Bjugstad says he’ll return in 2012-13, eyes national title

Nick Bjugstad chose not to sign with the NHL's Florida Panthers, who drafted him in 2010.

Andrew Krammer

“Unfinished business” was the theme of Trevor Mbakwe’s return to Gophers basketball this spring.

Nearly three months later, replace Mbakwe with Nick Bjugstad and basketball with hockey.

For the Gophers junior, the unfinished business is a national championship after he and the Gophers lost in the Frozen Four semifinals last year.

Bjugstad announced Thursday  that he will keep his talents in Mariucci Arena for one more season. The decision ends months of speculation over where the Gophers star center will play next year.

“We have a great team coming back,” Bjugstad said. “That played a big part in it, looking at who my teammates are.”

Perhaps, if the Gophers wouldn’t have made it to the Frozen Four last year, where they lost to eventual champion Boston College, Bjugstad would have signed with the NHL’s Florida Panthers, who drafted him in 2010.

“I always grew up wanting to be a Gopher,” Bjugstad said. “I watched those national championships back-to-back, and that made me want to be like those guys. I feel like we maybe have an opportunity to do that next year.”

Bjugstad, who turned 20 on July 17,  led all Gophers players with 25 goals as a sophomore last season. He had eight power-play goals and 17 assists.

“I think [the decision] says a lot about what he thinks about our program,” Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia said.  “He has confidence in that he will continue to improve. He has confidence in that we can have an outstanding season next year.”

A member of the All-WCHA First Team and a second-team All-American, Bjugstad had 42 points in 40 games, finishing third on the team in points last season.

Bjugstad, a business and marketing education major, was named McNamara’s Academic Center student-athlete of the month for June. He graduated from high school in three years and will be close to getting his BME degree from Minnesota in three years as well.

“In the end I think it was a kind of a gut feeling. This is the right spot for me,” Bjugstad said. “I am going to be close to finishing my education and hopefully can accomplish the goal that I have wanted ever since I was little, which is winning a national championship.”

Minnesota, which won the Western Conference Hockey Association’s regular-season title last year, will keep its top line of Bjugstad, Kyle Rau and Zach Budish together and will likely be preseason favorites to win the NCAA title next season.

“We are excited about the group we have returning,” Lucia said.

“With the nucleus we have returning and our incoming freshmen, we will obviously have high goals and high expectations, but we would not want it any other way.”