Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
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."
The Gophers have not fared well in recent seasons going against North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux hold a 6-3-2 edge in their last 11 meetings going back to mid-January 2009.
Three keys to the Gophers beating the Sioux tonight:
1. Stop UND's top line. Brock Nelson, Corban Knight and Danny Kristo all are tied for the team lead in goals and formed a potent first line. But the Sioux broke them up for Friday's game at least. Knight and Kristo are still together, paired with freshman Mark MacMillian on the first line. But Nelson is on another line now. Obviously, UND is looking for more scoring, The Gophers still need to focus on Knight and Kristo.
2. Get more penalties, which lead to more power plays. The Gophers have the No. 1 pp in the country but it can't score if the Gophers never have the man advantage. Last game up in Alaska, the Gophers had only three power plays and for the first time this season didn't score a pp goal. Getting to the Sioux to commit penalties shouldn't be hard. What will be is to not retaliate. One guy going into the box from each side doesn't help the U. So the Gophers have to play smart. Be physical when that is called for, be poised when they can gain an advantage.
3. Put Kent Patterson in goal. That in itself is a big move. KP was named the Hockey Commissioners Association's Division I Player of the Month on Friday for October. He was 7-1-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average. He is confident and his teammates are confident in him. Makes it a lot easier to take the ice against any opponent.
Patty just has to keep doing what he has been doing, when is controlling rebounds, making his job look easy, playing his angles. In my mind, his biggest competition for the award was Erik Haula, who led the nation in scoring with seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points in eight games. What a pace.
OTHER U PLUSES
As blogged earlier, Kyle Rau of the Gophers was named the National Rookie of the Month. Quite the awards haul for the maroon and gold. All he did was lead all freshmen in goals (seven) and points (13).
Next Wednesday is the start of a week-long signing period and the Gophers will sign six or seven, coach Don Lucia said a couple days ago.
But the recruiting news is already good. On Thursday, Taylor Cammarata committed to the Gophers. Don't know who he is? You will.
He is a 5-6, 145-pound dynamo with the puck. Waterloo took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the USHL futures draft last April and so far he has three goals and eight assists in 11 games.
Last season he had 71 goals and 68 assists playing for the 16-and-under Shattuck-St. Mary's team. He is only 16.
He is from Maple Grove.
LINES -- STATUS QUO
Lucia has kept his top three lines in tact:
On the fourth line are Tom Serratore, who has played every game, with Travis Boyd and Nick Larson. Boyd has played in six of the Gophers' eight games, Larson in five.
To beat Vermont on Friday night, the Gophers need to:
1) Eliminate big mistakes on defense. They made several costly turnovers at UMD last weekend and it nearly cost the Gophers. Two plays I especially remember. Defenseman Nate Schmidt coughed up the puck at the attacking blue line and seconds later it was in the Gophers net. Defenseman Seth Helgeson, behind the extended goal line, had a clearing pass picked off in the lower right circle and it turned into a goal, too.
Vermont does not have a lot of firepower. No returning 10-goal scorers. So they could have a hard time scoring against Kent Patterson unless the Gophers help them.
2. Get an early lead. The Gophers have done that consistently this season. It relaxes everyone, builds confidence and puts doubts in the opponent's mind, especially since the Catamounts are playing their first game. Remember, too, who Vermont has in the nets. Rob Madore will be playing in his 100th game. If he starts out well, he would be hard to beat. He is a veteran's veteran. Played in Frozen Four as freshman, in NCAA regional as sophomore. He has won big games. Won't be rattled.
3. Keep the power play cooking. It was six for nine last weekend, that's incredibly hot. Hard to match, but one or two power play goals make it a lot easier to win. Move the puck, shoot the puck. Put pressure on the goalie. Get deflections, tips, rebounds.
Eight WCHA teams are playing conference games this weekend. Three are playing nonconference series, all against Hockey East opponents, while Colorado College is idle.
