Blaine’s Bjugstad is AP Player of the Year

Published 9:27 am Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nick Bjugstad grew, literally, into the state’s best player.

Gaining an inch or two over the past six months and maturing into a reliable leader, the 6-foot-5 Bjugstad helped guide Blaine to the Class 2A state tournament while scoring 35 goals and tallying 34 assists this season from his spot on the wing.

Bjugstad was announced Wednesday as the Associated Press Player of the Year for Minnesota high school boys’ hockey, giving him a sweep of the major honors in the sport. Projected as a first-round pick in the NHL draft in June, Bjugstad was also named Mr. Hockey on Sunday.

Email newsletter signup

Bjugstad was a landslide winner of the AP award, receiving all but one vote from a panel of prep writers and broadcasters around the state. Warroad forward Brock Nelson got the other Player of the Year vote and joined Bjugstad on the AP’s all-state team with Minnetonka forward Max Gardiner, Minnetonka defenseman Justin Holl, Mahtomedi defenseman Ben Marshall and Thief River Falls goalie Zane Gothberg.

Though this was officially Bjugstad’s junior year, he’ll be moving up a level in the fall. At the suggestion of Minnesota coach Don Lucia, Bjugstad accelerated his studies starting last summer and will graduate this year so he can play for the Gophers next season.

The Bengals lost in the state quarterfinals to upstart Apple Valley, but the high-school experience was nothing but fun for Bjugstad, who turned down opportunities to play in the U.S. national team development program and at the junior level. He was advised to stay at Blaine, because the quality of prep competition in the state is considered strong enough to prepare him for college.

“The good thing about Minnesota hockey is you can stay and play with your buddies that you’ve grown up with your whole life,” Bjugstad said. “A lot of people around the country can’t do that.”

Bjugstad weighs about 190 pounds, and he hopes to play for the Gophers in the fall about 20 pounds heavier. He looks on the skinny side, but he can take a hit and give one out just fine. Bengals co-coach Dave Aus remarked about Bjugstad’s “chiseled” frame, the result of an intense weightlifting program the Bengals have committed to.

“He works very hard at it, so it doesn’t catch me off-guard that he’s done as well as he has,” Aus said. “He’s got an immense amount of God-given talent. When you combine that with the work ethic that he has, you’re going to have a very good hockey player.”

He had to apply that same determination toward the classroom, to squeeze two school years into one.

“It’s a little extra load, but it’s worth it ultimately,” Bjugstad said.

His family was upfront with Aus about the plan to leave early.

“My only wish now is that he’d reconsider and decide to come back, but I pretty much resigned myself to knowing that he was going to be gone,” Aus said. “He’s ready to move on, and if that’s what he wants I support that.”