This weekend is the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida. Leading up to this weekend's events, we're chatting with one player from each of the teams involved. Look for interviews through Thursday. Today, it's Nick Bjugstad of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad is a legacy on campus. His uncle Scott scored 64 goals in four years with the Gophers before moving on to playing 317 games in the NHL, mostly with the Minnesota North Stars where he scored 43 goals during the 1985-86 season.
The younger Bjugstad, having been drafted by the Florida Panthers 19th overall in 2010 and played for four Team USA squads, has known what to expect as his career continues on, thanks to Uncle Scott.
"He's influenced me a lot," said Bjugstad last Wednesday by phone. "I'm with him quite a bit. He's given me advice about a lot of the games and he's got season tickets here, so he sees me play every weekend. For my shot, the mental part of the game, he's just really helped me. He's a great guy. Can't say enough about that. He's been through the ropes. He knows what it's like playing here. He knows what it's like jumping up to the next level. He's been a huge voice in my career here."
After a freshman year that saw him score 29 points in 20 games, Bjugstad potted 25 goals and 42 points and was named to the All-WCHA First Team. His 25 goals are the most by a Gopher in six years.
We spoke with Bjugstad last week about getting revenge against North Dakota, college hockey versus junior hockey, who he tries to model his game after, and if Minnesota-Wisconsin is a bigger rivalry than USA-Canada. Enjoy.
Q. You guys split that set with North Dakota in January and then you lose the Final Five title game to them. Was that game against them in the tournament just a week's worth of pent up revenge coming out?
BJUGSTAD: Yeah, that's exactly how I'd put it. It was a pretty emotional game for us. Obviously the Final Five was a disappointment for the whole team. We realized what was at stake the next week and our whole team was a little bitter from that loss. As tough as it was losing that game in the Five, I think it was a little motivation. We had a little pent up energy that gave us a pretty good them. Our team really came out hard and we realized what was at stake. There was a lot of passion and emotion in that game.
How much motivation was there in the room just to make sure the seniors finally made the tournament?
At the beginning of the season we looked at some goals of ours and the MacNaughton Cup was a start for us. We accomplished that, which was really good for the team. I think we realized we could put something together here in the postseason. I feel like our leaders, our older guys, have really come up big and been very vocal in the locker room. It starts from our seniors on down. Everyone's dialed and everyone's got both feet in.
Having not played Boston College this season, what is the preparation like? Are you communication with buddies on other teams who have played them or it is mostly watching video?
We'll break down video. We'll really take a look at what kind of team they are. We kind of already know what kind of team they are: they're big and fast and pretty skilled. They're hot right now. They've won a lot of games. We're going to have to be prepared. I know some of the guys on the team. I played with them in World Juniors. I kind of know how they play and they've got some good top-end players. We're really going to have to look at video and see what kind of style they play. It's not a WCHA team, so we're not really used to the style they're probably going to play. We're going to have to look at their tendencies and make sure we're prepared.
Having been at Minnesota for two years now, how has Coach Don Lucia helped you along in your development?
He's helped out a lot. We sat down before I came in when I started my studies, he said it would be a little bit of a battle my first half of the season [during freshman year]. It was an adjustment from high school hockey than what I was used to. [I] had some bumps in the road that first half of the season, came back from World Juniors and felt more comfortable and played more of a role for the team.
The big debate the last few years has been players going the college route versus playing junior hockey in Canada. For you, how has the choice of college hockey helped you?
It's tough to say the different roads I could of taken if I would of done better or worse. I've grown up in Minnesota and a lot of little kids grow up wanting to play for the Gophers. That was just a dream of mine. That was the start of my career after high school hockey. I feel it's really jump-started me a little bit and I feel confident playing here. It's really enjoyable being here. I really like the guys and the coaching staff has been great. I don't think I could of developed better anywhere else.
After your freshman year, was there something in your game you pinpointed that you needed to work on in the off-season?
I didn't really think I was much physically different than I am now. I was really prepared. I lifted since freshman year in high school really hard to put on that weight. I was pretty skinny. I don't really think it was a physical change. I'd say it was more mentally. More confidence. I learned some things. The pace is a little faster. I worked on my speed a little bit so I could be a little quicker. Being a bigger guy, I need to be a little bit quicker. I worked on that in the summer and it helped out. I really didn't change much. I skated just as much as I skated every summer. I'd say it was the mental part of the game that really changed.
Was much of what you worked on things the Florida Panthers coaches told you at their developmental camp?
Yeah. I got to go down to Florida and their whole staff got to see what I was like to play. Basically, the first thing I had to change was my first three steps. I'm a bigger guy. I just needed to be a little quicker in that aspect. I've improved that. Our weight trainer has done a good job and has us in the weight room all the time in the summer. He's really changed a lot of our players and put us in good shape.
Is there a specific NHL player or a couple of guys you model your game after?
Being a bigger guy, maybe a Joe Thornton, not to his calibre, but style my game after. I like watching him. He's a big centerman and he likes to use his linemates and he can score, too. He's definitely someone I like to look up to.
What's on the iPod?
I listen to rap. Not a big country fan. A lot of guys don't like it in in the locker room. There's a few who I can relate to, but that's about it. I don't really touch the radio at all otherwise I get yelled at by all the older guys.
What are a couple songs that get you going before games?
I used to listen to Lil Wayne. Nothing really specific. I put it on random or shuffle. I like to listen to something new before every game just to get a little change.
Bigger rivalry to be a part of: Canada-USA in the World Juniors or Minnesota-Wisconsin?
[Laughs] That's pretty close if you're a Minnesotan or Wisconsinite. Obviously the fan base in Canada is huge. Those Canadian fans, I don't think there's anything like that. You can't really compare anything to that. They're pretty wild. It's a good rivalry. Unfortunately, this year the game didn't really decide anything other than pride. It was fun to play. The fans are nuts, but yeah, I'd say there's nothing really comparable to that.
Coming up tomorrow: Troy Grosenick of Union
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy