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Bjugstad Q&A: Summer in Da Beauty League

by Jameson Olive @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Nick Bjugstad is a beauty.

A native of Blaine, Minn., Bjugstad, 25, has spent the better part of his summer gearing up for the upcoming Florida Panthers season by lacing up his skates in Da Beauty League, a no-hit, 4-on-4 hockey league made up of NHL players and top amateurs

Based out of Braemar Arena in Edina, Minn., Da Beauty League's games took place every Wednesday in July before moving to Mondays and Wednesdays in August until the playoffs began on Aug. 21.

Established in the Fall of 2015, Da Beauty League's champion will receive the John Scott Cup, named for the most valuable player of the 2016 NHL All-Star Game who, according to their website, also serves as the league's "very part-time honorary commissioner."

Additionally, all proceeds from the Da Beauty League will go charities such as the United Heroes League, which helps provide hockey equipment, game tickets, cash grants and funding for summer camps to military families in the U.S. and Canada.

There are six Da Beauty League teams -- Bic, Tria, Tradition Companies, RBC Royal Bank, Velocity Hockey and Walser -- with each being captained by an NHL veteran, such Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (Team Walser) and New York Islanders forward Brock Nelson (Team Tria).

After being hampered by injuries during Florida's 2016-17 campaign, Bjugstad, who plays for Team RBC, was by far one of the most productive players during Da Beauty League's regular season, finishing tied for second in league scoring with 18 points (11-7-18) in eight games.

Tweet from @DaBeautyLeague: Nick Bjugstad with a great goal for @RBC to tie t up 7-7!! @FlaPanthers pic.twitter.com/6l13ChxTMY

Recently, Bjugstad, in between his morning workout routine and Team RBC's final regular-season matchup, found time to catch up with FloridaPanthers.com's Jameson Olive to discuss how a spending a summer surrounded by beauties could lead to a bounce-back season for the former first-round pick.

FloridaPanthers.com: What can you tell me about the origins of Da Beauty League?

BJUGSTAD: It's a funny name [laughs]. The agency, Octagon, Ben Hankinson and Chris McAlpine came up with it. They pretty much solidified beauties. There are a lot of beauties in the game of hockey and there are also different types of beauties. You've got locker room guys and stuff like that. I think beauty used to be a negative thing, but it has turned into a cool thing now. It's a cool way to describe someone. I don't know how they came up with it. I think they got a little creative. The people in Minnesota love it. It's a good event. They started last year and I think it'll go on for a long time.

FloridaPanthers.com: How involved were you with Da Beauty League's inaugural season last year?

BJUGSTAD: There weren't as many games and I unfortunately missed a few. It was a little different last year. They definitely have more games this year and it's a little bit more intense. I think I've been at every game up until this point. They get a lot of people at these games. It's a crazy thing to see in the middle of summer. These fans are hungry and want to see hockey, especially when we've got guys from all over, whether it's guys from NHL teams or college teams, coming back to their hometowns for the summer. The compete level is super high and the games are pretty high scoring. There are also tons of kids that can get autographs after the games. I think if I were a kid back in the day I'd have to get a season pass because you really get personal time with the players while they're walking out. It's fun for us and I think it's really fun for the fans, too. They have to pay a little bit but it all goes to charity, so it's a win-win.

FloridaPanthers.com: Speaking of the fans, you've built up quite the reputation, both in Minnesota and South Florida, as the type of guy that will never turn down an autograph or photo request.

BJUGSTAD: I always try to sign for every kid I can because who knows how long they're going to want your autograph, so you might as well sign while they want it [laughs]. Like I said, if I was a kid I'd be going nuts seeing all these guys playing.

Tweet from @DaBeautyLeague: The Nick Bjugstad Daily �� @FlaPanthers pic.twitter.com/wAOGxHEDZG

FloridaPanthers.com: Looking at the rosters, there are quite a few NHL and AHL players, but also plenty of college players on your team. How much do you enjoy playing alongside players from so many different leagues and schools?

BJUGSTAD: It seems like every team is stacked. You look at some of the rosters and there are a lot of big names. There are also a few college guys that have been definitely fun to play with that are very skilled. My boy Riley Tufte, they make sure they keep us together. That's who I skate with a couple of times during the week, individually anyways. It's fun to play with him and compete with some of the younger guys.

FloridaPanthers.com: Is it a coincidence that you and Tufte ended up on the same team or does the league take things like friendship into account when building teams?

BJUGSTAD: I'm actually not sure. Hankinson, my agent, him and Keith Ballard, who's a part of Octagon now, and McAlpine all put a lot of time into it. They kind of know who hangs out with who and who might be coming from one part of town in order to work out a carpool because traffic is tough around the time they have the games. For clients, they probably also make it a little more convenient [laughs]. Everyone seems to be really happy with how the league is run, so they're doing a really good job.

FloridaPanthers.com: Speaking of the league's upper management, how is it having 2016 NHL All-Star MVP John Scott as an honorary commissioner?

BJUGSTAD: He's the logo! Last year, he made an appearance and came out with the cup. They make a big deal out of it.

FloridaPanthers.com: How much has competing in Da Beauty League helped you prepare for next month's training camp in Florida?

BJUGSTAD: It's good to compete and try to get the feel for the game in the middle of the summer because you don't want to jump into training camp not having scrimmaged against other guys. It's good to have some competitive games. It's not like we're just going in and screwing around. A lot of guys take this really seriously and I think that's good for everyone's game. I spent a lot of time on the ice this summer just trying to get my game back to where it was. I think it's been good for my confidence. I can kind of tweak some things here and there and then try them out in [Da Beauty League] without the risk of some of the consequences there would be in a regular-season game. It's not like I try anything crazy, but just I've just been tweaking things here and there, trying to get better at the different areas of my game that I think will be really important during the upcoming season. It's not like we're going out and playing beer league shinny. It's a fast-paced game and guys want to get better and they want to win. That's why it's fun to be a part of.

FloridaPanthers.com: I've spoken to a few other Panthers players this summer who have told me their excitement level for the upcoming season is absolutely through the roof. How excited are you to get back on the ice and drop the puck in October?

BJUGSTAD: The summer can't end fast enough -- I'm ready to get going! It's good to come home, but I'm ready to get back, especially with how last season ended. No one wants to stop playing after the 82nd game. We all wanted to keep going, especially after getting a taste of the playoffs the season before. It's left a bitter taste in our mouths all summer. If anything, it's made us work harder. I've seen a few guys at weddings throughout the summer and it's definitely been good to see them. I'm sure we'll all start heading back [to South Florida] soon. I'm excited about the new coaches and excited to meet the new staff. For myself, I couldn't be more excited. I want to contribute anyway I can. I've been doing my best this summer to come into training camp as physically and mentally prepared as I can.

Tweet from @DaBeautyLeague: Nick Bjugstad loving the #UnifiedShowcase! @FlaPanthers pic.twitter.com/xu0bHshAtC

FloridaPanthers.com: You were one of only four forwards protected by the Panthers during the expansion draft earlier this summer. As you look ahead towards the upcoming season, how much has that boosted your confidence?

BJUGSTAD: I was excited. I didn't want to leave Florida. I love playing for the organization. No one really knew what was going to happen. It was kind of like a math equation that you can't solve, which is pretty common for me because I'm not very good at math [laughs]. I was super excited that they protected me. It definitely made me a little more confident in the fact that they have faith in me, especially after the year that I had. I'm harder on myself than anyone. I know what I'm capable of and this past year was unacceptable. I've done everything I can to enhance my game this summer and have a bounce-back year.

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