Gopher Hockey: Bjugstad, Gophers going for World Championships gold


Apr 6, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27) in a game against the Washington Capitals in the second period at the BB

There is a special way in which athletes come together to play for their country. The sport of hockey is no different as right now the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championships are taking place in Helsinki, FIN and Stockholm, SWE.

Hockey players from all over the world are converging on the Scandinavian cities to showcase some of the top talent in the world as sort of a precursor to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The tournament has been underway for a little over a week and Team USA is led by some of the top NHL talent in the league — including newcomer Nick Bjugstad.

The former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher is one eight Minnesotans on the Team USA roster and he is joined by former Gophers defensemen Erik Johnson.

Another former Gopher is also in the tournament that will conclude with the gold medal game on May 19, former Minnesota forward and current Buffalo Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek is representing his home country of Austria.

Bjugstad who recently scored his first NHL goal before the end of the regular season with the Panthers, has recorded two assists in the tournament while averaging just over 10:00 per game for the Americans.

On the blue line, Johnson has been helping Team USA dominate the competition by posting two goals and two assists in the team’s 5-0-0-1 overall record in six games played. He is averaging just over 17:00 per game and is second on the team in plus/minus at a plus-6.

Vanek is an assistant captain with Team Austria and has recorded three goals and an assist in the team’s six tournament games thus far. The former Gopher who won a National Championship with Minnesota in 2002-03 tallied 113 points in just two seasons with the Maroon and Gold before moving on for his pro-career.

There are plenty of other Gophers who could be playing on this team, but due to still being involved in NHL Playoff action, they were not selected to the roster. Including Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo, Jordan Leopold, Paul Martin, and Nick Leddy.

The World Championships roster does not have a direct correlation to the upcoming Olympic roster, but having played internationally for Team USA in the past in some form has helped to gain an edge on making the roster. Something that many Golden Gophers players have accomplished over the years.

Of the 25 total players on the Team USA roster, 19 players were college hockey players for either schools in the WCHA which the Gophers just left or school’s that will make up the newly founded Big Ten Hockey Conference.

An amazing mark that signifies the dominance of amateur hockey in the Midwest, including the skaters from Minnesota who make up the most represented state on the roster. The next closest is Michigan with five skaters.

Note — St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie is listed on the roster as being from Mt. Vernon, Wash., but since he played his high school hockey in Warroad, Minn., I am counting him on my list of local products.

With the college hockey season in the books and student tickets for next season on-sale at Mariucci Arena already, it is just cool to know that current Gophers on the roster now, will someday soon by stars on the international hockey stage.

Hopefully someone that has represented the Maroon and Gold comes home with a gold medal.