As several of his teammates head east to Minsk, Belarus, and this year’s IIHF World Championships, Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad will instead travel west to his home state of Minnesota.
Originally thought to be a shoe-in for Team USA’s World Championships roster, Bjugstad’s suspicious snub actually makes sense when you realize that the competition conflicts with possibly an even greater event in his life – his college graduation.
Unbeknownst to many, Bjugstad spent the second half of the 2013-14 season not only being graded on his face-off percentage and point total, but also his work in the classroom as he pushed to earn the final credits he needed to obtain a degree in Business Marketing from the University of Minnesota.
“All done,” Bjugstad said after practice on April 2 with his final course completed – a five-week economics class. “I should be able to walk in May with my class, so that’ll be kinda cool. I was pretty excited to get that done.”
A first-round pick (19th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bjugstad played for three years at the University of Minnesota before forgoing his senior season and making his NHL debut for the Panthers on April 6, 2013.
However, at just 21 years old and only just beginning his promising young career in the NHL, Bjugstad admits that he hasn’t fully moved on from his college lifestyle.
“I still kinda live like a college kid anyways,” Bjugstad said. “Taking the classes and still talking to all my college buddies. I moved on a little bit from school since you obviously don’t have to go to class, but online work, you have to have some self motivation to do that.”
Showing the same kind of motivation in the classroom that he shows on the ice, Bjugstad was able to set aside between 30 minutes to an hour every day to focus on schoolwork.
However, given that life on the road is hard enough to begin with as a high-profile rookie, Bjugstad also noted that his studies sometimes conflicted with some of the fun that can accompany the team’s roadtrips.
“Every once in a while I’d have to say ‘naw I can’t go out to dinner guys, I’ve gotta order room service because I’ve gotta do homework.’” Bjugstad said of studying on road trips.
“They’d give me a little crap, but they’d say ‘good for you’. A lot of guys went to school and some of them are going to finish up.”
Beginning his final course just as the NHL returned from its Winter Olympic hiatus, Bjugstad suddenly had a lot on his plate as the Panthers finished the regular season playing a compacted scheduled. And although his father voiced concerns over the possible strain that his studies could add to his already hectic schedule, Bjugstad was determined to finish what he had started.
“I figured I was close enough anyway so I might as well get it done now,” Bjugstad said. “Ten years from now I probably won’t want to do it, credits change and all that. I just wanted to have an education and have that in the back of my head in case hockey doesn’t work out.”
Finishing his rookie season as the Panthers’ leading scorer with 38 points (the first rookie to ever lead Florida in scoring), it certainly seems that a lengthy NHL career is all but assured for Bjugstad. However, that hasn’t stopped him from giving some thought to where his degree could take him when he does hang up his skates someday.
“Obviously for a hockey guy I’d love to coach eventually,” said Bjugstad. “To be a college coach you’ve got to have a degree. That was another part of the motivation.”
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