Bjugstad hungry for payoff as postseason begins

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2013 - 11:54 AM

Gophers center Nick Bjugstad, who has four goals in the past three games, wants a big championship trophy from a tournament like his linemates won in high school. He has two shots left, the Final Five and the NCAA tournament.


Nick Bjugstad takes a shot in the third period of the Winter Classic at Soldier Field.

Photo: Foster Snell, Dml - Foster Snell

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

As the 19th pick in the 2010 NHL draft — and as a guy who stands 6-8 in skates — Nick Bjugstad usually attracts the most attention of anyone on the Gophers’ top line. In one way, though, the junior center feels like the odd man out.

Left wing Kyle Rau won two Class 2A championships at Eden Prairie. Right wing Christian Isackson won a Class 1A title at St. Thomas Academy. And Bjugstad? He made it to the state tournament three times with Blaine but never hoisted a trophy.

That unfulfilled desire led Bjugstad back to the Gophers this season. As the end nears, he has shifted into high gear, just in time for the Gophers’ first-round WCHA playoff series against Bemidji State starting Friday. Bjugstad scored three goals last weekend as the Gophers swept the Beavers for a share of the conference regular-season title. During the Gophers’ current three-game winning streak, he has netted the winning goal in each game and has four goals and an assist.

Coach Don Lucia has repeated one of his favorite themes over the past two weeks, saying the Gophers’ top-end players must shine if they are to challenge for a WCHA playoff championship and an NCAA title. Bjugstad said he doesn’t need to be reminded, given the empty space in his résumé.

“I never won a big championship growing up, and I really hope we can do it this year,’’ said Bjugstad, whose 20 goals lead the Gophers and rank sixth in the nation. “The big stage is fun. I really like it. It’s a tough thing to win a championship, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.’’

This could be his final chance. A first-team all-WCHA selection and second-team all-America last year, Bjugstad seriously considered turning pro over the summer. But he came back to be part of a close, talented group of teammates and see what they might achieve.

The Gophers’ third-leading scorer with 35 points, Bjugstad also is among the national leaders with 10 power-play goals (tied for third) and five game-winning goals (tied for seventh). He is a key contributor to the nation’s best power play and highest-scoring offense, and Lucia likes how his game has grown beyond scoring.

As a first-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers, Bjugstad is judged by most people strictly on how many pucks he puts into the net, Lucia said. He is slightly behind his scoring pace of last season, when he finished with 25 goals in 40 games, but he has more game-winners and power-play goals. He also is developing as a sound defensive player, a physical presence at both ends of the ice and a workhorse on the penalty kill.

“Sometimes, the expectation is that he’s going to score 40 goals,’’ Lucia said. “No, he’s not. It’s too hard to do that the way college hockey is today. I think he’s got a little presence to him now. Nick is effective in a lot of areas of the rink, not just scoring. He’s had a good year, no question. And when you get to this time of year, our top offensive players have to carry us.’’

Lucia said several of them have had more productive second halves. Bjugstad, for instance. He has 22 of his 35 points, and 12 of his 20 goals, in the 19 games since Christmas break.

As he has gained experience and maturity, Bjugstad said, he feels ready to shoulder greater expectations in the late stages this season. Last year’s run to the Frozen Four, when the Gophers lost in the semifinals, taught him not to overthink things. Over the past few games, he said he has not changed his mindset or approach. Rather, his line is clicking because everyone is staying on task, which has allowed him to score more.

He won’t ever equal the high school achievements of his linemates who won state championships, but they can think of nothing better than winning a title together. “It would be really special for all of us, but especially for Nick,’’ Isackson said.

“He’s worked so hard. He deserves it.’’



    Game 1: 7 p.m. Friday • Mariucci Arena • TV: FSN (1500-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 3
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 12 FINAL
Seattle - LP: E. Ramirez 4
Washington - LP: D. Fister 4 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Kendrick 8
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Smyly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 1
Boston - LP: T. Layne 2 FINAL
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 5
NY Yankees - WP: S. Greene 8 FINAL
Detroit - LP: D. Price 4
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: Z. Wheeler 2
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: M. Latos 7
Cleveland - LP: C. Kluber 2 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: H. Noesi 3
Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes 1 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: W. Davis 6
Oakland - WP: D. Otero 5 FINAL
Houston - LP: C. Qualls 4
Milwaukee - LP: Z. Duke 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: D. Thayer 3
Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw 3 FINAL
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 1
Miami - LP: H. Alvarez 1 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: H. Santiago 6
Colorado - LP: J. Nicasio 2 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: S. Casilla 4
Atlanta 5:00 PM
Detroit 6:00 PM
Indianapolis 6:00 PM
Kansas City 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 6:00 PM
St. Louis 6:00 PM
Carolina 6:30 PM
New England 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 7:00 PM
Denver 7:00 PM
Minnesota 7:00 PM
San Francisco 7:00 PM
Arizona 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 9:00 PM
(21) Texas A&M 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 6:02 PM
Boise State 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 7:00 PM
Temple 8:15 PM
Rutgers 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Los Angeles 4
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pm
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA




question of the day

Poll: Which football team will have the best record in 2014?

Weekly Question