can after scoring just once as a freshman. The native of Colleyville, Texas, is now getting a lot more chances to make a difference.
Being a hockey player in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs wasn’t easy. Getting ice time can be a challenge. Gober was lucky. He had a rink five minutes away owned by a neighbor, who could help get him extra time on his skates.
He was part of a huge wave of hockey players inspired by the Dallas Stars — with Mike Modano, Brett Hull and Joe Nieuwendyk — winning the 1999 Stanley Cup. He worked up through the youth programs, played a year in his early teens in Michigan, finished high school back in Texas, then got in a few seasons in juniors.
Joining Penn State, he was overshadowed in a huge freshman class by the likes of Denis Smirnov, Peyton Jones, Nate Sucese and Nikita Pavlychev, among others. He scored during the team’s opening weekend, into an empty net against St. Lawrence, but didn’t find the net again and added five assists in 16 games.
“That’s when it gets harder and harder and you get more frustrated,” he said. “Just try to do the little things right, and if it happens it happens.”
He has been a bigger contributor this season. He added a second goal last weekend at Notre Dame, and also has an assist, playing in 11 of the team’s 12 games.
Because he isn’t the most gifted of players like a few of those classmates, and because he’s on the smaller side at 5-foot-8 and 179 pounds, he has to work extra hard to succeed. So, when he does score a game-winning, overtime goal against Michigan, the moment is special to more than Gober.
“He ingratiates himself to his teammates because he plays hard and he blocks shots and he digs for pucks — that’s what he does,” said coach Guy Gadowsky, who noted Gober didn’t gripe when he wasn’t getting playing time last season. “When he ends up scoring big goals, it’s a huge lift to the team.”
Gober hasn’t been deterred by where he grew up, or any resources he hasn’t had. He is finding more chances to make a difference — even if that means just being in the right place at the right time to let a puck bounce off his foot.
“Blake works really hard,” junior forward Chase Berger said. “He’s gotten a lot better and you’re starting to see it on the ice. It’s great to see, and I think he’s going to go up some more. He’s got a lot of skill.”
Men’s college hockey
Who: Penn State (5-7) at Arizona State (2-6-2)
When: 10 p.m. Friday; 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Gila River Arena
TV: Pac-12 Network (Friday)
Radio: WAPY 103.1 FM
Leading scorers: PSU—Andrew Sturtz (7 goals, 7 assists), Denis Smirnov (5G, 6A), Cole Hults (2G, 9A), Chase Berger (2G, 7A), Trevor Hamilton (1G, 7A); ASU—Jakob Stridsberg (5G, 2A), Brett Gruber (1G, 5A), Dylan Hollman (2G, 4A)