Wednesday Roundup: Thanksgiving Dinner, Third Period Success and What A Difference A Year Makes

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Thanksgiving Dinner

The Gophers travel to East Lansing, Mich., on Thanksgiving day and play Michigan State on Friday and Saturday. Upon arrival in Michigan the team will head to Munn Arena to drop off the gear and then to the hotel for a Thanksgiving dinner.

If you cannot be with your family on Thanksgiving, being with your team is the next best thing.

"You always want to be home for Thanksgiving with your parents," said senior captain Taylor Matson. "But being on the road with the guys and having a Thanksgiving dinner Thursday night on the road builds a lot of camaraderie between the guys. There's nothing like being on the road, I'll tell you that."

Minnesota typically only travels with 22 players, but this weekend the entire team will be going to Michigan.

"It'll be good to have everybody together," said coach Don Lucia.

Third-Period Surge

The Gophers have outscored opponents 24-4 in the third period this year. Minnesota has scored in 13 of 14 of the third periods it has played this season, with the lone exception being a 6-0 win against Vermont on Oct. 21.

In contrast, only Minnesota Duluth and Vermont have scored in the third period against the Gophers this season. Minnesota Duluth scored one third-period goal on Oct. 14 and two on Oct. 15, while Vermont scored once on Oct. 23.

Sophomore Nick Bjugstad has four third-period goals and he says the team has adopted a never-let-up mentality.

"We are working pretty hard in practice and conditioning wise it has been a tougher year than I have ever had before," said Bjugstad. "We do not want to let up. You want to take it to each team every night and do your best. We want to score as many goals as we can and get every guy playing as well as he can."

Senior goaltender Kent Patterson has a school record six shutouts this season. Patterson has been stellar all year, but his defense has been playing great in front of him, especially late in the game. In his six shutouts he has seen a combined 31 shots in the third period. The most he saw were nine third-period shots in a 5-0 win against St. Cloud State on Nov. 19. The fewest he saw were two third-period shots in a 5-0 win at Alaska Anchorage on Oct. 28.

"It helps significantly when we are outplaying teams in the third period," said Patterson. "I think our conditioning and all the hard work we have put in is paying off."

Lucia echoed the claims of Bjugstad and Patterson that the team's conditioning has paid off. But he also added that he is comfortable rolling all four lines and playing all six defensemen late in the game.

"We've worked hard on our conditioning this year and probably have done as much or more skating than we ever have," said Lucia. "We've played four lines and we've played six defensemen. We really haven't shortened the bench very much.

"We haven't relied on just four defensemen to play the majority of the game. Most nights our third and fourth lines have outplayed our opposition's third and fourth lines and have scored some big goals because of that."

What A Difference A Year Makes

Through 14 games last year Nate Schmidt had played in five games and did not record a single point. Nick Bjugstad missed five of the first 14 games a season ago with mononucleosis. In the nine games he did play he recorded one goal and two assists.

This year, Bjugstad is tied for first in the nation with 21 points (13g-8a) though 14 games, while Schmidt is the second-highest scoring defensemen in the nation with 16 points (1g-15a). Bjugstad is tied for second in the nation in goals and Schmidt is second in assists.

"I think my confidence level last year was not where it should have been," said Schmidt. "That was the biggest thing for me. Now I have the confidence to go out there and make plays and I know I can rely on my teammates. I can play hockey the way I know how to play. I felt like I could make those plays last year, but it was having the confidence of going out there and doing it."

For Bjugstad, who grew up a Gopher fan, it took some time to adjust to the college game.  Part of that was learning how to deal with his nerves.

"The year I had last year wasn't the greatest," said Bjugstad, who did end his freshman season with 16 points in his final 16 games. "I watched the Gophers all my life and it was pretty surreal being in a Gopher jersey the first half of the year. I guess I figured it out a little bit. It's a little different game than high school, so that's what made me nervous."

The duo has turned into point producers on the power play as well. Schmidt leads the team with 13 power-play points (1g-12a), while Bjugstad is third on the team with nine power-play points (5g-4a). Schmidt has picked up an assist on all five of Bjugstad's power-play goals this year.

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