Gophers captain Zach Budish subbed for his coach on the Don Lucia weekly radio show on Monday.
He had his last final on Saturday, so he wasn't busy studying like some of his teammates were. Finals at the U run until Wednesday for some students.
Budish said he was planning on going home to Edina for the rest of the week. The team has been off since last Thursday and won't be back to practice until Christmas night.
Budish is a redshirt junior, in his fourth year of classes at the U. He only has one class in the spring to complete before completing his undergraduate degree in business and marketing education.
"A lot of guys take summer classes," he said. "I took a couple of extra classes when I was hurt."
That was two years ago, when he took a nasty spill on his moped and needed knee surgery.
His plans after college? "I hope to play hockey for few more years," said Budish, who was drafted by Nashville in the second round in 2009. My guess is the 6-3, 214-pound Budish will sign with the Predators after this season and not come back for a fifth year as a redshirt senior. He turns 21 in May.
Budish has five goals and eight assists for 13 points, which ties him for fourth on the team. He has two power-play goals and one game-winner. But he is only a plus-2 after being a plus-20 last season.
He is on about the same scoring pace as he was last season when he had 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points in 43 games.
GOT TO IMPROVE
Budish said the Gophers held a team meeting on Monday of last week to discuss how the season is going. "We've played good, but we are still not clicking on all cylinders," he said.
The most recent example of that was the U's last game, a 4-4 overtime tie with Colorado College. The Gophers had a 4-1 lead going into the third period.
The Gophers are 11-3-3 after 17 games. Budish called that record pretty good, but "as a group of forwards, we need to find a way to get one more goal a night."
He said the team needs to score more goals 5-on-5, and it can do that if the forwards get to the net more. He tries to that, especially on power plays, to set screens from the Haulas and Bjugstads and Raus.
The Gophers have scored 57 goals, but almost a third (17) have been on the power play. They have only 40 goals at even-strength, which is sixth in the WCHA. They are averaging 2.35 goals per game at even-strength and exactly 1.00 power-play goals per game.
Colorado College (53), Nebraska Omaha (49) are 1-2 in even-strength goals in the league. Then come North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Denver, bunched at 46, 45 and 44. The Gophers. And then there is a big dropoff to seventh, UMD (31). At the bottom is Alaska Anchorage with 23.
BRUISES ARE GOOD
Assistant coach Grant Potulny works with the forwards every week on blocking shots, which they have to do more than in the past.
Budish said when there are ice bags all around the locker room after a game, that's a good sign that the team has played well.
The Gophers are 5-0 in nonconference games, but two, maybe three of their biggest tests are coming up.
In succession, the Gophers play Air Force and Boston College in the Mariucci Classic and Notre Dame on a rare Tuesday game early next month, Jan. 8.
"Air Force and Boston College were both in the NCAA tournament last year," Budish said, "and Notre Dame was a Frozen Four team two years ago."
The Gophers are 6-1-3 in their last 10 games.
A look at the teams with the best nonconference marks. There are three undefeateds left and seven unbeatens:
New Hampshire 3-0-1
Boston College 2-0-0
Minnesota State Mankato 2-0-2
St. Lawrence 6-4-0
Northern Michigan 4-1-0
Nebraska Omaha 4-2-0
Holy Cross 3-1-0
Western Michigan 3-1-0
Zach Budish was the youngest of four boys in family. All the others are a lot older, seven, nine and 11 years.
"All [my brothers] are working in the real world," he said.
But as a youngster, he was their goalie oftentimes. "I grew up wanting to be a goalie," Zach said. "I basically lived at the rink. They have been good for my career."
And they are usually at every Gophers home game.
ON THE WCHA
Asked about the league, Budish said one thing noticeable is how tight it is, a couple of points separate first through sixth.
He called Minnesota State Mankato, the league's surprise team. "They have won seven of their last eight games," Budish said. "They have good coach there who is turning the team around."
On first line right wing Kyle Rau, known for being an instigator. "A couple of times I have asked him to tone it done, and he said, 'I play better when i do that.' ... He is a tough little guy, he gets under other guy's skin."
Budish played right wing on the top line all of last season, but this season he has also played on the second line at times, which is centered by Erik Haula.
"I am a guy who prefers to play with the same guys," Budish said. "[But] I've been playing with Erik Haula a lot, and that's been good for me."
He also has a new role this season, team captain. What does he have to do as a leader? "At the beginning of the year, I had to make sure the freshmen get adjusted well," he said, "as far as school goes, on the ice, and in the community. You have to realize you are being watched wherever you go."
* The Gophers are No. 12 in this week's PairWise ratings, which mimic how the NCAA fills out its tournament field once conference tournaments are done. ... Based on strength of schedule, the U rates only 39th, although that should rise the next couple of weeks.