UND ventures out East in recruiting so infrequently that the first discussions with Long Island native Shane Pinto seemed innocuous.
But the UND coaching staff closely monitored the 6-foot-2, 185-pound centerman’s game, and Pinto let the staff know that he wasn’t set on staying on the East Coast for college.
That eventually led to a campus visit this weekend -- and by the time Pinto returned home Sunday night, he made a verbal commitment to play college hockey at North Dakota.
Pinto, who also had offers from Michigan State and UMass and had been talking with Penn State, will come to UND in 2019, 2020 or 2021.
When he does, he will be the first New Yorker ever to play at UND.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” the 2000-born Pinto said. “I always heard about North Dakota, but never in my mind thought it would happen. The first time I talked to (assistant) coach (Dane) Jackson, I was like, ‘Is this really North Dakota right now?’
“I don’t think they thought I would have much interest, because I’m from out East. But I continued with it.”
UND has only occasionally recruited players from the East Coast in the last decade with mixed success.
Three players -- forward Mike Cichy of Connecticut, goalie Anthony Grieco of Toronto and forward Mike Gornall of Pennsylvania -- transferred after two years with the program.
Two others -- Edmonton Oilers teammates Brad Malone and Drake Caggiula -- were home runs.
Malone, of New Brunswick, played four years, served as an alternate captain on a Frozen Four team and racked up 40 points as a senior. Caggiula, of Whitby, Ont., played four years, served as an alternate captain of an NCAA national championship team and won NCAA Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player honors in 2016.
UND also had a transfer from Ontario in goalie Clarke Saunders and a four-year defenseman from Washington, D.C., in Andrew Panzarella.
Pinto, a right-hander, is projected to be more in the mold of a Malone -- a big, powerful centerman with a good shot.
He currently plays for Selects Academy U18 team in Connecticut. He leads his team with 14 goals in 29 games.
Pinto will play for the Lincoln Stars in the United States Hockey League next season. Then, his date of arrival on campus will depend on his development.
Pinto attended his first games in Ralph Engelstad Arena over the weekend.
“I heard it was kind of a down weekend because the students were gone,” he said. “That’s just ridiculous if that’s the case. It was pretty awesome.”
Pinto will leave his home of Franklin Square, N.Y. -- located just East of John F. Kennedy Airport on Long Island -- to play his college hockey out West.
“I think it’s just the culture,” Pinto said. “It just fits into the way I am. The way they do things is so professional. It’s top notch. They get you prepared for the next level. I loved everything about it. It was just elite.”