U tops Mankato as rivalry heats up again

Published 6:45 pm Saturday, November 3, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Zach Budish has been sputtering.

He knew it.

Gophers coach Don Lucia knew it.

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So Lucia moved Budish back to Minnesota’s top line with Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau on Friday, just to see if reuniting his top line from last season might get the big winger into gear.

“It worked,” Lucia said.

Budish, who had two assists in each of the Gophers’ first two games before going the next four, including an exhibition game, without a point, poked in the winning goal 5 minutes, 40 seconds into the third period as Minnesota held off Minnesota State Mankato for a 3-2 victory in front of 9,989 at Mariucci Arena.

It was Minnesota’s third power-play goal of the evening as the No. 2-ranked Gophers raised their record to 5-1.

Budish, an all-state football player for Edina High School who missed his final season of prep hockey because of a torn ACL suffered in the football playoffs, has strength at 6 feet 3 and 214 pounds and put it to good use against the Mavericks(2-3-2, 0-3.

He screened Mavericks goaltender Phil Cook late in the second period, allowing defenseman Nate Schmidt’s rocket from the point to tie the score 2-2.
“That was a once-in-a-while shot,” Schmidt said. “I got a hold of it pretty good. I think it went in before the goalie even knew because Zach did such a fantastic job getting his big butt in front of the net.”

Schmidt said he takes a deep breath when he sees Budish on the opposing side during Gophers’ practices because Budish simply wears defensemen down. After a 30-second shift against Budish in practice, he has to drag his body back to the bench.
“I’m a big body,” said Budish, who earlier flicked a rebound off the goal post before finally registering his first goal. “I just try to get in front of the net and take away the goalie’s eyes and kind of bang home rebounds. That’s my role: Be physical and make my linemates better.”

Bjugstad and Rau came into the game tied with Nate Condon for the team points lead with five, and it was Rau’s shot that Budish pounced on to score the winner.

“It’s always fun playing with those two,” Budish said. “They’re both really good players; we had some chemistry last year. Coach put us together early in the week at practice, and we had a couple days to get some chemistry back. We had some chances tonight, and I think we can get a little bit better.”

Four games without a point was not a long enough dry spell for Lucia to outright criticize Budish’s play.

Lucia did say, “We wanted to try to get Budy going.”

But Budish, who had 12 goals and 23 assists last season, was not at all hesitant.

“I don’t think it’s any secret,” he said, “that I haven’t played my best hockey the first six games.”

Budish saw it clearly because assistant coach Grant Potulny has been showing him video after video.

“He’s kind of been all over me the last couple weeks,” Budish said. “But he’s pushed me to get better, and I appreciate the help and support.”

The Mavericks twice took the lead, getting a first-period goal from Zach Palmquist of South St. Paul for a 1-0 lead and moving in front 2-1 on Teddy Blueger’s rebound goal midway through the second period.