In hockey, it sometimes seems that geography is destiny. The Minnesotans on college rosters typically come from hometowns like Edina, Eden Prairie and Roseau, places that grow hockey players like Dodge County grows corn.
But rural areas like Dodge County have ice rinks tucked inside their cropland, and kids with the same puck dreams. That's where the Gophers found Brody Lamb. From his roots in Byron, Minn., Lamb carved a quintessential Minnesota hockey path, starring in the state high school tournament before taking a prominent role with the Gophers.
The forward has made a mighty leap in his sophomore season. Heading into this weekend's home series against Notre Dame, Lamb leads the sixth-ranked Gophers with 10 points (six goals, four assists). He was named the Big Ten's second star of the week after a four-point weekend at Michigan, where the Gophers picked up a victory and a tie.
Before the season, Gophers coach Bob Motzko said he expected Lamb to show significant growth in his second year of college hockey. Lamb already has surpassed his production as a freshman, when he finished with four goals and four assists in 39 games.
"Last year, he had that freshman look," Motzko said. "And now, he doesn't. He's got a little swagger."
Underneath it all, Lamb remains a small-town guy from southeastern Minnesota. He brought the Dodge County Wildcats a moment in the hockey spotlight in 2021, when his 52 goals and 35 assists carried the team — which includes players from four schools — to its first appearance at the state high school tournament. Lamb took it up a notch at the tourney, scoring 10 goals during a run that finished with a loss in the Class A title game.
Those roots are still firmly planted, even after moving on to the Gophers and being picked by the New York Rangers in the fourth round of the 2021 NHL draft.
"I'm really happy that I stayed as long as I did in Dodge County," said Lamb, who played two high school seasons before moving on to junior hockey. "I had a group that grew up together from squirts all the way to high school, so we were really close.
"I'm doing all I can to help the community grow hockey when I go back home, helping with whatever I can. I just want hockey to keep growing down there."
Motzko admitted he wasn't exactly going out on a limb when he predicted a breakthrough season. He said Lamb's high-end talent has always been obvious, and while Lamb wasn't an abundant scorer last season, he played in all but one game and adapted well to college hockey.
He focused on gaining weight and strength over the summer. Lamb skated twice a week and participated in some four-on-four leagues, but mostly, he ate like a farmhand and worked to build up his legs and upper body. When the Gophers returned to campus, Motzko immediately saw Lamb had the aura of an older, wiser player, with the confidence to match.
Lamb has played both center and wing this season, making a big splash with four goals and two assists in the first three games while teamed with Jimmy Snuggerud and Oliver Moore. Lamb went scoreless in the next five, then Motzko tried a new combo for the Michigan series.
The coach put Lamb alongside standout freshman center Jimmy Clark and sophomore Connor Kurth. Last Friday, the trio combined for the Gophers' final three goals as they rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Wolverines. Lamb had a career-high three points and the game-winning goal, then scored again in Saturday's 2-2 tie.
"He was awesome, and he's been awesome all season," Kurth said of Lamb. "He's playing with a ton of confidence. That's tough to do when you're a freshman, but he's always had the skill and the talent to be this good."
Goals could be harder to come by this weekend against the No. 17 Fighting Irish. Notre Dame features the reigning Big Ten goaltender of the year, Ryan Bischel, who anchors the nation's seventh-best defense (2.2 goals allowed per game).
Lamb isn't coasting on his hot start. He's continually working to refine the details of his game, a major reason why Motzko was comfortable in predicting a breakout season. And it might not be the last time he offers that opinion.
"What's fun is, I'm going to say the same thing next year," Motzko said. "Because he's going to hit another level."