After UND's season suddenly came to an end due to the coronavirus outbreak, a handful of NHL teams lined up to try to sign Jordan Kawaguchi.
The UND junior forward had a breakout season, finishing first in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and second in the nation in scoring with 45 points. He was named a Hobey Baker Award finalist and won U.S. College Hockey Online's national player of the year honor.
Kawaguchi had a decision to make: sign an NHL contract as an undrafted free agent or come back for his senior season?
Kawaguchi turned to a player who was once in his shoes for advice.
He called Drake Caggiula, who received free-agent offers after his junior season in 2015. Caggiula opted to return for his senior year, led UND to an eighth NCAA national title and was named the 2016 Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player.
"He shared his experience on what he went through in his college career," Kawaguchi said. "I found it pretty helpful. He felt the same way I did after the season. He had a really good junior year, he had his opportunities, but he decided to go back and put two years of really good hockey together. He didn't want to leave his college career (after the 2015 Frozen Four loss). He felt like he could come back and win a national championship."
Kawaguchi took Caggiula's advice to heart and ended up making the same choice.
Kawaguchi told the Herald on Tuesday night that he will come back to school for his senior season.
"Part of the reason was the way the season ended so abruptly," Kawaguchi said. "I definitely feel that we didn't accomplish everything we wanted to. It was out of our hands. With the group we have, and the resources we have, it's unbelievable. I didn't want to go anywhere else. I want to be here and I want to win a national championship."
Upon making his decision to return, Kawaguchi said two of the first calls he made were to his linemates Grant Mismash and Collin Adams, both juniors who have been drafted by NHL teams.
If Mismash and Adams return, UND could reconstruct its entire top line for next season.
Kawaguchi was the leader of the group. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound winger from Abbotsford, B.C., had 15 goals and 30 assists. He led the nation in primary points (first assists plus goals, 38) and game-winning points (13).
Kawaguchi also drove UND's resurgent top power-play unit. He ran the power play from the right circle, showing potential to distribute to anyone on the ice or to shoot from that spot.
UND will lose seven seniors -- Colton Poolman, Andrew Peski, Westin Michaud, Cole Smith, Zach Yon, Dixon Bowen and Casey Johnson -- from a team that went 26-5-4 and won the Penrose Cup as NCHC champions. But Kawaguchi's decision to return will give the Fighting Hawks a big boost.
The list of UND's Hobey Baker Award finalists to return to school are among the program's all-time great players: Greg Johnson, Jason Blake, Jeff Panzer, Zach Parise and Ryan Duncan. Kawaguchi will now join that list.
"With the guys who could be coming back, and with some of the recruits we have coming in, we should be up there for sure," Kawaguchi said. "I think this year helped us gain the confidence we need. We can go into any game, and if we play our best and do what we need to do, we can win any game."
Kawaguchi said his junior season was especially enjoyable.
"Some of the best memories I've had in my career so far," he said. "Nothing was too serious. We came to every game ready to go. Practices were hard, but we always had fun with it. I live with seven other guys on the team. We're always joking around and having fun. Our class is pretty close. Our whole team is close. It was definitely a fun year.
"Winning the Penrose is going to stick with me for a long time, especially with the way the season ended. That weekend was really fun for us."
Kawaguchi said his attention will now turn toward building for next season and getting back to the top of the NCHC.
"We need to approach it like we did last summer," Kawaguchi said. "We need to be even better. We can't sit on what we accomplished last season. We need to be right back on top and ready to go from the start of the season."