By Brad Schlossman
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — During his first three offseasons as the Fighting Hawk’s head coach, Brad Berry lost 10 players to early NHL signings — the most of any three-year span in the last 25 years of University of North Dakota hockey.
Now that UND’s season ended with a 4-2 loss to Denver on Saturday night in Magness Arena, early NHL signing season has arrived again.
This year, all eyes will be on UND junior defenseman Colton Poolman.
Poolman is an undrafted free agent who is gaining considerable attention from NHL teams and will soon be fielding offers. NHL teams will likely pitch Poolman with the option of playing in the NHL this season.
The East Grand Forks Senior High graduate, who is one of three finalists for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s player of the year, said he doesn’t want to wait too long to make a decision.
“I think I want to get it done fairly quickly, I guess,” Poolman said outside the locker room Saturday night. “I want to talk with my family and friends. But I want to be with my team right now. That’s my main thing. I just want to be with them.”
Poolman fought back tears when talking about the season and his teammates.
“We care so much about this program,” he said. “I can’t say enough about it.”
Poolman finished the season with five goals and 17 points in 35 games.
Poolman probably won’t have to go far to get advice on his decision. His older brother, Tucker, faced the same decision two years ago. After passing up an offer to sign with the Winnipeg Jets after his sophomore season, Tucker turned pro after his junior year. He has split time between the Jets and the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.
If UND manages to keep Colton Poolman, the team captain, for his senior season, this could be the first time in nine years that UND hasn’t lost a player to an early NHL signing.
It would also bolster the team’s defensive corps, which is bound to be UND’s strength next season. It could return everyone but senior Hayden Shaw on that unit. The Fighting Hawks are expected to bring in Moorhead’s Ethan Frisch to replace Shaw next season.
Other returning defensemen are expected to be Matt Kiersted, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jonny Tychonick, Gabe Bast, Andrew Peski and Josh Rieger.
If Poolman returns, it would give UND two senior defensemen (Poolman and Peski), matching the number of senior defensemen Berry had in his first four years combined as head coach.
Early pro signings by year
2018: Christian Wolanin (jr), Shane Gersich (jr)
2017: Tucker Poolman (jr), Brock Boeser (so), Tyson Jost (fr)
2016: Troy Stecher (jr), Paul LaDue (jr), Keaton Thompson (jr), Luke Johnson (jr), Nick Schmaltz (so)
2015: Jordan Schmaltz (jr), Zane McIntyre (jr)
2014: Rocco Grimaldi (so)
2013: Derek Forbort (jr)
2012: Aaron Dell (jr), Brock Nelson (so)
2011: Jason Gregoire (jr), Brett Hextall (jr)
2008: T.J. Oshie (jr), Taylor Chorney (jr)
2007: Jonathan Toews (so), Brian Lee (so)
2006: Drew Stafford (jr), Matt Smaby (jr), Jordan Parise (jr), Travis Zajac (so), Rastislav Spirko (so)
2005: Matt Greene (jr), Brady Murray (so)
2004: Brandon Bochenski (jr), Zach Parise (so)
2003: David Hale (jr)
2002: Ryan Bayda (jr)
2001: Bryan Lundbohm (jr), Travis Roche (so)