Two more Gophers hockey players leave program early

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2013 - 8:13 PM

A day after defenseman Nate Schmidt announced he was turning pro, two more juniors on the Gophers hockey team — Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish — followed suit Wednesday.

Bjugstad, a 6-5 center, signed an entry-level deal with Florida, which picked him 19th overall in the first round of the 2010 NHL draft. Budish, chosen by Nashville in the second round of the 2009 draft, signed an amateur tryout contract with the Predators’ AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.

Bjugstad, 20, pondered whether to turn pro for several months last year before announcing in July that he would return for a third season. Though he did not win the NCAA championship he wanted — and was emotional after the Gophers’ 3-2 overtime loss to Yale in their West Regional opener last Friday — Gophers coach Don Lucia said Bjugstad was ready to turn pro.

Schmidt, a free agent, signed a two-year entry-level contract with Washington on Tuesday. Junior center Erik Haula also could depart; his adviser has been in contact with the Wild, which chose him in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. The Gophers had only one senior on this season’s roster — defenseman Seth Helgeson — and plan to bring in four forwards from the junior ranks next fall.

“I can’t thank the University of Minnesota enough for three great years,’’ said Bjugstad, who led the Gophers with 21 goals this season. “I loved every minute of my time here.’’

Bjugstad and Budish, with 36 points each, tied for third in team scoring; Haula led with a career-high 51 points, two more than last season. Schmidt was sixth with 31 points. Bjugstad, Budish and Schmidt combined for 44 of the Gophers’ 139 goals.

At 6-6 and 220 pounds, Bjugstad’s size, skating ability and offensive skills made him a top-flight pro prospect. He served as an alternate captain this season and led the nation’s top-ranked power play, scoring 11 goals. Budish, the Gophers’ captain, will graduate this spring after taking a redshirt year to recover from knee surgery in 2010.

Hobey a Minnesotan?

St. Cloud State forward Drew LeBlanc of Hermantown, Minn., and Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell of White Bear Lake are among three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in Division I college hockey. Both seniors led their teams to their first Frozen Four.

LeBlanc, a two-year captain, leads the nation with 37 assists and has 50 points. Hartzell is 29-6-5 this season and was named ECAC player of the year. He anchors the nation’s top defense (1.63 goals against per game).

Johnny Gaudreau, a sophomore forward from Boston College, is the third finalist. The Hobey Baker Award winner will be announced April 12 during the Frozen Four.

WCHA coaches honored

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