Zach Budish, the 6-3, 214-pound power forward on the Gophers' top line, says he feels strange being the oldest player on his line. Budish, a redshirt sophomore, is 20. He missed almost all of last season after having knee surgery following a moped accident.
He plays on a line with freshman Kyle Rau, who turned 19 last month, and accelerated sophomore Nick Bjugstad, also 19. Bjugstad graduated high school in three years and is only three months older than Rau.
"It is a lot of fun playing with both of them," Budish said. "Kyle knows where to go. As you see, he scores goals every weekend. He gets in the right spot. And Bugey, he goes hard on the forecheck, creates space for us. The three of us are starting to click.
"We have gotten better every day in practice and it has shown on weekends."
Rau and Bjugstad are tied for second in Gophers' scoring. Both had eight goals and seven assists for 15 points. Budish is fifth with three goals and eight assists for 11 points. Rau is a plus-14, which leads the team, Bjugstad is a plus-12 and Budish a plus-9.
"We feed off each other well," Budish said. "Kyle is a smaller guy, but he plays fearless out there. He will get in the corners and make plays. Bjugstad (6-5, 211) is a monster out there. He wins every battle one on one, he is good in the faceoff circle.
"We have developed some chemistry over the first month and a half and I expect that to continue on."
Everyone keeps asking the Gophers players why the team is 9-1-0.
Budish has his own ideas. "A big part of it is our mindset," he said. "We started our workouts for this season late last March, early April. It started in the weight room last spring and carried over into the summer.
"Coach Guentzel has helped us out quite a bit," Budish said, referring to associate head coach Mike Guentzel, rehired in the offseason.
"And our defense. They have played a lot better than anyone expected -- that is fair to say," Budish said. "Kent [Patterson] has been phenomenal [in the nets] like he finished last season. And he has carried that right into this season. And our sophomores, who were freshmen last year, have elevated our game quite a bit.
"And we have had good role players. We have had contributions from all four lines. Like you saw last weekend, our fourth-line scored a goal both nights. I can't say enough about how well they played this past weekend."
Tom Serratore scored on a breakaway in the first victory over North Dakota last weekend, Nick Larson scored from the slot with six minutes to play in the second Gophers' win over the Fighting Sioux. They are the wingers on that fourth line.
But it was Rau who scored the game-winner with 46 seconds left -- with assists from his linemates -- in the Gophers' 3-2 comeback win over UND on Saturday.
"That was such a quick play," Budish said. "Bjugstad just kine of threw [the puck] out front. It hit off a stick and hit off my chest and I whacked at it. And, sure enough, Kyle was right in his spot and he buried [the rebound]. If he is not there, it is a tie game and we go into overtime and you don't know what happens. ... [Kyle] didn't disappoint."
THE STRONG MAN
Bjugstad finished with about a point per game the second half of last season and he is exceeding that pace now.
"A big thing is confidence for him and using his size," Budish said. "He is probably the strongest player on our team and he uses the size and strength to his advantage the first 10 games so far. He is getting more confident each and every day."
On why he hits players a lot bigger than him: "It is what I do to get myself into the game. It probably doesn't affect those big guys when I hit them."
Does it hurt when you hit them? "No."
On when he met Lucia the first time? We had season tickets [to the Gophers] when I was younger. ... I was probably under 10."
On his size? "5-8, 172. I gained about 10 pounds [in the offseason[. I probably need to gain some weight."