Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon SMI)
Minnesota sophomore Nick Bjugstad (FLA) has been a key cog in the success of the Minnesota Golden Gophers this season. He currently leads the team with 25 goals and ranks on the team with 42 points, centering one of the nation's most dynamic lines that includes fellow Florida Panthers prospect Kyle Rau and redshirted sophomore Zach Budish (NSH).
Hockey's Future caught up with Nick Bjugstad after practice last Wednesday at the Tampa Times Forum.
Hockey's Future: How does it feel being in your first Frozen Four?
Nick Bjugstad: None of the guys on the team have been to the Frozen Four, so it's definitely exciting for us. Several of us have never been down here to Florida before, so it's really exciting to be here and things have been going good so far. We've been enjoying ourselves and then it's time to get down to business.
HF: What has it been like playing on a line with Kyle (Rau) and Zach (Budish)?
NB: Our line has really gelled since about the first week (of the season). I enjoy playing with those guys because I think they both make me a much better player. We're all three different types of players. Kyle is fast and quick, and is kind of an agitator. Zach and I are obviously both pretty big and we like going into the corners and doing that kind of stuff. We all really feed off of each other.
HF: What area(s) do you feel that you've personally made some strides in?
NB: I think last year was a little bit of an adjustment for me. But I'd have to say that I'm playing with more confidence this year. Playing on this line with Kyle and Zach has been beneficial for me too, because we all help and push each other.
HF: Earlier in the year, you participated in the World Junior Championship. What did you learn there that you've been able to bring back to Minnesota with you?
NB: It's really different from playing college hockey because you're playing with a different group of guys. I think the game is faster at the World Juniors and you're also playing against some of the best players in the world. So I think that forced me to pick up my game a little bit and adjust to the faster pace. But I really enjoyed playing in it. It was a really good experience for me playing against players at that level.
HF: Did you attend the Panthers' prospects camp last summer and if so, what were you able to learn from it that you've been able to bring to Minnesota with you this season?
NB: Yes, I did. We only skated three days though, so that was a little different. I think one of the biggest things that I learned is how to take better care of myself through stuff like better nutrition. So it was fun being down and I plan to go again this summer.
HF: Have the Panthers been keeping tabs on you throughout the season?
NB: We've talked a little bit, but they've basically left me alone and have allowed me to do what I need to do with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. So that's my main priority right now. They're obviously real proud of me, Kyle and the rest of our team for making it here to the Frozen Four.
HF: There has been talk about you possibly signing with the Panthers when this is all over. Is that something that is perhaps in the back of your mind right now?
NB: It is, but right now, my main focus is helping my team win a National Championship here in Tampa. Obviously, it's a little bit of a distraction that you have to put in the back of your mind. I don't really worry too much about it right now. So whatever happens after the Frozen Four happens.