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.
In the rush to be first on Twitter, an erroneous report came out Monday afternoon that Nick Bjugstad had decided he was going to return to the University of Minnesota.
It had me scurrying to recheck my sources. I had blogged Bjugey, as Gophers coach Don Lucia usually calls him, would decide after Panthers training camp, after he returned home.
Could something have happened to speed up the decision? It's always possible, I suppose. But it turns out, what a source close to Bjugstad told me a while ago, is still true: no decision until after training camp.
The Panthers' first day of camp was Monday and at the end of the day, general manager Dale Tallon was asked about Bjugstad's sophomore season for the Gophers.
"He had a great year," said Talon, who last month got a multi-year extension after the Panthers made the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. "He was disappointed [the Gophers] did not win a national championship. But he is 6-foot-6, 220 pounds right now. So he is going to play at 6-6, 240, maybe more. They are hard to find. We are looking to get centermen and top offensive players and there are not many around. And the ones that are, are expensive.'
Bjugstad, as a rookie, would not be.
Talon said the Panthers are excited about Bjugstad's future -- even if they have to wait.
"Whatever he decides to do, then we will move on with it," Talon said. "If he wants to turn pro and play for a spot, then we will go for it. If he wants to go back to school, then we will let him do that.
"We never tell kids whether to go to juniors or college, or leave college or leave sooner then they are ready. ... It has always been our philosophy [to] let the kids decide what they want to do. And they will kind of tell you when they are ready."
To watch a five-minute interview with Tallon, click here.
LED U IN GOALS, SHOTS
Bjugstad led the Gophers in goals last season with 25. He also was first in shots with 145 and in efficiency, scoring on 17.2 percent of his shots. He was third on the team in points with 42, third with a plus-21 rating, tied for second in power-play goals with eight and had three game-winners, one hat trick and three unassisted goals.
He turns 20 later this month. He accelerated his studies in high school at Blaine so he could finish in three years and join the Gophers early.
He was always listed at 6-5, 211 last season, so it seems he has grown an inch and put on about 10 pounds since the start of last season.
* Kyle Rau, Bjugstad's left wing, is also at the Panthers camp. ... So are four other first-round draft picks. Florida took Bjugstad at No. 19 in the first round of the 2010 NHL draft.
My first reaction last night, when the NBC Sports Network broadcasters talked about supplemental discipline to Gophers forward Kyle Rau was, they really don't know what they are talking about. Maybe they are just trying to add a little drama to their telecast.
But they were right. The WCHA came down with a one-game suspension.
So the question is why?
I am not condoning Kyle Rau's play. It should have been a penalty. And with college hockey's emphasis on hits from behind, hits to the head and dangerous plays this season, I can see it being a major penalty and a game misconduct.
But an extra game? Didn't see that. Not at all.
I know Kyle Rau. He doesn't look like he could hurt anyone. He is 5-8, 172. But he likes to play physical. Says when he hits guys -- even those much bigger than him -- it gets him more into the game.
He has not had a major penalty this season until Friday. He is not a dirty player. Clearly, this one time he hit Jason Zucker along the boards after the Wild prospect had gotten rid of the puck. Rau was called for boarding.
Don't think he was trying to hurt Zucker, but he did. Zucker lay on his stomach for the longest time, was finally turned over and gingerly walked to the dressing room with help.
Zucker didn't see Rau coming, but it seems the injury was caused by Zucker going backward into the boards. Rau didn't hit him in the back. It was a hit to the upper chest and maybe Zucker's head. Hard to tell. Wish I could see a close-up.
Rau got a one-game suspension because ...
College hockey is trying to clean up the game
Zucker was hurt and missed the rest of the game ... and probably will miss tonight's game
And, just maybe, the referees thought the Gophers were trying to rough Zucker up. In the first period, Nick Bjugstad cut Zucker's chin with a high stick. Looked unintentional, but Zucker was bleeding and left the bench for medical attention.
No doubt the referees noted that in their game report to league officials.
My point is, if Zucker gets up and continues to play, if there is no split chin, Rau doesn't get an extra game.
Rau has a real high hockey IQ, his coaches say, he will learn from this.
And he probably feels bad for Zucker, who was the captain for the U.S. team in the World Junior Championships. How odd that Bjugstad and Rau, two of his teammates, were the ones to hurt him twice on Friday.
* The two extra players the Gophers took with them to DU were forward Tom Serratore and defenseman Chris Student. Serratore will undoubtedly be in the lineup tonight in Rau's place.
The Gophers have played 20 games so far and 13 players -- seven forwards, five defensemen and one goalie -- have played in every game.
But two of those forwards, Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, are gone this week competing in the World Junior Championships and won't play in the Mariucci Classic on Friday and Saturday. So what new faces will Gophers fans see this weekend?
Here is a look at the Gophers roster and some thoughts:
The 13 iron men so far
Forwards/ Bjugstad, Rau -- their streak ends Friday -- Erik Haula, Taylor Matson, Jake Hansen, Zach Budish and Nate Condon
Defensemen/ Nate Schmidt, Mark Alt, Seth Helgeson, Justin Holl, Ben Marshall
Goalie/ Kent Patterson
Played in 19 games: forwards Seth Ambroz and Tom Serratore
Played in 18 games: forward Sam Warning
Played in 17 games: forward Travis Boyd, defenseman Jake Parenteau
Played in 16 games: forward Nick Larson ... missed last game on Dec. 10 versus Michigan Tech with flu
Expect the 11 iron men still with the team to play ... also the six players who have missed only one to four games. That's 17 players, need two forwards more each night. Here are the candidates:
Nico Sacchetti. Senior from Virginia. Played 104 games in his first three seasons Expected to be a goal-scorer. Has played in only five games, zero points. Role on team has diminished. 25 percent chance of playing
Christian Isackson. Freshman, played at Sioux Falls of USHL last season. Sidelined with infection for a while. Has size at 6-0, 185, potential. Pointless in five games. 60 percent chance
Joey Miller. Senior from Wayzata, alternate captain. Highly popular on team. Scored goal in last Gophers' game, his first game of season. 50 percent chance
Jared Larson. Sophomore forward from Apple Valley. Came to U via Fairbanks of NAHL. Played in eight games last season, none this year. 5 percent chance
OK, none are missing this weekend. But if Lucia wants to throw in somebody new, the candidates are:
Blake Thompson. Big defenseman (6-2, 212) from Eden Prairie who played at Waterloo of USHL last season. Has played in only three games. Had penalty problems in two of them. Coach Lucia impressed with him in last game. Out for a while with mono. 75 percent chance
Chris Student. Sophomore transfer from Northeastern, a team Gophers could play in second game of Mariucci Classic. Practiced with team all of last season -- when he was ineligible -- and first half of this season without playing when he could have. Has to be itchy to get on the ice. Had two assists in 24 games as freshman at Northeastern in 2009-10, 5 percent chance
Patterson has played every minute of every game except when the Gophers pulled him for an extra skater. Who knows when his streak will end, but here are the other two goalies on the roster in case you don't know their names:
Mike Shibrowski. Sophomore from Benilde-St. Margaret's via Colorado College and Des Moines. Played half a season at CC, but got into only two games. Won only start, beating Mercyhurst 5-3 on Feb. 6, 2010. Was 21-16-5 for Des Moines of USHL last season. ... Backup to Kent Patterson, so if Patterson gets hurt or is ill, Shibrowski will play. 10 percent
Jake Kremer. Senior from Eden Prairie. Has only played in exhibition games. Practice goalie. Would get in only if Patterson and Shibrowski were both unable to play. 1 percent
Three keys to the Gophers beating the Wisconsin Badgers on Friday at the Kohl Center:
1) Get the power play clicking again. It is still fourth in the nation at 28.3 percent but used to be a runaway No. 1 until a one-for-17 cold spell in the past three games. Wisconsin seems like the team to get the pp going. The Badgers have the worst penalty kill in the WCHA at 69.0 percent. In comparison, the Gophers pk is at 88.5 percent, tied for 12th nationally.
Where is the Badgers pk nationally? No. 56, only Vermont and Harvard are below UW.
2) Watch Justin Schultz. He is a very offensive defenseman. Gophers coach Don Lucia said he is one of the best players in the country. The maroon and gold have to be aware of him every time he steps on the ice and he will be out there a lot. Every other shift.
3) Clear the crease around Kent Patterson. If he sees the puck, he will stop it. The Badgers have some size at left wing where they are 6-4, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.
As if the Gophers needed more incentive, if they win tonight it will Lucia's 300th win at Minnesota in 13 years. He is 299-160-53 despite four down seasons in a row. His first Gophers win game in his fifth game at the U of M. The Gophers beat Boston College 6-5 on Oct. 29, 1999.
Should have the Gophers' line memorized by now -- they don't change. So from memory:
Kyle Rau-Nick Bjugstad-Zach Budish ... Rau and Bjugstad both scored their eighth goal of the season last game. Bjugey matched his season total for all of last year. Budish only has three goals but has 11 assists.
Sam Warning-Erik Haula-Jake Hansen ... Haula remains the leading scorer in the nation, but his hold is slipping. He has not had a point in three games, partly because the penalty kill is 1 for 17 in those games. Haula has seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points.
Nate Condon-Taylor Matson-Seth Ambroz ... Condon and Matson are two of team's top penalty killers.
Tom Serratore-Travis Boyd-Nick Larson ... This line scored two big goals, one each night, against North Dakota.
Wow. Got 'em with a minimum of thinking. Just came to me.
Ben Marshall-Mark Alt
Jake Parenteau-Nate Schmidt
Seth Helgeson-Justin Holl
Joe LaBate-Mark Zengerle-Tyler Barnes ... two Minnesota players here. Both from Eagan, although LaBate played for Holy Angels and Barnes for Burnsville ... Barnes leads team with five goals
Michael Mersch-Keegan Meuer-Matt Pappe ... seven goals on this second line
Brendan Woods-Jefferson Dahl-Ryan Little ... five goals total
Brad Navin-Jason Clark-Sean Little ... zero goals
Frankie Simonelli-Justin Schultz ... Schultz is The Man for UW, all-american, Hobey finalist, defensive player of year in WCHA ,,, has four goals and 14 points
Eric Springer-John Ramage
Patrick Daly-Joe Faust ... two Minnesotans, both NHL draft picks but young, Daly is a fr., Faust a soph.
The Gophers will lose seven players for sure off this season's team -- all are seniors -- after this season. They are:
Taylor Matson, team captain, third-line center, one of team's best penalty killers, fast
Jake Hansen, big second-line winger, hangs around net on power play, physical, getting lot of assists
Nick Larson, fourth-line wing, another valuable penalty killer, chips in with big goals sometimes like last Sat. vs. UND
Nico Sacchetti, has played little so far, third- or fourth-line player, showed flashes in past
Joey Miller, barely plays but shows energy when he gets on the ice, good teammate
Kent Patterson, iron man, always plays, five shutouts, sub-2.00 goals-against avg., playing like all-american
Jake Kremer, practice goalie, thankless job
Then there is the chance someone could turn pro and leave early. Most likely flight risk:
Nick Bjugstad, first-line sophomore center has NHL size, off to great start with eight goals, Florida 1st rd. pick in '10
NEXT WAVE OF RECRUITS
So where does that leave the Gophers? Obviously, they will have at least seven spots open on their roster for the 2012-13 season. Here are the six players expected to come in -- and one maybe:
Connor Reilly, Penticton (BCHL), age 20 now, 6-0, 170 ... 10 g, 17 assists -- 27 pts. in 17 games ... signed Nov. 2010
Ryan Reilly, Penticton (BCHL), 20, 5-8-1/2, 165 ... 6-8--14 in 17 games ... signed Nov. 2010
A.J. Michaelson, Waterloo (USHL), 17, 6-0, 185 .... 1-1--2 in 10 games ... expected to sign in next week
Justin Kloos, Lakeville South (MSHSL), 17, 5-9, 177 ... will sign Wed., if roster spot opens, will play next season at U
Mike Reilly, Penticton (BCHL), 18, 6-0, 165 ...10-11--21 in 15 gms ... will sign in next week, Columbus 4th rd. pick in '11
Brady Skjei, u-18 U.S. team (USHL), 17, 6-2, 203 ... expected to sign, playing in Swiss tourney, eligible for 2012 NHL draft
Adam Wilcox, Green Bay (USHL), 18, 6-0, 171 ... 4-2 with 2.67 gaa, .906 save pct., Tampa Bay 6th rd. pick in '11
Gophers will add walk-on goalie, too, for practice
When the Gophers will officially announce their November signings is hard to say. Last year it took especially long -- several weeks.
Committed players, coming in for 2013-14 at earliest
Taylor Cammarata, Waterloo (USHL), 16, 5-6, 145 ... 3-8--11 in 11 games, prolific scorer at Shattuck-SM last season
Gabe Guertler, Fargo (USHL), 16, 5-9, 170 ...4-1--5 in 12 games, from Plantation, Fla.
Vinni Lettieri, Minnetonka (MSHSL), 16, 5-8-1/2. 165 ... junior at 'Tonka, 14-13--27 in fall Elite League, Lou Nanne's grandson
Lou Nanne, Edina (MSHSL), 17, 5-10, 165 ... junior at Edina, 7-13--20 in fall Elite League in 20 games, Nanne's grandson
Mike Brodzinski, Blaine (MSHSL), 5-9-1/2, 182 ... junior in high school, older brother headed for St. Cloud State
3 FUTURE GOPHERS IN INT'L MEETS
Forward A.J. Michaelson of Waterloo (USHL) and defenseman Mike Reilly of Penticton (BCHL) are playing for the U.S. team competing in the World Junior A Challenge in Surrey, British Columbia. Both are expected to be part of the Gophers' next incoming freshman class.
Forward Mario Lucia, Reilly's Penticton teammate, is on the U.S. team, too. It is the three-time defending champion in the Challenge but lost its first game on Monday, 1-0 to Sweden on a goal in the last seconds. ... Lucia, of course, is Don Lucia's younger son and was a Wild's second-round draft pick in 2011. He will sign with Notre Dame, his dad's alma mater.
Defenseman Brady Skjei is with his under-18 U.S. national team in Switzerland right now, playing in the Four Nations' Cup which runs through Sunday. Skjei's team has an exhibition game with Switzerland on Wednesday, then plays Sweden on Friday, Finland on Saturday and Switzerland on Sunday. Tough grind.
Lakeville South senior center Justin Kloos, who will sign with the Gophers in a ceremony at school on Wednesday morning, recently finished a big season in the Upper Midwest Elite League. Kloos, who played for Team Southeast, led the league with 17 goals and 47 points in 21 games. His team was 14-4-3 (third number is overtime losses) and was the Elite League regular-season champion.
Kloos' high school team was 16-9-2 last season when he had 90 points; it lost in the section finals.
One of his Team Southeast teammates was Jake Guentzel, whose father Mike is the Gophers' associate head coach. Jake, playing on the same line with Kloos, was second in the Elite League in points with 41. He had 14 goals.
REILLYS LIKE PENTICTON
The parents of the three Reillys, Mike and Lisa, visited Penticton about three weeks.
"They love it [Penticton]," said their father, Mike. "They are buddies with Mario [Lucia], [Steven] Fogarty, [Joey] Benik and some of the other Minnesota kids."
He said Connor and Ryan are staying with one billet family, Mike, their upimger brother, and Mario Lucia with another billet family.
"The USHL might ask why would a group of kids from Minnesota go up there?" Mike Reilly, sr., said. "It's a good opportunity to experience something different."
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