Hudson Fasching is trying not to get too amped up, but there's a reason "words can't describe" how excited he is to play at Mariucci Arena.
He'll play in front of a slew of friends and family. He'll play against future hockey teammates. And his appearance will provide Gophers fans a sneak peek at a piece of the program's future.
Fasching, a power forward considered the finest of the Gophers' stacked incoming freshman class next year, hopes to strut his stuff Friday when the U.S. Under-18 national team plays the Gophers in an exhibition game.
"It'll be a thrill to be out there playing in front of those fans," said Fasching, 17, a former Apple Valley High standout. "It'll be the first time I can kind of show them what I've got. Going to see friends and family, and to play in front of them and play my future school, it'll be cool to finally have fans a little bit on your side.
"Most of the time we're going to places where literally nobody is cheering." He added with a chuckle, "You score, and you're like, 'Well, I'm excited at least.' "
Fasching is considered by many to be the eventual replacement for Nick Bjugstad, who will likely sign with the Florida Panthers next spring. It starts with their similar builds (Fasching is 6-4 and 230 pounds).
"We're both kind of the big, tall guy with blond hair," Fasching said. "That's our thing, but those are big shoes to fill. I'll do my best to play that kind of game and hopefully I can someday compare to him."
Fasching and Bjugstad have been similarly hyped since their early teen years. For example, Fasching's first recruiting trip was to North Dakota after his eighth-grade year.
"They're like, 'We can really see you playing here and working out there,' " Fasching said, laughing. "I was like, 'What? I haven't even played high school yet.' "
One big difference between Fasching and Bjugstad is that Bjugstad turned down overtures to leave high school (Blaine) for the National Team Development program in Ann Arbor, Mich., while Fasching left after his sophomore year. He scored 36 points in 54 games on the Under-17 team. Playing against mostly college teams this year, he has eight points in 12 games.
He goes to Ann Arbor Pioneer High, where he and his teammates have their own lunch room. He trains and skates daily at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube "sometimes four or five hours a day," he said. And he and teammate Gage Ausmus from East Grand Forks live with a host family.
"I've matured a lot as a person and met a lot of great guys that are my best friends now," Fasching said. "The hockey is awesome. Practices here are intense to say the least. Everybody here is so competitive that you have to work your hardest just to keep up."
Said Apple Valley coach Jerry Hayes: "As a player, he's kind of a freak. He already had an NHL body at age 15. ... The strength and the mass he has added, that's what Ann Arbor can do for you."
It was an excruciating decision in 2011 when Fasching left his tight-knit family. His younger brother, Cooper, and sister, Mallory, have mitochondrial disorder, a rare cell disorder that has left them unable to walk, talk or feed themselves. Hudson was a huge assistance around the house for parents, Rick and Shannon. But all four will be at the game Friday.
"In terms of life decisions, this was the biggest one I have had to make so far," Fasching said. "But I have no regrets. This is preparing me for the Gophers, and the NHL is the end goal. Everybody's dream is to get there. Hopefully there is still an NHL after this lockout, my goodness. But that is my long-term goal, and in the meantime, I'll keep accomplishing short-term goals that lead up to that."