Jason Gonzalez has covered an array of sports at all levels over the last six years. He learned ice hockey, however, long before — during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah (his hometown). He got a close up look of legendary Gophers alum Herb Brooks and other Minnesota hockey greats. Jason is nearing two years with the Star Tribune.
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The Gophers had extra help on the blue line at Wednesday’s practice.
Former standout Nick Bjugstad suited up as a defenseman to help fill some of the Gophers' defensive holes as they prepare for No. 10 Michigan.
Though not his natural position, Bjugstad and Gophers junior defenseman Ben Marshall riled up their former and current teammates during the afternoon’s final drill that showcased Bjugstad’s scoring ability. He has 23 points (13 goals, eight assists) in 52 games this season with the NHL’s Florida Panthers.
The center is only a year removed from playing at Mariucci Arena and has already become a regular in the Panthers’ lineup. Bjugstad is on a three-week break as the NHL pauses for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Bjugstad’s presence on Wednesday helped fill the void of Gophers freshman defenseman Michael Brodzinski. Though he was briefly back on the ice this week, Brodzinski is still rehabbing a lower-body injury and isn’t expected to return for two-plus weeks.
Senior forward Tom Serratore is practicing with the team again after missing two weeks with a lower-body injury. He could return to game competition as early as Friday.
“We’re getting better,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said about his team's health. “Tommy is practicing right now. We’ll see how he progresses during the course of the week. If he gets through the week and feels good, he’ll be able to play Friday night.”
Serratore and defenseman Jake Bischoff wore no-hitting tops during Wednesday’s practice. Bischoff suffered several big hits during last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Wisconsin, but he is expected to be available this weekend.
• For the first time this season, the Gophers were left off the Big Ten’s weekly Three Stars.
There wasn’t much to celebrate about the rare back-to-back losses at Wisconsin. The Gophers scored just two goals and were scoreless in both third periods, last weekend.
Badgers goaltender Joel Rumpel was honored for his impressive effort against the former No. 1 team in college hockey. Rumpel was the Big Ten’s First Star after recording 59 saves and giving up just two goals against one of the nation’s top two scoring teams.
Rumpel leads Big Ten goalies in winning percentage (.794), goals-against average (1.90) and save percentage (.933). It’s his second Big Ten honor of the season.
The Gophers' streak of honors ends at 13 weeks.
• Up next: No. 10 Michigan at No. 2 Gophers, Friday 8 p.m. and Saturday 7 p.m.
Wednesday's media access video
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Gophers defenseman Brady Skjei:
Gophers coach Don Lucia: