U's Bjugstad is center of attention

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2012 - 6:36 AM

Nick Bjugstad is a true hockey phenom and the key to the Gophers' NCAA hopes.

hide

All eyes are on Gophers center Nick Bjugstad, whether for his 21 goals or for the time he spent with kids at the Skating with the Gophers event earlier this month.

Photo: Marisa Wojcik, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Nick Bjugstad gets teased: "I shoot the puck quite a bit -- which I'm told to -- so the guys call me 'Tunnel Vision,' " the Gophers sophomore center said. He gets pranked: He shares an apartment with teammates, and a few Gophers veterans recently sneaked into his room, overturned his bed and dumped his clothes on the floor. He had lost the key to lock his room.

It's part of the unique skill set "Bjugey" possesses, on and off the ice. He is the Gophers' first 20-goal scorer in three seasons and a first-round NHL draft pick, but his teammates can still treat him like one of the guys. He is 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds with fighter's scars, but he was among the most approached -- and approachable -- players at the recent Skate with the Gophers event.

And he's often the best player on the ice, even if he doesn't act like it.

"There are shifts out there when it is just like, whoa, this kid is amazing," said freshman Kyle Rau, Bjugstad's left winger since the first day of practice this season. "Everyone in the crowd knows it. Everyone on the ice knows it."

And everyone knows this: The play of Bjugstad and his linemates will be a major factor in whether the Gophers -- in first place in the WCHA heading into an important home series against Bemidji State this weekend -- make a postseason run or finish outside of the NCAA tournament field for the fourth consecutive season. Bjugstad is tied for second nationally in goals with 21 and has a team-high 34 points, numbers that dwarf his first-year production (eight goals, 12 assists), when he missed five games because of mononucleosis.

"He had a very good second half of his freshman year," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "[Now] he is a year older, he is a year stronger."

Family dream

Bjugstad has a scar on his forehead from a high stick. Another over an eyebrow. His most noticeable scar is on his chin, not from hockey but from a nasty fall on his two-wheel bike when he was a hyperactive 3-year-old.

That energy, though, translated well into hockey. Among his most influential teachers were his father, Mike, and his uncle Scott.

"My dad had me on skates when I could walk," Nick said.

Actually, his father waited until Nick was 2 1/2. "I got him an old pair of double-bladed skates, and he walked around the whole house in them," Mike Bjugstad said. "I was a little bit of a psycho hockey dad."

Nick slept with his plastic hockey stick instead of a blankie. Years later, he named the new family dog -- a black toy poodle -- Puck.

Scott Bjugstad went from Irondale to the Gophers -- he wore No. 27, like Nick -- to the NHL for parts of nine seasons, including five with the North Stars.

"Hockey is our family deal," said Mike Bjugstad, who played for Irondale and Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Mike coached Nick from age 4 to 12, mites to peewees. "I was always hard on him," Mike Bjugstad said. "It wasn't that I didn't compliment him, but I would always add something for him to work on. He was totally the opposite of me.

"He was a nice kid. He doesn't have a mean side to him. I was a real hot-tempered player and could not understand why he didn't have an edge."

When Nick was 5, his family moved to a kid's version of hockey heaven. It was a home near Blaine High School, where he later starred, with a back-yard tennis court -- ideal for in-line skating -- and an outdoor rink across the street come winter. His neighborhood buddies came over daily in the summer for roller hockey, then everyone skated to the Bunker Hills Water Park wave pool nearby.

Nick's parents divorced when he was in fifth grade, and his father stopped coaching him in sixth grade, but Nick remains close to his dad. "I can't thank him enough for all he has done," Nick said.

His mother, Janeen, tried to be the nurturing parent. She knew Nick felt bad enough after games he struggled. Janeen sensed Nick's gift for hockey early -- even though her son was stickman-thin, constantly getting hurt and always having a runny nose during games. She also provided Nick with her "tall" genes. She has a 6-5 brother and cousins who are 6-7 and 6-8, and Nick grew seven inches during his first two years of high school.

Scott, who owns a shooting school, helped his nephew with his shot and offered other hockey advice regularly. Chris Carroll, a trainer who works with the Blaine boys' hockey team, transformed Nick's ultra-thin body through weight lifting and nutrition. "He hypnotized [Nick]," Mike Bjugstad said. "He won't eat fast food -- and no pop."

Bjugstad turned down the chance to leave Blaine to join the United States national development team at Ann Arbor, Mich., for his junior/senior year. Pro scouts, including Fred Bandel of the Florida Panthers, were regulars at Bengals games that season. He accelerated his high school studies to finish a year early. Three months before college, Bjugstad was the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft, selected by the Panthers.

"I could coach another 40 years and not have another kid like him," Bengals coach Dave Aus said. "He did not think he was better than anyone else."

Moving forward

The hockey intelligentsia is convinced Bjugstad will leave college after this season to sign an NHL contract with the Panthers. His parents and Nick insist nothing has been decided.

"I would have no problem coming back for another year or two years," Nick Bjugstad said. "My uncle always tells me this is the most fun you are going to have playing hockey."

Janeen, who still thinks of the 8-pound, 9-ounce baby she wanted to name Bjorn (but was vetoed), says she is "not quite ready to see him go." Scott and Mike also said they hope he stays. Mike wonders whether Nick is ready for the physical NHL game. At the NHL combine before the draft, teams asked him directly: "Are you soft?"

Bandel, who will see Bjugstad 10 to 12 times this season and has noticed a player maturing physically and developing a better all-around game, is unconcerned about his toughness. "He will develop a mean streak," Bandel said. "It is always difficult to tell when someone is 100 percent ready for the NHL, but when you are 6-5 and skate like he does, his size is a tremendous advantage. His reach is incredible. He is like a condor. He covers so much ice."

Bjugstad's reach was on display in a different way earlier this month at the Skate with the Gophers event at Mariucci Arena. Every youngster seemed to want Bjugstad's autograph. He signed, then invited every one behind his table, put one long arm around their shoulders and smiled for photos.

"Nick is a great kid to be around," Gophers defenseman Mark Alt said. "And as far as living with him, he is a little bit on the messy side, but I can deal with that."

His game, for the most part, is clean. Bjugstad, second on the team in shots with 102, had his first collegiate hat trick against St. Cloud State on Nov. 19. In the past five games, Bjugstad is in a mini-slump with one goal and two assists.

"The tough thing about hockey," he said, "is figuring out why you are playing good and what you are doing. I learned this at an early age: It is a big-time mental game."

Indeed. Finding that extra edge down the stretch will be a challenge for Bjugstad, who played on three high school state tournament teams but -- to his dismay -- has never been on a state championship team at any level. His remedy for that is simple.

"A national title would be good," he said. "We have all the ingredients we need."

So does the player who hopes to take them there.

  • GOPHERS MEN'S HOCKEY NICK BJUGSTAD

    Up next: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday vs. Bemidji St. • Mariucci Arena • TV: FSN Plus (Fri.), FSN (Sat.) • Radio: 1500-AM (Fri.), 95.3 FM (Sat.)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Cleveland 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Tennessee 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Detroit 11/23/14 12:00 PM
New England
Green Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Jacksonville 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Cincinnati 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tampa Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Arizona 11/23/14 3:05 PM
Seattle
St. Louis 11/23/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Miami 11/23/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Washington 11/23/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
Dallas 11/23/14 7:30 PM
NY Giants
NY Jets 11/24/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Baltimore 11/24/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Detroit
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Dallas
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Phoenix 122 FINAL
Philadelphia 96
Orlando 105 FINAL
Charlotte 100
Detroit 89 FINAL
Atlanta 99
Milwaukee 83 FINAL
Toronto 124
Boston 100 FINAL
Memphis 117
Cleveland 78 FINAL
Washington 91
Brooklyn 94 FINAL
Oklahoma City 92
San Antonio 121 FINAL
Minnesota 92
LA Lakers 106 FINAL
Dallas 140
New Orleans 97 FINAL
Denver 117
Chicago 87 FINAL
Portland 105
Utah 88 FINAL
Golden State 101
NY Rangers 0 Postponed
Buffalo 0
NY Islanders 5 FINAL(SO)
Pittsburgh 4
Boston 4 FINAL(SO)
Columbus 3
New Jersey 2 FINAL
Edmonton 0
Texas A&M 59 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 50
USC 72 FINAL
Drexel 70
Clemson 70 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Dayton 64 FINAL
Connecticut 75
Akron 51 FINAL
Miami-Florida 79
Seton Hall 68 FINAL
Nevada 60
Valparaiso 59 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 46
UNC Greensboro 79 FINAL
Longwood 81
Syracuse 66 FINAL
Iowa 63
Central Conn St 49 FINAL
Towson 58
Boston College 66 FINAL
West Virginia 70
Ill-Chicago 58 FINAL
Yale 70
Alcorn State 69 FINAL
Hampton 82
LSU 61 FINAL
Old Dominion 70
Prairie View 45 FINAL
Baylor 60
Montana State 0 Postponed
Buffalo 0
Maine 48 FINAL
Central Mich 76
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Eastern Mich 71
Wofford 54 FINAL
Fairfield 36
Troy 60 FINAL
Georgia 82
IUPU-Ft Wayne 69 FINAL
Georgia Tech 78
Stony Brook 65 FINAL
Hofstra 66
Boston Univ 65 FINAL
Kentucky 89
Loyola-Chicago 52 FINAL
Michigan State 87
Toledo 68 FINAL
Oregon 78
Lehigh 74 FINAL
Rider 78
Charlotte 65 FINAL
South Carolina 63
UNLV 60 FINAL
Stanford 89
George Washington 42 FINAL
Virginia 59
Hiwassee 53 FINAL
Western Carolina 72
Texas 71 FINAL
California 55
Florida Memorial 48 FINAL
FIU 74
Southern Ill 51 FINAL
Kent State 74
Bethune-Cookman 50 FINAL
Monmouth 73
New Mexico 69 FINAL
George Mason 58
Delaware State 71 FINAL
Arkansas 99
ULM 56 FINAL
Florida 61
Austin Peay 66 FINAL
Illinois 107
Morehead State 64 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 73
Jarvis Christian 70 FINAL
McNeese State 85
Milwaukee 68 FINAL
Oklahoma State 82
Stephen F Austin 63 FINAL
Xavier 81
Kennesaw St 55 FINAL
North Dakota St 68
North Dakota 72 FINAL
South Dakota St 74
Iona 85 FINAL
Wake Forest 81
Louisiana 80 FINAL
Auburn 105
Georgia State 70 FINAL
Colorado State 80
Marshall 67 FINAL
Louisville 85
Oral Roberts 42 FINAL
Oregon State 55
UC Riverside 42 FINAL
Utah 88
Idaho State 68 FINAL
Washington St 80
Illinois State 73 FINAL
Weber State 64
Florida A&M 49 FINAL
Grand Canyon 64
Sam Houston St 93 FINAL
South Dakota 85
Temple 54 FINAL
Duke 74
Penn State 72 FINAL
Cornell 71
Delaware 60 FINAL
Cal Poly 78
Washington 63 FINAL
Seattle 48
Kansas State 60 FINAL
Long Beach State 69
Presbyterian 38 FINAL
American Univ 63
Pittsburgh 70 FINAL
Hawaii 74
(12) Kansas State 26 FINAL
West Virginia 20
North Carolina 45 FINAL
(25) Duke 20
Arkansas State 27 FINAL
Texas State 45
Kent State 0 Cancelled
Buffalo 0
Texas-El Paso 13 FINAL
Rice 31
Air Force 14 FINAL
San Diego St 30
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Utah State 41
Char Southern 11:00 AM
(9) Georgia
South Alabama 11:00 AM
So Carolina
Rutgers 11:00 AM
(10) Michigan State
Minnesota 11:00 AM
(21) Nebraska
Northwestern 11:00 AM
Purdue
(18) Marshall 11:00 AM
UAB
Kansas 11:00 AM
(23) Oklahoma
Indiana 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Penn State 11:00 AM
Illinois
(14) Eastern Ky 11:00 AM
Florida
TX-San Antonio 11:00 AM
Western Ky
SMU 11:00 AM
UCF
