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Golden Nugz 12.23.11- Gophers beat NDSU, and Bjugstad and Rau get ready to take on the world

Gopher basketball will head into Big Ten conference play at 12-1, as they held off North Dakota State last night- barely. The Bison gave Tubby's team all they could handle as the Gophers survived 63-59. Listening to play-by-play man Mike Grimm in a KFAN interview early yesterday, Grimm said he was nervous about this one and worried it'd be a trap game, and we found out why. The Bison have built a solid program up in Fargo, and they'll have a solid chance to go dancing again come March. Like with football, this game means more to NDSU than Minnesota right now, and you could see it with how hard they fought.

But hey, 12-1 is 12-1 and after losing Mbakwe for the year, I don't know how many folks thought the Gophers would have this strong a start without him. As Grimm said yesterday, one of the reasons is Rodney Williams' play of late, as without Mbakwe, he's been able to play around the rim like he did back in high school. Last night was another good performance for him with 14 points and eight boards.

Down With Goldy reviews the win and has some hard truths about Gopher basketball.

Off Tackle Empire has an entertaining B1G holiday letter.

Gopher hockey is off until their annual holiday tourney late next week, but two Gopher players will get a much different experience, as Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau both made Team USA's world juniors squad. Bjugstad, who's been a bit banged up with a shoulder injury, was a lock and will likely center the team's top line. Rau wasn't even invited to the team's summer evaluation camp, but after such a strong first semester with the Gophers, got invited to try-out, and impressed the hell out of head coach Dean Blais. No surprise to Gopher fans who have watched Rau all season. He's not the biggest, not the fastest, but just finds ways to score and make good plays. He should be great for Team USA.

Good news for Wild fans, bad news for college hockey, as Wild prospect Charlie Coyle is leaving BU to play major junior hockey in Canada, where he'll play out this season. Coyle joins fells Wild prospect with the Saint Johns Seadogs, and apparently left school because of academic issues. Coyle will likely be one of Bjugstad's wings on the top line for Team USA.

If you're a fan of hockey, or are looking to become one, I'd highly recommend watching the World Junior tournament. It's a religion in Canada, and is finally starting to gain traction with fans here in the US. TSN of Canada covers just about every game, and NHL Network will pick up their feeds for the US audience. It's a fantastic tournament of the best 20-and-under players in the world, and Team USA is full of college hockey's best. It's very fast, and for the players, these games are the biggest of their lives, so you can see the passion in every goal.

The tournament features 10 teams split into two pools, with four games of round robin play, followed by single elimination quarters, semis, gold and bronze medal games. The tourney starts every year Dec 26 and runs through early January. A full schedule is here. Team USA's first game is Monday against Denmark, and is in a pool with the Danes, Czech Republic, Finland, and Canada. If you're looking for something to watch early on New Year's Eve, tune into NHL network at 7pm for USA vs Canada. It might be the best rivalry in hockey right now, and displays absolutely everything that's great about this tournament.

By far the best blog covering Team USA is United States of Hockey. He's rolling out a ton of content right now, including previews of Team USA's forwards, and defensemen and goalies.

The Hockey Writers have a full tournament preview.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Enjoy the holiday and we'll talk to you next week.