Now that the NHL is back in full swing, a few young players are starting to make their NHL debut with their clubs. Some of the names are kind of familiar. There are two that might stick out for North Dakota Hockey fans.
During the last two seasons, the University of North Dakota Hockey team had two highly coveted recruits (J.T. Miller and Stefan Matteau) decommit from the team and decide to go a different route.
Obviously, UND fans were a little miffed at these two young men for changing their mind and going a different route.
While I was disappointed at first, that neither of these two kids honored their commitment, I am not longer upset about it. Here’s why. Neither of these kids would’ve been here that long anyways, and in the long run it ended up working out for the best anyways.
In August, right before the 2011-12 season, J.T. Miller decommitted from UND, and signed a signed with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. Miller’s decommit put UND in a precarious situation. Without Miller, UND immediately became a different type of team.
Because Miller changed his mind at the last minute, UND wasn’t able to just go get another player of Miller’s skill set. Players like that aren’t just a dime a dozen.
In response to the last minute defection, UND picked up a walk-on recruit named Connor Gaarder from the Coulee region Chill of the NAHL.
In 61 games with the Plymouth Whalers, Miller scored (25g-37a—62) and after his season with the Whalers was over, Miller played in eight games during the Calder Cup playoffs for the Connecticut Whale of the AHL.
This past week, Miller was called up to the New York Rangers and scored two goals during his second game against the New York Islanders, leading the Rangers to a 4-1 victory.
In retrospect, Miller would have been at UND for a single season, while losing him last summer was as setback and he would have been a great addition to UND’s depleted lineup. UND found a way to win without him.
Last January, USDT U18 recruit Stefan Matteau, who had originally committed to play at the University of North Dakota, decommitted from UND, and decided to play for the Blainville-Boisbraind Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
This was the second high profile player in as many years to decomitt from UND and go to the Canadian Hockey League.
Of course the UND fan base was upset. But UND nation was not alone; these defections have also happened to the University of Michigan and Miami University as well.
Matteau had a strong start to the season with the Armada (18g-10a—28pts) in 35 games and was invited to the New Jersey Devils camp once the NHL lockout was settled and has started the season.
Matteau ended up playing in the Devils first five games of the season before being a healthy scratch for the next four games in a row.
The New Jersey Devils could have sent Matteau back to Blainville-Boisbraind, but instead he remained with the New Jersey Devils and last night he was skating on a line with former Fighting Sioux forward Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk to start the game.
Looking back, I think it’s safe to say that Matteau is another player that wouldn’t have been here very long, in the end his decommitment to UND might not be such a bad thing.
During a recent UND hockey media day, I had a conversation with someone about the makeup of the current North Dakota hockey roster and how it could have looked if these two players had actually made it to North Dakota. It’s something to think about.