Former Gopher Blasts into roller hockey’s Team USA

Ryan Schuster

The closing ceremonies for the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta are already completed.
But former Gophers hockey star Justin McHugh is competing this week against some of the best athletes in the world in another type of international competition: roller hockey.
McHugh, a member of the Minnesota Arctic Blast, was recently named to the United States’ roster for the International In-line Hockey Federation World Tournament.
The U.S. team is 2-0 so far in the round-robin tournament that started Sunday night and concludes Saturday in St. Paul with the championship game.
“Going into anything you always want to win it all, and our number one focus is to win this thing,” McHugh said.
McHugh is joined on the U.S. squad by teammate and goaltender Derek Herlofsky, who won two NCAA championships with Boston University.
Both players will miss the Blast’s contest today at Montreal. McHugh, however, said he would have missed the Montreal game anyway because of a conflict with his University summer school classes.
McHugh played for the Gophers from 1991 to 1995 and scored 66 goals and racked up 60 assists in 160 games.
He was co-captain for Minnesota in 1994-95 and was named the team’s most determined player in 1993-94.
It seems that McHugh has made the transition from ice hockey to roller hockey in his first season with the Blast.
“Us forwards just get a kick out of (roller hockey) because it helps us work on our offensive skills,” McHugh said.
Through 22 games, he has compiled 14 goals and 32 assists for a total of 46 points.
Even though he is one of the top offensive threats on the team, McHugh’s absence will make little difference in the Blast’s playoff position.
“We did not want to give up Justin McHugh,” said Blast General Manager Tom Sagassor. “He is one of the best guys on our team, but he will only miss one game.”
The Blast have already earned the Central Division title of the Roller Hockey International league and will start the playoffs Aug. 18.
“We are excited to have clinched the division title early,” Sagassor said. “We want to win a championship. We came close in 1994 and that is our goal.”