Zach Budish said he has been coming to Mariucci Arena's weight room in the morning the last month to ride a stationary bike. "To get a little extra workout and drop a few pounds," he said, "and to get ready for the stretch here."
After beating Bemidji State 3-0 on Friday, the first-place Gophers have only five WCHA games left.
"I think it is working," Budish said, a 6-3 redshirt sophomore referring to his extra workouts. "Obviously, I have played well the last couple of weekends."
Budish only had six goals until last weekend in Denver, when he scored once in both of the Gophers' losses. Those goals were not exactly pretty. The one on Friday went in off one of his skates. The referees spent a long time reviewing the play to make sure he did not kick the puck in deliberately.
His goal a week ago Saturday went in while he and a DU defenseman fought for the puck just outside the crease. "I think he tipped it in," Budish said.
"I feel a little lighter out there," said Budish, whose goals against the Beavers were his ninth and 10th of the season. "I don't know if that [the bike work] is 100 percent it. But I think it has helped a little bit. And anything you can do to improve your game a little bit, whether it is on or off the ice, I think you have to do it."
Bjugstad said he weighs 212, 211 now. "I have dropped about a pound a week," he said. "Nothing too crazy. Those three or four pounds have helped improve my foot speed."
His hockey career in recent years has not gone quite like he envisioned.
Three seasons ago, he missed the high school hockey season as a senior at Edina because of ACL surgery on his left knee after a football injury. Last season he missed most of his Gophers' season after the same surgery on his other knee after a moped accident.
"I have matching scars," Budish said. "ACL surgery is a pretty major deal, so it takes a while. You get cleared to play after seven months or so. But it's really until nine months to a year before you feel 100 percent and you have all that strength back. I think i have gotten better here in the second half. And it is just good to win [Friday]."
Lucia said it is easy -- and hard -- to play with good players like Budish has done throughout this season. His center is Nick Bjugstad, who scored his 22nd goal on Friday. The other wing is Kyle Rau, a freshman with 14 goals.
"It is hard because you have to play at a high level, too," Lucia said. "You've got to keep the chain going."
That last phrase, in Budish's case, carries double meaning because of his extra bike work recently. "It gives you better legs late in the game," Lucia said. "It gives you better legs the second night [of a series]."
RAU HAPPY FOR LINEMATE
"[Zach] had a good weekend last weekend and he is carrying it over," Rau said. "It is nice. Hopefully, he keeps going the rest of the year.
"He is a crucial part to [our line]. He grinds it down low for me and Bjuger and opens up some space for us and buries some pucks. He has a good shot."
So has Budish been downcast that his two linemates had double and triple the number of goals he had until his four-goal outbutst the last three games? "No, I think he has been happy that we have been having success as a line. That's all that matters for him," Rau said. "I was excited for him [Friday]. That was fun to watch."
"[Rau] is on a tear right now," Bjugstad said. "He is getting his confidence and he is shooting the puck a lot. He is big and around the net he just finds that puck and he can outmuscle guys
"The first half of the year he was just a passer, but now he is figuring it out that he can shoot as well as anyone. He has great accuracy, a really hard shot. He snaps it off really quick."
* Lucia and on his team not getting a single penalty on Friday for the first time this season: "Last Saturday [against Denver] we took three penalties in the third period and it ultimately cost us two goals and maybe a chance to win a game." Denver rallied for a 4-3 victory in overtime.
"The guys did a good job [Friday]. I thought we played hard, I thought we played physical, but we played smart, too."