The Florida Panthers departed for Minnesota on Monday leaving behind a beautiful 85-degree day. A mere 1,500 miles and 80 degrees later, the Panthers arrived in the Twin Cities greeted by single-digit temperatures and below zero wind chill.
Conventional wisdom says Minnesota native Nick Bjugstad would be immune to the cold. Bjugstad admitted, however, three years of South Florida living has thinned his blood.
“Just walking to the rink a few blocks was pretty tough for me,” Bjugstad admitted. “You get used to shorts and flip-flops in Florida. I’m hearing it from the guys, ‘How can you live in Minnesota?’ But it’s a great place to live, actually.”
Bjugstad and fellow Minnesotan Kyle Rau enjoyed a rare in-season visit home in the first of a three-game trip that includes stops in Winnipeg and Colorado. That it came so close to the holidays only added to its significance for the former University of Minnesota teammates.
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“I went home for dinner last night and my parents had the house all decorated so it’s pretty special to be here to see friends and family,” Rau said.
Bjugstad gathered with family at an uncle’s house but hockey remained a focal point for for the 2010 Minnesota Mr. Hockey award winner from Blaine.
“Got a little home cooking, played some mini hockey with my cousins, so it was good to be home for the night,” Bjugstad said. “Obviously, we only make it here once a year so I try to make the most of it.”
This trip marks the fourth and second visits to St. Paul as professionals for Bjugstad and Rau, respectively. Rau was a Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner himself in 2011. The arena holds fond memories for each but Rau holds the edge in that department.
“This is kind of his rink. He’s won a few state championships that I haven’t,” Bjugstad said. “We won some big games with the [Gophers] here, though, so I can stick to that, but the high school games I still have some bad memories.”
Rau capped off his high school career with a diving shot in the third overtime of the state championship game in front of a packed house at Xcel Energy Center. It was Rau’s second state title in three years playing for his hometown Eden Prairie high school.
“I definitely have some good memories here and this place is obviously special to me,” Rau said. “It’s gonna be a great night tonight.”
▪ Jonathan Marchessault skated for a second straight day on Tuesday and rejoined the lineup after missing five games due to a lower body injury. The Panthers leading goal scorer with 10 points, despite the layoff, was united with Bjugstad and Colton Sceviour on Florida’s third line for the first time since training camp — when Bjugstad broke his hand in a preseason game.
The trio had been expected to play together from the day the Panthers signed Marchessault and Sceviour when free agency opened on July 1.
Marchessault said after Tuesday’s pregame skate he did not want to be eased back into the lineup and wouldn’t play if he didn’t feel he could perform at 100 percent.
“I’m not a guy that goes like 70 or 60 percent hard,” he said. “So I want to be able to go hard. I’m going to see how I feel in warmup but so far it’s good.”