Minnesota opened the season against Sacred Heart this weekend, which for those who don't follow college hockey is the equivalent of a BCS football team opening the season against Florida Atlantic or another team with a hyphen and location. The Gophers won 9-0 Friday night and 6-0 Saturday with Bjugstad scoring two goals and Rau scoring a goal and an assist.
Hi Litter Box Cats. My name is Nathan Wells and I'm the assistant editor over at SBN Minnesota (along with many other things). One of the things I do is write about University of Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey and thought it would be great this year to try to give NHL fanbases updates on the many Gophers draftees. Sometimes box scores can be deceiving or do not tell the whole story so here is one person's first-hand account of Florida prospects Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau.
Both players spent the weekend together on Minnesota's first line and power play unit. Rau was on the left wing with Bjugstad centering along with Zach Budish (NSH) and the three players had a lot of chemistry. Kyle scored the first goal of the season 56 seconds into the game and was able to use his speed throughout the game despite the size disadvantage (Rau is listed at 5'8" 172 lbs). Most college players who come straight out of high school take some time to adjust but that wasn't the case for Kyle Rau; in fact his goal was scored from the top of the crease and he wasn't afraid to get dirty at both ends of the ice.
After Friday's game, Minnesota Head Coach Lucia said it was "no big surprise that Kyle scores the first goal of the season and where he did it right at the blue paint."
At the same time, Nick Bjugstad was named the #1 star (with Rau being #3) Friday night. His first goal happened after driving to the net and out-muscling Sacred Heart's defense before roofing a backhander. Bjugstad also drew a penalty on the play, which in college hockey still happens if a player scores. That part of his game seems to be underrated as Nick forced Sacred Heart to take 4 penalties throughout the weekend. He scored a second goal on a wraparound forty-six seconds into the third period Friday night and was a leader on the ice.
Here's Nick Bjugstad after Friday night's game (video comes from Minnesota Hockey News):
Saturday night didn't have the same effort from either Kyle Rau or Nick Bjugstad as Sacred Heart was able to shut down the first line and hold both scoreless. Bjugstad also started off slowly in the first period. He had a couple bad giveaways which were bailed out by goaltender Kent Patterson. Both players were sharper in the final two periods and started creating opportunities and getting shots on goal (Bjugstad had 7 while Rau had 3; Minnesota out-shot Sacred Heart 45-20).
Rau's speed and grit combined with Bjugstad's size and strength makes for a good combination and while the two (along with the entire team) need to work on special teams, it was a good first weekend for the two Panthers prospects. Next weekend will give a better idea of where the two are, as the Gophers play the defending national champions Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, but for now there is plenty for Panthers fans to be happy with.