Considering over 20,000 fans turned out over the weekend for Minnesota's final WCHA regular-season series with North Dakota, there's a good chance you've already seen last weekend's game day Q&A with Nick Bjugstad. But in the off chance you missed it, here's your chance. We talked with Nick about the team's final season in the WCHA, his work with youth hockey players and the team's recent trip to Feed My Starving Children. Give it a read!
Gophersports: You were selected as an alternate captain before the season started. What does it mean to you to hold that honor and how do you try to lead this team?
Bjugstad: "It's an honor to represent the University of Minnesota as an alternate captain this year, and I'm excited to wear the 'A' every night at Mariucci Arena in front of our fans. We've got a lot of great leaders on the team, especially among the older guys, who lead by example. I just try to keep us focused every day and make sure myself and the team are working hard."
It's no secret that this is one of the weekend's that college hockey fans have been salivating for all season. What goes through your mind as your prepare for North Dakota this weekend?
"We've had a lot of great tilts and great battles in the past with North Dakota, and obviously they're one of our biggest rivals every year. The guys get really excited for the games, and our fans are always pumped up for it - it's just a phenomenal experience. It's definitely a series that you look forward to and mark on your calendar. It's really easy to get up for these games - your adrenaline is rushing and the rink is always full of rowdy fans."
At the same time, the Gophers have reached the point in the season where you guys are playing some teams for the final time as members of the WCHA. Do you reflect on that as you're playing some of these non-Minnesota schools?
"The WCHA is a great league with a lot of top teams and rivalries, so we have to take advantage of this experience. We might not see some of these teams for a while in the regular season, so it's important to cherish the moment and make sure we are having fun. I'd say North Dakota is our biggest rival, and it's going to be tough not having them in the Big Ten, but I'm sure we'll see them down the road."
It seems like every day in the locker room, you're the guy running the music. How did you procure this position and what do you normally play?
"Last year, I got vetoed from music selection duties in the locker room, so this year I'm taking advantage of being an upperclassmen. I try to mix it up. The guys think I only play rap, but I'll play all different kinds of music - sometimes I'm a crowd pleaser and sometimes I just play the stuff that Helgeson and I like. A lot of the guys like country, but I'm not a big fan. Me and "Helge" like our rap."
You've always worked with your uncle - Gopher alum and former NHL forward Scott Bjugstad - and now you're helping him with some younger players. Do you enjoy working with youth hockey players?
"Yeah, I really enjoy helping my uncle and working with some of the younger kids - working with skating and shooting with them. I've been doing it since I was little. My uncle has always worked with me - perfecting my shot and helping me become a better hockey player. There's a lot more that goes into it than most people realize, and it's nice to have a mentor like that. It's great to be able to go out and return the favor, working with the little guys."
Last week in between games, the Gophers had the chance to go to Coon Rapids and work with Feed My Starving Children - packaging food for children in Haiti. You guys beat Notre Dame the night before, but they edged you by one box in a friendly competition the next day. What was that experience like?
"That was really fun. I'd heard of Feed My Starving Children in the past but hadn't been able to work with them, so it was great that we were able to go as a team bonding experience along with Notre Dame. It was a fun little competition, and it all went to a great cause. It's pretty rewarding when you can feed that many kids. It was disappointing that we lost to Notre Dame by one box, but I think some of our guys miscounted - it's a tough break for us."
You once missed a section tennis championship to go the NHL Entry Draft Combine. Do you ever think you might have given up a prosperous tennis career?
"No, not at all. My partner and I had a good run senior year, but it was my only year on the team and I just wanted to have some fun. They called us the "Twin Towers" because we were both tall, and our strategy was to just rush the net. It was pretty tough to get the ball over us."