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April 6, 2006 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Sioux Could Be Super, If ...

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

MILWAUKEE — With 10 freshmen playing on a regular basis, many of which were first-round and second-round NHL Draft picks and came to dominate as the season went along, it would figure that North Dakota would very strong next season. Perhaps even a favorite.

The key, of course, is making sure everyone sticks around.

Drew Stafford could have played his last college hockey game Thursday. (photo: Neil Ament)

Drew Stafford could have played his last college hockey game Thursday. (photo: Neil Ament)

Drew Stafford, coming off a very strong junior season and with an NHL body, would be a likely candidate to go, just like most other prominent, highly-drafted juniors in college hockey have already done. He was a one-time first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, and the Sabres could use him now.

But he wasn't giving anything away after Thursday's loss to BC.

"We just lost a national semifinal," Stafford said. "So I'm not thinking about it. I have no clue."

North Dakota brought in a slew of freshmen this year, but won't need to do the same. Another year of development will be the biggest boost to North Dakota, as opposed to relying on anyone new to make an impact next season.

"We'll have a smaller class," Hakstol said. "We have a lot of character guys in that locker room that will be back. We'll take a couple of days to get over our disappointment and then turn to next year. We'll do that early next week."

But the question is whether by early next week, one of his stars may already be gone.

"I have no comment on any of that," Hakstol said. "It's a fact of life that players leave. But we have unfinished business."

Goaltender Jordan Parise was not highly-touted coming into school, and so the likelihood of his return is pretty strong. But it's always possible that sophomores or even freshmen could leave. Sophomore Travis Zajac was a high-round pick. Fellow sophomore Rastislav Spirko could be tugged to return home to Slovakia. Freshman T.J. Oshie and Brian Lee were first rounders last year. Jonathan Toews, who had 21 goals this year, is expected to go in the top three of the upcoming NHL Draft.

Parise, though, was sounding more realistic than many players do during the offseasons. Often, players leave, and wind up mired in the minors, when another year or two of seasoning could help. Other times, players are ready — like Denver's Matt Carle — and can jump right into an NHL lineup.

"Definitely there are guys looking for that, but you have to look yourself in the mirror and be honest with yourself," Parise said. "You have to be honest about whether you're ready to go. That's the most difficult thing to do. If you're ready, then by all means."

If the Sioux somehow manage to return everyone — the only senior is bulldog Mike Prpich — it could be a juggernaut.

"If we can bring a lot of the guys back, it should be a great team," Parise said.

But that remains an "if" that will get some answers pretty soon.

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