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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service, Published June 30 2013

UND has six players taken in NHL Draft , more than any other NCAA program

GRAND FORKS – The first time Tucker Poolman was eligible for the NHL Draft, he was at home in East Grand Forks, Minn., just hoping for a roster spot in junior hockey.

He tried out for one United States Hockey League team and three North American Hockey League squads before a team in Wichita Falls, Texas, gave him an opportunity.

So, when the East Grand Forks defenseman saw his name pop on the screen as a fifth-round NHL draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday afternoon, he didn’t know how to react.

“It was pretty crazy,” he said. “It’s still a little surreal to me right now. I never thought something like this would happen, but it did.”

Indeed, Poolman was a big part of what was a historic NHL Draft day for Grand Forks area hockey players.

East Grand Forks, which hadn’t had a player selected in the NHL Draft in 30 years, saw two players go in the span of 24 picks in the fifth round. Poolman went to the Jets with the No. 127 pick and Gage Ausmus, a defenseman, went to the San Jose Sharks with the No. 151 pick.

In between, Grand Forks native and forward Luke Johnson was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks (No. 134) marking the first time ever that Greater Grand Forks had three selections in the same NHL Draft.

University of North Dakota freshman-to-be Keaton Thompson, a defenseman, also made history. He was the first Devils Lake, N.D., player to go in the NHL Draft when the Anaheim Ducks picked him in the third round.

Add in the selections of forward Adam Tambellini in the third round (New York Rangers) and forward Wade Murphy in the seventh round (Nashville Predators) and UND had six draft picks – more than any other NCAA program.

“It’s unbelievable that we’re at the point in our lives where we’re getting drafted by NHL teams,” said Ausmus, who will suit up for UND this fall.

Thompson and Ausmus, who have been close friends for years and will be roommates in Walsh Hall this fall, were drafted to rival teams – the Ducks and the Sharks. Ausmus said they’ve already started trash talking each other’s NHL team.

Johnson, Tambellini and Murphy also are expected to be key pieces for UND’s team this season. Poolman will most likely play one more year for the Omaha Lancers in the USHL before coming to campus.

Johnson, who was projected as a possible first- or second-round pick a year ago, said he’s looking forward to the college season.

“Last year, I didn’t have a great year,” Johnson said. “I put too much pressure on myself at times and over-thought certain situations. I was playing well at times. Other times, I was over-thinking things and gripping the stick too tight.

“I’m motivated to have a breakout year. Hopefully we have a good team and hopefully we can get to Philadelphia.”

Johnson, whose father Steve was taken in the NHL Supplemental Draft and uncle Chad was taken in the NHL Entry Draft, knows that the road to the NHL is just beginning.

“It’s an honor to be drafted, but in the end, it doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “You still have to work hard and hopefully, someday, you get to the point where you can sign a contract.”

But in the end, Sunday was a memorable day for four local players and six UND recruits.

“It’s just exciting,” Poolman said. “I always dreamed of this. For it to actually happen is unbelievable.”

Former Fargo Force and current St. Cloud State player Jonny Brodzinski was drafted in the fifth round, 148 overall by the Los Angeles Kings.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald