The talented, offensive-minded defenseman and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Alex Goligoski enjoyed a sensational rookie season with the University of Minnesota, helping the Golden Gophers to reach the Frozen Four for the third time in four years.
Goligoski amassed 20 points (5 goals, 20 assists) playing in 33 games for the University of Minnesota this season. His performance earned him a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team. The Grand Rapids, Minnesota native also represented the United States at this year’s U-20 World Junior Championship in Grand Forks, ND.
Goligoski spoke with Hockey’s Future after Minnesota’s practice on Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
HF: Congratulations to you and your team on getting to the Frozen Four, how does it feel to be here?
AG: Unbelievable. It seems like such a long season and then you get down here. When you get here, it seems like the season just started all over again because everyone’s spirits are so high and everyone’s ready to go. It’s just a great feeling.
HF: You’ve enjoyed a great year this season. What do you feel has been the hardest part about being a freshman player here at the University of Minnesota?
AG: I think just starting over in a new environment. Obviously when you’re playing college hockey it’s much more competitive and the players are better out there. There’s an adjustment period that you have to get used to. It takes a while and it’s kind of frustrating until you get used to it. Once you’re used to it, you feel right at home.
HF: How difficult has it been for you to adjust to the system here in Minnesota?
AG: The kind of system we play here is similar to the way I’ve played all my life. The way that our defensemen play here is the way that I like to play. Coach Lucia gives us a lot of freedom to jump up into the play but also makes sure that we’re solid defensively, so that’s been really good for us so far.
HF: You’ve played quite a bit with Chris Harrington this year. What has it been like playing with him?
AG: It’s been great. We get along really well. On the ice, we know where the other is and there’s a lot of trust back there (on the blueline).
HF: As an offensive-minded defenseman, would you say that your offensive skills are one of your greatest strengths?
AG: Yeah, I think so. I like hopping up into the play but defense is first and foremost. I have to hold the defensive zones.
HF: What do you feel are some of your other strongest attributes?
AG: I think being able to move the puck and advance the zones is one of my greatest attributes. I can get the puck up to our forwards quickly, as well as make the plays. I can jump up into the plays to try and create some offense.
HF: What areas do you feel are the areas that you’ll need to improve going into next season?
AG: Well every year it’s going to be to get stronger. I have to be able to be as solid as possible at my position, particularly in the defensive zone. I just have to improve my overall game I think.
HF: How does being here at the Frozen Four compare to being in some of the other types of Championship games, either semi-finals or finals, that you’ve been involved in?
AG: It’s just a bigger stage here. For me, this is the big time. It’s everything multiplied by ten times. It’s going to be more intense and a lot harder to win. It’s also a lot more fun.
HF: When the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted you, what was your initial reaction?
AG: I was a little surprised because of where I was ranked (with Central Scouting) being lower and all. I really had no idea and wasn’t all that worried about it. When I got the call, I was actually going to one of my friends’ graduation parties and they said that the Pittsburgh Penguins with the 61st pick had drafted me in the third round. When I heard that I said “what?” (laughs). Obviously it’s great but it definitely surprised me. I know that Pittsburgh is a good system to be in.
HF: Have you had any contact with the Penguins since being here at Minnesota?
AG: One of their scouts that covers the northern states for them knows me really well. He’s been to some games and sends me emails, basically telling what areas I need to improve in and just stuff like that.
HF: Earlier this year, you played for the United States at the World Junior Championships. What was that experience like for you?
AG: It was really great. The caliber of players there was unbelievable, just the skill level and all. It’s a great experience to be able to play for your country in front of the home crowd.
HF: You played with guys like Drew (Stafford) on the WJC team that you’re also going to be facing here at the Frozen Four. Did the guys playing for Team USA become really close friends off the ice?
AG: Yeah we did. I know Drew pretty good (laughs). He’s a good guy and it’s going to be fun to be playing against him here.
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