Minnesota Hockey Weekend
Bjugstad’s hat trick, plus Minnesota natives score their 1st PWHL goals.
ST. PAUL – Saturday was the first time that former Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba returned to Xcel Energy Center to play an NHL game for a different team. Much of any pregame hype was focused on him as he arrived to play for the Arizona Coyotes.
But a Minnesota native stole his thunder once the puck dropped.
Arizona center – and another former Wild player – Nick Bjugstad, who grew up playing hockey in Blaine, Minn., scored his second career hat trick in a 6-0 shutout of the Wild.
“It felt good,” Bjugstad said. “It had been a while since I scored. That first one, it felt pretty good.
“Sometimes it just goes in for you. It was one of those nights.”
For the Wild, it was “one of those nights” in a completely different way as Minnesota was shut out on home ice for the second time in less than a week, dropping their fourth consecutive game to make it eight losses in the past nine games. The loss led to a players-only meeting following the game.
As of Saturday’s game, Bjugstad skated in 659 career NHL games. He has one four-point game to his name, plus five other three-point games. His one other hat trick came with the Florida Panthers on March 6, 2018, against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Bjugstad played in 101 games with the Wild in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. He scored 13 goals and 30 points wearing his home-state sweater.
He came into Saturday’s game with only six goals this season, his last tally coming Dec. 4 against Washington. But maybe the dam was just about to burst; he recorded eight shots on goal in the Jan. 11 game against Calgary but came up empty other than a single assist.
“You want to create volume,” Bjugstad said. “I’ve been in situations where I’ve been in some droughts. I just tried to stay even-keeled through all that. You just know eventually it’s going to go in.”
When Bjugstad completed his hat trick in the second period (with an assist from another former Wild player, Jason Zucker), hockey fans tossed a few hats onto the ice for the hometown player. There wasn’t much else to cheer about for the Wild faithful, other than the “t-shirt guy” pumping up the crowd with his hype moves.
As one would expect, the hat trick was all the more special for Bjugstad because it came in a building that he referred to as “the mecca” for him as a kid.
“I don’t really know how to put it in words,” Bjugstad said. “Yeah, it’s a fun one to have, and it’s a fun one to have with this team.”
PWHL Minnesota wraps up its first homestand, gets goals from alternate captains
One Minnesota professional hockey team still sits atop the league standings. That’s despite PWHL Minnesota (3-0-0-1) suffering its first loss of the season with a 3-2 overtime defeat at the hands of PWHL New York (2-1-2-0) on Sunday.
Roseville native and alternate captain Lee Stecklein scored her first goal of the season with a point shot that made it through traffic for a 1-0 lead in the first period. Another Twin Cities native, Kelly Pannek, of Plymouth, added to the lead with her first PWHL goal. Pannek’s tally started with her taking the puck into the zone, sliding it past two colliding New York players to get her all alone with the goaltender before firing her shot for a 2-0 lead in the first intermission.
“That was the best first period as a whole that we’ve had in the first, now four games,” Pannek, the other alternate captain, told Bally Sports North during the first intermission.
New York pressured more in the next two periods and eventually tied the game with a pair of power-play goals from Alex Carpenter and Jessie Eldridge, who scored with 10:49 remaining in regulation.
Special teams were a huge factor in the game. Minnesota had an early 5-on-3 advantage for nearly a full two minutes. They also had another power play in the third period with the chance to regain their two-goal lead. The puck possession and offensive zone time were there, but the conversion was not.
“It’s just a little lack of finish,” said Minnesota coach Ken Klee. “We’re getting good looks.
“You get enough good looks, you’re going to score goals.”
Minnesota is 0-for-8 on the power play so far this season, standing as the only team that hasn’t cashed in on the power play.
Minnesota had a couple of prime chances to win the game in the 3-on-3 overtime, too. Taylor Heise just missed popping the puck over the goal line right in front. Then Grace Zumwinkle was hauled down on a scoring chance and was awarded a penalty shot. She couldn’t convert with 1:40 left in OT. Then 41 seconds later, the game was over when New York’s Emma Woods fired a shot that deflected high on the blocker side to beat Minnesota goaltender Maddie Rooney.
New York celebrated handing Minnesota its first loss of the season.
“They obviously came out hot,” Woods said. “But I think we just stayed in the game and battled. They’re a fast team and very skilled. We matched that tonight. It felt good to take them out of the win column for a bit.”
There’s still plenty to be excited about with PWHL Minnesota as the season is now a couple of weeks old. Minnesota has also scored first in all four of its games and has yet to allow a first-period goal this season while scoring six goals of their own in the first frame.
Minnesota still remains the only PWHL to win on home ice thus far. Minnesota leads the PWHL in points with 10; it’s three points for a regulation victory, two points for an overtime victory and one point for an overtime loss.
Minnesota opened the season in Boston before playing their last three at Xcel Energy Center. After a record-breaking crowd for a professional women’s hockey game of 13,316 for the home opener, Minnesota drew 4,707 fans for Wednesday night’s game before another solid 7,951 on Sunday afternoon, closely filling up the lower bowl.
“Every game we’ve played here, we’ve had a fantastic crowd,” said Minnesota captain Kendall Coyne Schofield. “Definitely have the best crowd in the league, that’s for sure. They showed up.”