Gophers live up to the hype in hockey opener

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 13, 2012 - 9:24 AM

Nick Bjugstad made a statement about returning for the season, getting the winning goal and an assist.

The reality of the NHL lockout will occur on Saturday night when over in St. Paul the Wild's season opener will cease to exist.

But fans starved for hockey don't have to stay hungry.

Over at the University of Minnesota campus, the Gophers vowed to roll this season. Judging by Friday's opener, they could live up to the hype.

The Gophers, the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, made easy work of Michigan State 5-1 at Mariucci Arena and will look for the weekend sweep on Saturday night.

"We kind of got some preseason glory, which sometimes can't always be the best thing," said first-line center Nick Bjugstad.

"We're just trying not to let it get to our head."

Bjugstad is also doing his best to stay grounded after Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland, the liaison between Bjugstad and the NHL team that drafted him in 2010, compared his 6-foot-6 frame to that of Mario Lemieux and his hands to Wayne Gretzky's in Thursday's Star Tribune.

Bjugstad, the WCHA preseason player of the year, said with a big laugh that he has taken a lot of grief from teammates. Regardless if he becomes the second coming of "Mario" and "Gretz," last year's leading goal scorer made an immediate statement by triggering his junior season with the winning goal and an assist.

"He's a man amongst boys," defenseman Nate Schmidt said of Bjugstad. "You can't get the puck away from the guy. He just holds it out and says, 'If you want to go get it, you can try,' but he never lets anyone in that close."

The Gophers scored three times in the first period and rolled from there, with Christian Isackson scoring the first goal of his college career and Ben Marshall, Erik Haula and Travis Boyd adding goals.

Captain Zach Budish assisted on two goals, as did freshman defenseman Mike Reilly. Reilly was plus-3, his defense partner Mark Alt plus-4.

Junior Michael Shibrow- ski, who played one period last season, had his shutout bid ruined with four minutes left but impressed with 25 saves.

"I was probably the most anxious to see [him]," coach Don Lucia said. "We did a good job in front of him early protecting him until he could settle in. And then he made a couple big saves, and I thought he looked comfortable."

The Gophers looked sloppy at times with turnovers in the second and third periods.

It helped that the Gophers provided a three-goal cushion, including goals 2:13 apart in the first by Marshall and Bjugstad.

The Bjugstad goal came when Kyle Rau caught the Spartans napping by deftly sending a pass into open space as Reilly was getting out of the penalty box. That created a 2-on-1 with Bjugstad, who gathered a pass in his skates and caught Will Yanakeff out of position.

Seven minutes later, Bjug-stad set up Isackson, who played 11 scoreless games last season. Isackson, who had a hat trick in last weekend's exhibition, looks at home on the right side of Rau and Bjugstad.

Reilly and freshman de- fenseman Brady Skjei both impressed in their debuts and showed why there's such gridlock on the deep blue line. Schmidt's defense partner all of last season, Jake Parenteau, had to play forward Friday, and Justin Holl was scratched.

But expect lineup changes Saturday, including freshman Adam Wilcox in goal, as the Gophers look to sweep the Spartans and avenge last season's winless trip to East Lansing.

  • GOPHERS 5, MICHIGAN STATE 1

    Up next: Up next: 8 tonight vs. Michigan State • Mariucci Arena • TV: FSN (1500-AM)

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