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Gophers hockey notebook: Red-hot Pitlick honored by Big Ten

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Minnesota's Rem Pitlick scored on North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson in the first period of their game on Oct. 20, 2017, in Grand Forks. (Eric Hylden / Forum News Service)4 / 5
Known as Peter when he was winning a Minnesota state title for St. Thomas Academy, Odeen Tufto led Quinnipiac in scoring as a freshman and is pacing the Bobcats offensively as a sophomore. (Rob Rasmussen / Quinnipiac Athletics)5 / 5

MINNEAPOLIS -- With roughly a month to go in the regular season, the Minnesota Gophers are below .500 (11-12-4) have almost no mathematical chance of winning the Big Ten, and will likely need to win the conference playoffs to make the 16-team NCAA tournament field.

They’re not the kind of squad that would normally garner much attention for individual or team awards. But junior forward Rem Pitlick is proving that if you score a goal in pretty much every game you play, people are going to take notice.

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, the Big Ten honored Pitlick as its First Star of the Week after he recorded five points in the weekend split with Michigan. Playing on the team’s top line and on their top power play unit, he has scored nine goals in the team’s last nine games.

Gophers coach Bob Motzko moved Pitlick from wing to center earlier in the season, unsure of how the player would do with the change of role. So far the results have been outstanding with Pitlick recording at least a point in 17 of the team’s last 18 games.

“There’s a huge responsibility for centers. You have to play 200 feet, and you can’t hide Rem, because he’s playing against other teams’ top players,” Motzko said. “So he had to adjust to playing a 200-foot game defensively, offensively, special teams, we use him on the penalty kill. He’s got great stamina, he can go all night long. So from the start to where we sit today, it’s been a steady climb of a young guy becoming a big-time player."

Pitlick, a third-round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2016, comes from pure Gopher genes. His mother Lisa was a Big Ten champion gymnast at the U of M in the late 1980s and his father Lance was a four-year hockey letterwinner before playing eight seasons in the NHL. He led the team in points last season last season and tied for the team lead in goals with 12. This season he has 17 goals with a month to play, and said he didn’t set a specific number as benchmark.

“Since I was a kid my dad has always told me to focus on the process and the results will take care of themselves,” Pitlick said. “If anything I’m putting more pressure on myself to continue it because I know that’s what I have to provide for my team. I want to win and hopefully if pucks are going in the net, we’re winning too.”

Chaska’s Tufto honored by NCAA

Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University has played in the NCAA title game twice in this decade, thanks in part to contributions from a few key Minnesota recruits such as defenseman Reid Cashman from Red Wing and goalie Eric Hartzell from White Bear Lake.

When Odeen Tufto landed at Quinnipiac from Chaska by way of St. Thomas Academy some 18 months ago, most figured it wouldn’t take the talented forward long to make an impact.

On Tuesday the NCAA recognized Tufto (who went by his middle name Peter when he played high school hockey) as the nation’s player of the week after he put up two goals and four assists in the Bobcats’ weekend sweep of Clarkson.

Tufto, who played 30 games for the Fargo Force two seasons ago, is the Bobcats’ leading scorer and paced the team in both points and assists last season.