MINNEAPOLIS Nick Bjugstad is the first-round NHL draftee who has 25 goals this season. Sophomore Erik Haula's been the go-to scorer during the playoffs as part of a 20-goal season. Kyle Rau has 18 goals and 25 assists in his freshman season for the University of Minnesota hockey team.
The Gophers' top two lines can boast as much offensive potential as any team in college hockey. Zach Budish, who has added 12 goals and 23 assists, teams with Bjugstad and Rau on the first line. Haula is joined by freshman Sam Warning (six goals) and Jake Hansen (15 goals, 22 assists) on the second line.
Yet, if it weren't for names such as Jake Parenteau, Seth Helgeson, Nico Sacchetti, Ben Marshall, Taylor Matson, Travis Boyd and Nate Condon Minnesota wouldn't be traveling to Tampa, Fla., this week for the Frozen Four.
"That's been something that's been lacking the previous couple of months," coach Don Lucia said. "We were winning some low-scoring games, but we were basically relying on two lines to do it. That's hard to do. The more you can get contributions throughout your lineup, the easier it becomes. When one of your top guys doesn't have a great game, or one of your top lines doesn't produce and other people are, then you can still be successful."
The Gophers were the top offensive team in the country this season, averaging 3.67 goals per-game. Much of that work was handled by the top two lines, which took their share of the scoring burden at different times this season. But Minnesota will be playing this week for the chance at a national championship thanks to the scoring provided by its third and fourth lines and defensive corps.
When the Gophers face top-overall seed Boston College in the national semifinals on Thursday they will need those top lines to produce again. Scoring from unlikely sources played a big part in getting to this point and will be helpful this week as well.
Minnesota outscored Boston University and North Dakota by a combined 12-5 margin and the defenseman figured into the total by taking big shots from near the blue line. Parenteau had just his second goal of the year and Boyd, a freshman, scored his first collegiate goal. Helgeson has two goals in five postseason games after not having scored since Dec. 9. Marshall scored Saturday for his first tally in 12 games.
"Some teams, the sum is greater than the parts and I think that's a little bit of this team this year," Lucia said. "I think that it starts with (goaltender Kent Patterson). We have a foundation and I think the way the young D-corps has come along, has emerged as offensive catalyst."
Matson, Boyd and Condon comprised the third-line last weekend, while Sacchetti scored as part of the fourth line. Matson's eighth-goal of the season was the game-winner Saturday against North Dakota to put Minnesota into the Frozen Four. It was his first goal since Jan. 7.
"It takes that pressure off the top two lines," Matson said. "The D-corps had three goals last weekend. If you're getting scoring from all four lines, it's obviously huge. For your opponent, it makes it hard to defend that as well. For us we just need to keep getting that from all four lines and our defensive corps as well."
But the Gophers top liners don't want to assume any slack necessarily will be picked up by their teammates.
"At the same time, if you're on the top lines, you're supposed to score," said Hansen, who had two goals and an assist last weekend. "That's your job. I think guys understand. It's nice that guys really stepped up."
Haula has five goals in the past five games and surpassed Bjugstad as the team's leading scorer with 20 goals and 28 assists. Bjugstad, with 25 goals and 17 assists, had an empty-net goal last week and Rau has scored twice in the past three games.
If the top two lines are as potent as they have been at times this season and the third and fourth lines and defenseman continue to produce, it doesn't leave any weakness for Boston College to game plan for.
"I think it's important for the top scorers to score, but our whole team's been scoring," Bjugstad said. "That's the key to our success right now. Everyone is pitching in. Obviously it's going to be important for key guys to score."
Lately, it's been tough to identify which are the "key" guys for Minnesota.
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