Virginia Tech 11:30 AM
Wake Forest
Washington St 12:00 PM
(13) Arizona State
Louisiana Tech 12:00 PM
Old Dominion
Western Mich 12:00 PM
Central Mich
New Mexico 12:30 PM
(22) Colorado State
Eastern Mich 1:00 PM
Ball State
Appalachian St 1:00 PM
Louisiana
Tulsa 2:00 PM
Houston
(15) Arizona 2:30 PM
(20) Utah
FIU 2:30 PM
North Texas
(8) Ole Miss 2:30 PM
Arkansas
Louisville 2:30 PM
Notre Dame
Maryland 2:30 PM
Michigan
Texas Tech 2:30 PM
Iowa State
(14) Wisconsin 2:30 PM
Iowa
Syracuse 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Boston College 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Georgia State 2:30 PM
Clemson
Tulane 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Stanford 3:00 PM
California
Western Carolina 3:00 PM
(2) Alabama
ULM 3:00 PM
New Mexico St
So Florida 3:00 PM
Memphis
Colorado 3:30 PM
(3) Oregon
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Samford 6:00 PM
(16) Auburn
Miami-Florida 6:00 PM
Virginia
Vanderbilt 6:30 PM
(4) Miss State
(19) Missouri 6:30 PM
Tennessee
Oklahoma State 6:30 PM
(6) Baylor
(24) USC 7:00 PM
(11) UCLA
Cincinnati 7:00 PM
Connecticut
Boise State 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9:30 PM
Washington
Fresno State 9:30 PM
Nevada
UNLV 10:00 PM
Hawaii
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(5) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
(21) Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(18) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(19) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(15) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(11) UCLA
(22) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
BYU 11/29/14 2:00 AM
California
(20) Utah 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Colorado
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Oregon State
Kentucky 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Louisville
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(24) USC
So Carolina 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Clemson
Florida 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(1) Florida State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(25) Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
Montreal 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 11/23/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
TBA 11/30/14 5:00 PM
TBA
Delaware 60 FINAL
East Carolina 89
Wiley 65 FINAL
Sam Houston St 48
SE Louisiana 78 FINAL
Troy 80
St Francis-NY 63 FINAL
North Dakota 70
Eastern Kentucky 56 FINAL
Central Arkansas 55
Chattanooga 53 FINAL
(3) Notre Dame 88
LSU-Alexandria 0 Cancelled
Nicholls 0
UT Martin 47 FINAL
Dayton 78
William & Mary 59 FINAL
NC A&T 57
Eastern Illinois 55 FINAL
Florida State 91
Marquette 77 FINAL
Wake Forest 89
Columbia College 55 FINAL
SC State 97
Rider 51 FINAL
Towson 53
Cleveland State 74 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 79
Jackson State 48 FINAL
Mercer 80
Elon 67 FINAL
Charlotte 54
Hofstra 46 FINAL
Fordham 60
High Point 62 FINAL
NC State 66
Lehigh 74 FINAL
NJIT 54
Alabama A&M 50 FINAL
Samford 61
Morehead St 57 FINAL
Indiana 98
San Diego State 43 FINAL
Furman 60
Columbia 68 FINAL
Stony Brook 82
East Tenn St 79 FINAL
St Francis-PA 63
Evansville 59 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 77
Winthrop 48 FINAL
(4) Tennessee 81
Mount St Marys 42 FINAL
Campbell 60
Alabama 85 FINAL
Kansas 80
Canisius 68 FINAL
Bryant 71
USC 90 FINAL
Long Beach St 85
Saint Louis 74 FINAL
SE Missouri St 56
Graceland 54 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 89
Tulsa 71 FINAL
Oral Roberts 73
ULM 54 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 82
Hampton 46 FINAL
Kansas State 66
Bradley 55 FINAL
Oklahoma 104
Houston 68 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 66
North Florida 53 FINAL
Miami-Florida 81
Arizona 54 FINAL
Texas Tech 57
Massachusetts 56 FINAL
North Texas 46
Kent State 54 FINAL
Northwestern 72
Pepperdine 68 FINAL
(19) Iowa 97
Denver 41 FINAL
Wyoming 82
(24) Gonzaga 89 FINAL
Montana State 60
Boise State 64 FINAL
Southern Utah 66
Temple 81 FINAL
Georgetown 58
Missouri 79 FINAL
UNLV 60
Cal Poly 87 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 79
Montana 50 FINAL
Pacific 62
Portland 41 FINAL
CS-Northridge 45
Villanova 50 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 43
Seattle 62 FINAL
Washington St 82
(14) California 79 FINAL
Hawaii 72
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 am
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pm

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Gophers and Vikings do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close