Sky's The Limit
Minnesota's Bjugstad Realizing Unlimited Potential
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
Highlights from Bjugstad's hat trick game against St. Cloud State on Saturday, Nov. 19.
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MINNEAPOLIS Consider Minnesota sophomore Nick Bjugstad to be part Maserati, part Mack Truck. At 6-foot-5 and 211 pounds, with a sniper's shot to go with it, there's not much that can slow him down.
Off to a fantastic start in 2011-12, Bjugstad leads the WCHA in both goal scoring and total points. The Gophers climb to the top of the national rankings is thanks in large part to his ascension up the scoring charts.
But that's not how his career started at the University of Minnesota.
Bjugstad dipped his toe in slowly last season as a freshman, posting just two goals and four points during the first half of the season last year. But when he returned from the World Junior tournament in January, he was a different player — scoring six goals and 10 assists in the second half.
"The first half of the year it was an adjustment coming right out of high school," said Gophers head coach Don Lucia. "He had to play high in the lineup as a true freshman after skipping his senior season in high school. Then he got mono.
"When he came back, we moved him to the wall, which took away some of his defensive responsibilities. He came back from the world juniors a confident player, a point-a-game guy the second half of the year."
This season, Bjugstad has busted onto the scene like a cannonball, picking up right where left off. After this weekend's split with St. Cloud State, Bjugstad has surpassed his season totals in goals and points from last year. His hat trick Saturday night at Mariucci Arena upped his goal total to 13 already.
But it's not just his offensive production that has set him apart. Bjugstad skates with confidence and purpose not seen last season.
"He skates like he's 5-8," Lucia said. "He's just on a completely different level this season."
Linemate and Gophers assistant captain Zach Budish was a bit more concise in his opinion of Bjugstad.
"He's a beast," he said. "He's one of the strongest guys on our team. He's got a great shot, I think the best shot in the league."
That shot was on display this weekend against the Huskies. Friday night at the National Hockey Center, his snipe from the left circle got Minnesota on the board in the first period.
Saturday in Minneapolis, two of his goals looked exactly like it — both were hard snap shots into the corner from the goalie's right. All three were on the power play. All three were virtually unstoppable.
"I've been working after practice a lot on shots," Bjugstad said. "Thankfully, I just have the touch right now."
He's also on pace to take far fewer penalties and has scored more game-winning goals. Paired with perhaps the nation's best freshman in Kyle Rau, Bjugstad has thrived on the power play, scoring five of his goals with the man advantage.
The fact Minnesota's power play has also become one of the best in the country is by no means a coincidence.
"He is in position and he's hitting the net," Lucia said. "Last year, I think he was missing the net. It's not so much about where it's going, just get it to the net and it will go in."
For Bjugstad, he says it's all about confidence and feeling more comfortable at this level.
"It's a mental game," Bjugstad said. "My eyes were pretty wide open last year and it took me a little while to adjust to the pace. Now I'm figuring it out.
"Last year I was on my heels. This year, I'm into it and I want to do everything I can to help our team."