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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

A defenseman, Alex Goligoski is the leading scorer on the nation’s No. 1 team.

And, he’s only a junior.

Talk about making strides. Goligoski, the Penguins’ 2004 second-round draft pick, certainly has done that.

“I didn’t really have any goals set coming into the year. Obviously, I wanted to come in and be one of the best defensemen in college hockey,” he said. “I wanted to step up and be more of a vocal leader in the locker room because I was going to be an alternate captain. I guess it was just more of hitting the weights in the summer and get bigger, stronger, quicker and keep improving. That was mentality coming into the season.”

It certainly worked for the 6-foot, 187-pound blueliner. Goligoski, a left-handed shot, has 29 points (8+21) in 27 games for the top-ranked Golden Gophers (21-3-3), who have remained atop the polls for eight-straight weeks. While Goligoski leads the nation in points per game by defensemen (1.07), he believes he’s getting better defensively, too, this season.

“The biggest difference in my game is that I keep getting better defensively because I keep adding more size and strength,” he said. “I have always been pretty good positionally, but with more strength, it gets easier to play.”

Goligoski, a native of Grand Rapids, Minn., took on another role this season – alternate captain.

“That’s one of the biggest things I wanted to come in and do for this team,” he said. “We have a great captain in Mike Vannelli. Mike does a lot of the stuff, as far as getting the team going, but Kellen (Briggs) and I like chipping in. I wanted to come in here and have the respect of everyone, which I think I do, and try to lead them on and off the ice.”

Goligoski watches NHL games on TV whenever possible. He believes his style of play will be a successful one in the NHL some day.

“With the rule changes, it looks like offensive zones are huge. There’s a lot more room up top on the blue lines. I am more of an offensive defenseman, and that’s the way the game is moving toward, as far as defensemen are concerned,” he said. “Teams are going to want defensemen who can move the puck and get up in the play and create some scoring chances. I think that fits my game really well.”

And, he’s thrilled watching the Penguins and seeing the direction the organization is headed.

“It looks like they are doing really well. We have the Center Ice package at our place and we catch a lot of their games,” Goligoski said. “Everyone likes watching them – Sidney, Malkin and Staal and Fleury and all those young guys. They definitely have something great going there.”

He looks forward to joining the Penguins in the future.

“There’s obviously a ton of potential with this organization. There are a lot of good players that are already there and a lot of good prospects,” he said. “For me to maybe some day be a part of that, it’s really exciting.”

Named a preseason All-American, Goligoski has guided Minnesota to a fantastic regular season, so far. The Golden Gophers had their school-record 22-game unbeaten streak snapped recently as well as their 21-game home unbeaten streak.

“We have a pretty young team, so I think we generally didn’t know what to expect,” Goligoski said. “We’ve just rolling and we’ve been pretty fortunate enough to stay pretty healthy so far and a lot of guys have stepped up from last year. Everything is going really well.

“We have something really good going here in our locker room right now with these guys. I am sort of enjoying the ride right now. We’re doing well and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Minnesota finished last season as a favorite to compete for a national championship. However, they were upset in the first round of the NCAA Division I playoffs, 4-3 in overtime, by Holy Cross. Many consider it one of the biggest upsets in NCAA hockey history.

“We had a good team last year, too. I think this year our team might have a little more grit to it,” Goligoski said. “We have some bigger players up front and we’ve had some games where we were giving other teams fits in their own end because we have these big forwards up there. We also have a much better defensive team this year than last year. We played a lot more offensively last year and a lot less defensively. It’s almost totally opposite this year, so it’s worked out well.”

The Golden Gophers hope to avoid any bumps in the road this year as they focus on competing for a national championship.

“Our mentality right now is to give ourselves a chance at the end of the year. We want to be in St. Louis playing at the Frozen Four,” Goligoski said. “The last two years here in the league playoffs, we’ve done really poorly. We just want to have good momentum going into the year and get down to St. Louis and give ourselves the chance to play for a national title.”


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