Thursday, July 12, 2012
Nick Bjugstad has decided to come home. Bjugstad, a sophomore who led the Maroon and Gold with 25 goals last season, will return to Mariucci Arena for his junior year. His presence will bolster an already formidable returning lineup for the Gophers, one that includes leading scorer Erik Haula (20-29-49), along with Kyle Rau (18-25-43) and defenseman Nate Schmidt (3-38-41). In an interview with Gophersports.com, Bjugstad noted that the Gophers are "going to have a good team this year and hopefully get another chance at the national championship and make a run there." However, the decision wasn't easy: "It was pretty tough. I put a lot of thought into it. There were a lot of pros and cons. I sat down with my family and everyone and I was also able to go to Florida's camp and hear what they had to say. They are a great organization." At the end of the day, though, the draw of competing for a national championship was too strong for Bjugstad to turn pro. "We have a great team coming back. That played a big part in it, looking at who my teammates are. I love my teammates and it is a lot of fun playing with them. I cannot say enough about the incoming freshman either. They look like they are going to be real good as well. We will have a strong team and hopefully we can put a good year together." Gopher head coach Don Lucia echoed Bjugstad's optimistic tone: "We are excited about the group we have returning. We had a great year last year winning the MacNaughton Cup and advancing to the Frozen Four. With the nucleus we have returning and our incoming freshman we will obviously have high goals and high expectations, but we would not want it any other way." All in all, Minnesota returns seven of its nine 20-point scorers from last season, as well as all six starting defensemen. The Gophers will struggle to fill the holes left by senior forwards Jake Hansen (16-22-38) and captain Taylor Matson (8-15-23), as well as netminder Kent Patterson (28-14-1, .907 SV%). Today’s announcement by Bjugstad, however, should go a long way towards taking the sting out of the departures from last year’s team. The Gophers kick off the 2012-2013 season with an exhibition game against Lethbridge on October 6th, before opening the regular season at home against Michigan State on October 12th. NOTE: I am now writing for www.gopherpucklive.com, where this post can be found. Please look there for more Gopher Hockey news!