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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published April 03 2012

UND men's hockey player Nelson to turn pro

GRAND FORKS – The leading scorer for the University of North Dakota men’s hockey team has turned pro.

Sophomore forward Brock Nelson signed a three-year contract with the New York Islanders on Tuesday, giving up his final two years of college eligibility. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Nelson led the Sioux with 28 goals and 47 points last season, while manning the left wing on a prolific top line.

The Warroad, Minn., product and first-round pick of the Islanders finishes his college career with 68 points in 84 games.

Nelson’s three-year contract will kick in next year. He’ll play the rest of this season on an amateur tryout contract with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League. Bridgeport is the top minor-league affiliate of the Islanders.

“It was definitely a tough decision,” Nelson said. “Obviously, the program has done great things for me personally and for every guy who comes through here. They do a great job developing guys. I felt like the decision I made was the right one, and it was time for me to move on and pursue my dream.”

Nelson informed his teammates of his decision Tuesday.

“Everyone here gets to be so close and so tight,” he said. “It’s emotional for everyone. Everyone was supportive, no matter what everyone decides.”

Nelson, a Mr. Hockey finalist who led Warroad High School to the state tournament, had a breakout sophomore campaign with the Sioux. He more than doubled his goal (eight) and point (21) totals from his freshman season.

With added strength, he led the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with 28 goals. That total ranked third nationally, only behind Colgate’s Austin Smith (36) and Miami’s Reilly Smith (30). He was named a third-team all-WCHA pick and made all-tournament teams at both the WCHA Final Five and the NCAA West Regional.

“I thought it might have been an option (to sign) after the year, but I didn’t think about it too much,” Nelson said. “It was a tough way to end our season with the loss in the regional final. It was our goal to get back to the Frozen Four and win it all. We had a great run, a great ride.”

While the Sioux lost Nelson, they did get word from two juniors who decided to return to school.

Forward Carter Rowney, who received free agent offers after a breakout junior season, and defenseman Andrew MacWilliam, who had interest from the Toronto Maple Leafs, informed the coaching staff that they will play for UND next season.

The Sioux are still awaiting decisions from juniors Danny Kristo, Aaron Dell and Corban Knight. Sources say Dell is leaning toward signing a free-agent deal; Knight is likely to return to UND.

UND lost two players early to NHL contracts last summer – juniors Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall. Gregoire played the season with the St. John’s IceCaps in the AHL and Hextall played for the Portland Pirates in the AHL.

Nelson said he doesn’t have any expectations yet for next season.

“It’s a long ways away,” he said. “The biggest thing is getting settled in and getting experience with Bridgeport. Hopefully, I can go there and contribute and hopefully continue to develop.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald

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