3 Gopher hockey stars leave team to go pro

1:32 PM, Apr 3, 2013   |    comments
Courtesy Minnesota Athletic Communications
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MINNEAPOLIS - First the Gopher men's hockey team lost out on a dream season after being upset by Yale in the NCAA regionals.

One could argue the developments of the next few days contitute and even bigger loss.

Star center Nick Bjugstad, wing Zach Budish and defensemen Nate Schmidt have all signed professional contracts, signaling an end to their Gopher careers.

Bjugstad, 20, was Florida's first-round pick (19th overall) at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

He's spent the last three seasons with the Golden Gophers, scoring 46 goals over the last two seasons. Bjugstad also  represented Team USA at the 2011 and 2012 World Junior Championships, capturing a bronze medal in '11.

It's possible that Florida will bring Bjugstad straight to the NHL for some seasoning, though they could opt to send him straight to AHL San Antonio.

Budish, a junior forward from Edina, will forego his senior season with the Gophers after signing a two-year contract with the Nashville Predators Wednesday morning. Budish was a second round draft pick of the Predators in 2009 and will make about $575,000 per year.

Schmidt will also forgo his senior year, signing a two-year entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals.

The deal was done on Tuesday.

Schmidt played three seasons for the Gophers, tallying 74 points including 12 goals in 96 career games. The junior from St. Cloud Cathedral High School was one of Minnesota's most valuable players in 2012-13. He was a key contributor on special teams as well as the leader on the blue line, named first team All-WCHA after leading the league in scoring by a defenseman.

Schmidt had 32 points with a plus-15 rating this season, including a career-high nine goals. The Gophers were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Yale.

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