Tuesday

Scott Bjugstad

Hometown hero Scott Bjugstad was a promising high school prospect in a few sports. He was a great tennis player, and he was so good in soccer he was named to the US High School soccer first all star team in 1978.

But Minnesota is like Canada, and the game everyone dreams of is hockey. Scott, along side his brother Mike, was a dominant hockey star at Irondale high school in New Brighton.

After re-writing the Irondale high school record book, Bjugstad made the natural jump to the University of Minnesota in 1979. In his 4 year collegiate career he played in two NCAA final fours and was the 1982-83 WCHA scoring champion. That same year he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the best college hockey player in the country.

After 4 years in school, majoring in Business, Scott joined the United States national team in 1983-84 and participated in the Olympics. Despite featuring burgeoning talent like Pat Lafontaine, Chris Chelios, and Ed Olczyk, the Americans finished a distant 7th place.

Following the Olympics Scott joined the Minnesota North Stars, who had drafted him 181st overall in 1981. In his welcome moment to the NHL, he broke his nose in his very first game!

For the next year and a half was a very quiet player - scoring just 11 goals in 77 contests. He had played center all his life and was often shifted to the left wing.

However Bjugstad's fortune's took a turn for the better in 1985-86. Playing on the top line with Neal Broten and Dino Ciccarelli, Bjugstad exploded for 43 goals and 76 points, including three hat tricks. Suddenly the NHL had a new scoring star in its stable.

Or did it? Many people dismissed Bjugstad's accomplishments as an overachievement. No way would he score that many goals on a line without Broten and Ciccarelli, they said.

"I don't want to sound cocky, but a lot of people have played with those two and haven't scored 43. It's given me a lot of confidence that I'm clicking with this line," Bjugstad responded.

The confidence didn't last long. With immense pressure on him to repeat his exploits, Bjugstad failed miserably in the follow up year. He went from scoring 43 goals to just 4. Often he was a healthy scratch and even spent some time in the minor leagues. A pulled abdominal muscle eventually ended his nightmare season.

"It was so weird. One year, I felt I was going to score even before I shot the puck. The next year, I knew it wasn't going to go in no matter what I did," explained Bjugstad, who struggled to find an answer to his woes.

Entering his 4th year, Bjugstad was looking to rebuild his game, reputation and psyche. Reunited with Broten and Ciccarelli, Bjugstad got off to a solid start, scoring 4 goals and 10 points in the first 11 games. However injuries limited Scott to just 22 more games that season.

On December 1988 the North Stars moved Bjugstad to Pittsburgh. The Pens had hoped that maybe Bjugstad could connect as Mario Lemieux's left wing. However the experiment didn't work, as Scott scored just 3 goals in 24 games. The following season he signed with Los Angeles. He tore up the AHL with 45 goals in 47 games in 1989-90, but played just 11 games in the NHL, scoring 1 goal. Over the next two injury plagued years, he scored 4 NHL goals in 53 games.

Scott eventually had enough of all the bruises and broken bones, and retired during the 1992-93 season. In 317 NHL games he had 76 goals, 68 assists and 144 points.

Bjugstad's 43 goal season was a career year, not something that anyone could have expected even if he had been able to remain healthy for the whole season. He had a hard, accurate shot which he released quickly. He was not overly agile on his skates, and didn't have the strongest anticipation skills, which significantly hurt his game. He also played smaller than he actually was, and was never a notable defensive player.

In retirement Bjugstad returned to his roots and became a prolific high school coach in Minnesota. In fact, in 2000 he was named Minnesota high school coach of the year. He also opened his own shooting school to better aid young scorers.

1 comments:

Matt Olson December 14, 2012 at 10:47 PM  

Scott is one of the best human beings that this sport has ever seen. He was incredibly skilled and a fantastic NHL'er. If you were to mention what Scott has brought back to the game of hockey (especially in Minnesota), he would receive the highest recognition possible.

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