The big series for Gophers fans, of course, is at Mariucci Arena. So let's take a look at the Gophers vs. Catamounts first:
Vermont (0-0-0) at Gophers (4-0-0, 2-0-0): One team has played four games, including two that it won in overtime. The other has not played yet. Big edge to the No. 8/10 Gophers there, especially in first game. Five Gophers have scored at least one point in every game and the U has at least one goal in every period. That's consistency. Goalie Kent Patterson is playing well. He has two shutouts and two 46-save games, ... Vermont will have to rely on senior goalie Rob Madore, who will play in his 100th game on Friday. He hd a 2.98 goals-against average and was the Catamounts' MVP last season. And he has seen everything in college hockey. He played in the Frozen Four as a freshman.Vermont was picked to finish sixth in the 10-team Hockey East. ... Gophers SWEEP
Minnesota Duluth (1-3-0) at Providence (2-0-0): UMD is 14-7-1 all-time vs. the Friars and beat them 5-3 and 7-1 last season at the DECC. The Bulldogs last played the Friars in Rhode Island in November of 1998. Last weekend the Bulldogs outshot the visiting Gophers 100-60 but lost two 5-4 games, the first one in overtime. Travis Oleksuk has a goal in all four games for UMD. But the Bulldogs' goaltending has been shakey. UMD opponents are eight for 18 on power plays (44.4 percent). UMD is below .500 for the first time since the end of the 2007-08 season. ... Providence is the surprise team of Hockey East so far. The Friars have scored 11 goals in two games -- a 5-3 win over Boston University and a 6-4 win over UMass -- and has five players with three points, including junior defenseman Myles Harvey with three goals, two on power plays. Harvey had not scored a goal in 53 games coming into this season. The Friars new coach is Nate Leaman. Last season he was at Union, the team that UMD beat 2-0 in an East Regional semifinal. Providence was picked to finish 10th in the coaches' preseason Hockey East poll. ... SPLIT
New Hampshire (0-3-0) at St. Cloud State (1-3-0, 0-0-0): The Huskies are coming off 5-2 and 3-2 losses at Northern Michigan. Jared Festler has a goal for the Huskies in each of the past three games and has six points total. Team captain Drew LeBlanc has a four-game points streak; he has one goal and four assists and has 90 career points. ... New Hampshire was picked to finish third in Hockey East, but has lost three conference games to start the season, falling to Boston University 5-0, Northeastern 4-0 and Boston College 5-1. The Wildcats outshot BC 40-25. Coach Dick Umile, in his 22th season at N.H., remains stuck at 299 conference wins. But he would like any win at this point. ... SPLIT
After two weekends, WCHA teams are 14-12-2 in 28 nonconference games. They are 7-0-0 against Atlantic Hockey, 4-6-0 vs. the CCHA, 2-4-1 vs. Hockey East and 1-2-1 vs. the ECAC.
Inside College Hockey (INCH) recently rated the top recruiting classes. The Gophers' class, led by forwards Kyle Rau and Seth Ambroz and defenseman Ben Marshall, was rated No. 9.
Miami was rated No. 1, North Dakota No. 2 and Denver No. 5.
Rau was rated No. 9 among forwards, Marshall No. 5 among defensemen. Vermont also had two defensemen in th top 20: No. 13 Mike Paliotta and No. 19 Nick Luukko.
* The Independent Scouting Service recently ranked the top prospects for the 2012 NHL draft. Defenseman Brady Skjei, a Gophers recruit, was No. 29. The 6-3, 203-pound Skjei plays for the under-18 U.S. national team in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Gophers lines for Saturday:
1st line/ Mike Hoeffel-Nick Bjugstad-Nick Larson ... Top line had two shots on goal and was a combined minus-5 ... Need to do better
2nd line/ Jacob Cepis-Erik Haula-Jake Hansen ... Easily best line on Friday. Hansen had five shots and penalty shot goal, Cepis has four shots, Haula two. But Haula committed slashing penalty which led to game-winning goal.
3rd line/ Nate Condon-Pat White-Jay Barriball ... Another line that was a combined minus-5.
4th line/ Tom Serratore-Nico Sacchetti-Joe Miller ... line which is supposed to provide energy. Maybe Gophers should start them tonight.
1st/ Seth Helgeson-Cade Fairchild ... One shot between them on net.
2nd/ Aaron Ness-Mark Alt ... Ness had second goal of season Fri. on power play
3rd/ Kevin Wehrs-Jake Parenteau ... Wehrs scored his third goal of the season Friday on a nice rush and fire ... Parentau takes fr. Justin Holl's place in the lineup. Only change.
Goalie: Kent Patterson ... Hope KP didn't have too many nightmares about his bad turnover which led directly to UAA's third goal
Remember game is on FSN tonight, not one of the alternates.
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