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Updated: July 13th, 2012 3:24pm
In the end, Nick Bjugstad decided staying at university was best idea

In the end, Nick Bjugstad decided staying at university was best idea

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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7/13/2012
MN Golden Gopher Nick Bjugstad on returning for his junior season
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Nick Bjugstad knows there might have been some people unhappy with him as he spent his time this spring and summer deciding whether to sign with the Florida Panthers or return to the Minnesota Gophers hockey team, but the soon-to-be junior forward felt that was the best approach.

"I really wanted to go down to Florida and see what they had to say and weigh my options," said Bjugstad during an appearance on "Judd & Phunn" on Friday on 1500 ESPN. "There were a lot of pros and cons to both of the situations, so I kind of wanted to take my time.

"I just felt that staying at the University of Minnesota for another year, I'll be able to grow a little more as a player and as a person and get closer to my degree. There are a lot of positives. No disrespect to Florida or anything, but I just felt that it was the right spot for me."

Bjugstad, the 19th overall pick in the first round of the 2010 draft by Florida, made the official announcement of his plan to return to the Gophers on Thursday.

The Gophers' first-line center last season, Bjugstad had a team-leading 25 goals and finished third with 42 points in 40 games.

The Gophers made a run to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2005, but lost 6-1 to Boston College in the semifinals in Tampa, Fla.

"Definitely that game sits in the back of your head," Bjugstad said. "I think about it basically every day. It was a tough loss. I think it was a good learning experience for us younger guys and we kind of know what's ahead of us. It's good to get at that level. It's good to get to the Frozen Four. None of our guys had made the tournament before that, so we're going to have a little experience going into the season which I think will help."

Bjugstad's decision to return means much of the team that got the Gophers to the Frozen Four will return. Goalie Kent Patterson is gone, but the top six defenseman will be back and so will six of the top seven scorers from 2011-12.

"Obviously, you take a look at our depth chart and we've got a lot of guys coming back and a lot of good guys coming in so there's a really good opportunity of maybe making another run at another national championship," Bjugstad said when asked about what type of message coach Don Lucia delivered as the process was unfolding.

"That's something I always wanted growing up as a kid. That's a definite plus of staying and (Lucia) just kind of emphasized the degree thing. It's really hard to come back after you leave right after your second year. A lot of guys don't end up coming back to get their education. It's just tough to leave the guys, too. I really like the guys on the team and all that. So I think it's a good spot for me to stay here."

Bjugstad, who is 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, attended the Panthers' prospect camp this month.

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told reporters in Florida that the decision was up to Bjugstad, although there was certainly a chance he could have made the roster if he signed.

"Dale Tallon is a great general manager and he's very supportive of his players, the decisions they make," Bjugstad said. "We talked a few times down there and just kind of went over what the situation was and all that. I can't say enough about him. He's a great guy and he's very supportive of my decision."

As for the fact the NHL could be facing a lockout when the collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15, Bjugstad said that did factor into his thinking as well.

"That sits in the back of your head," he said. "Obviously, it's speculation on what's going to happen with the NHL season. You don't really know what's going to happen. The AHL is a really good league as well. ... There's going to be some changes money-wise and all that. I just felt like for my future I can develop here and really gain my confidence and become a better player." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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