Rhett Gardner was in Saskatchewan on Saturday morning for his sister’s graduation.
The Dallas Stars gave his family another reason to celebrate, too.
After being passed over in the last two NHL Drafts, Gardner was picked in the fourth round by the Dallas Stars in his final year of draft eligibility, the culmination of a terrific freshman year at North Dakota.
Gardner -- one of five current or future UND players taken in the event -- went with the No. 116 overall pick to the Stars, an organization where UND head coach Brad Berry spent eight years as a player and one as a coach.
“I knew there was a chance that I would get drafted,” Gardner said. “I wouldn’t say I felt 100 percent going in. I didn’t think I would go in the fourth round like I did. I was expecting the sixth or seventh round. It’s really exciting to end up with the Stars.”
Gardner’s role with the eventual NCAA national champions continually increased throughout the season.
He was a healthy scratch in Game 1 in Portland, Maine. He got in the next night and was never a healthy scratch again.
Gardner transformed from a fourth liner in October to a top-six centerman who took perhaps the season’s most crucial defensive zone draw in the NCAA Frozen Four.
“I thought I made huge strides this year,” Gardner said.
Berry said he received a lot of calls about Moose Jaw, Sask., product leading up to the draft.
“He earned that, getting drafted today,” said Berry, who was in Buffalo for the event. “It was well warranted. It’s another step in his development and another step in the process. Today is a nice accolade, but he knows full well that the work continues. It’s about proving yourself every day.”
One day after incoming freshman Tyson Jost went to the Colorado Avalanche with the No. 10 overall pick in the first round, four current or future UND players followed suit.
Only Boston University (six draft picks) had more players selected this year than UND’s five. Wisconsin also had five, while Providence had four.
The final three UND picks were recruits who aren’t expected to come to campus until 2017-18 -- forward Mitchell Mattson (fifth round, Calgary Flames), goalie Peter Thome (sixth round, Columbus Blue Jackets) and forward Collin Adams (sixth round, New York Islanders).
Mattson to Calgary
Mattson, who played his senior year at Grand Rapids (Minn.) High School, became the first UND player to be selected by Calgary since George Pelawa in 1986.
Mattson helped get Grand Rapids to the state tournament this season, tallying 46 points in 25 games. He also suited up for Bloomington (Ill.) in the United States Hockey League for 31 games, but found it tough to produce offense, tallying three goals and no assists.
Even so, his 6-foot-4 frame and potential attracted many scouts’ attention.
“He has a big body, a big frame,” Berry said. “He’ll gain strength through the next few years here. He’s a big-bodied centerman who a lot of NHL teams would love to have.”
Mattson will play next season with Bloomington before coming to Grand Forks.
Thome to Columbus
Thome, a goalie from the Twin Cities, was in the Dominican Republic with his family Saturday.
He woke up, went to a restaurant and watched for his name.
“After the fifth round, I thought all hope was lost, because the teams that I had talked to already drafted a goalie,” Thome said. “My internet service cut out on my phone. Then, I got a text message from my advisor that just said: COLUMBUS in all caps. My heart was racing, trying to get service when I saw my name come up on TV.”
Thome ran out of the restaurant to yell.
“I was so happy, I just kind of blacked out for a little bit,” Thome said.
Thome, the cousin of former UND pitching star Andrew Thome, posted a .929 save percentage for Aberdeen (S.D.) in the North American Hockey League. He will play for Omaha in the USHL next season.
He has several items to work on.
“Trusting my game, trusting my reads, my hands, making clean, simple first saves and always staying big,” he said.
Adams to Isles
Adams had a strong first season in the USHL for Muskegon, averaging more than a point per game.
But his diminutive size -- 5-foot-8, 172 pounds -- kept him off of most mock drafts. That didn’t matter to the Islanders, though.
“Collin played in the USHL as a young player and he did very well in his first year,” Berry said. “He has a lot of compete. He has a pretty good skill package. The Islanders stepped up and saw a lot of potential in him.”
Adams, of Brighton, Mich., will play one more season in the USHL before coming to Grand Forks.
- Another year passed without the Minnesota Wild taking a UND player. The Wild have never drafted a UND player in franchise history. The only other team that hasn’t taken a UND player since the Wild joined the NHL is the Detroit Red Wings, who haven’t picked a UND player in the entry draft since Rick Zombo in 1981.
- A total of 61 NCAA or college-bound players were taken in the draft. Hockey East (24), the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (16) and the Big Ten (12) all averaged two picks per team. The Western Collegiate Hockey Association had two picks, Atlantic Hockey none and independent Arizona State had one.