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UND HOCKEY: Recruit Gropp opts for Western Hockey League

UND has lost another recruit to Canadian major juniors. Forward Ryan Gropp, a highly recruited player who was off to a slow start in the British Columbia Hockey League, has opted to leave the Penticton Vees and sign with the Seattle Thunderbirds ...

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UND has lost another recruit to Canadian major juniors.

Forward Ryan Gropp, a highly recruited player who was off to a slow start in the British Columbia Hockey League, has opted to leave the Penticton Vees and sign with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, making him ineligible for college hockey.

Gropp, a 1996-born forward out of British Columbia, was a first-round WHL pick of the Thunderbirds and was expected to join UND next season.

According to Penticton general manager and coach Fred Harbinson, a former assistant coach at St. Cloud State, Gropp wanted a change of scenery because of early-season struggles.

"Ryan's midset last summer when he committed to UND and decided to return to Penticton was that he would enter the NCAA as a true freshman which coincides with his draft year," Harbinson said. "Unfortunately, Ryan did not get off to the start everyone expected this season, hence possible affecting his longterm goals. After a few discussions with Ryan and his family, we came to the conclusion it would be best for Ryan to change directions and move on to the WHL."

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Gropp had eight points in 10 games for the Vees, ranking seventh in scoring. But Gropp only factored in on four of the team's last 39 goals.

Gropp is the fifth UND recruit to bolt for major juniors in the last two-and-a-half years, joining Miles Koules, Brendan Lemieux and first-round NHL draft picks J.T. Miller and Stefan Matteau.

UND coach Dave Hakstol cannot comment on unsigned recruits per NCAA rules.

Gropp, who isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2015, said in a statement: "I have been having this feeling of joining the T-Birds for a while and it is better to make this decision sooner rather than later. The team is off to a good start and it is good to come and be a part of that. I am looking forward to getting started and joining the team."

Even without Gropp, UND is expected to have one of the best classes of 1996-born players in the country. Forwards Nick Schmaltz, Shane Gersich, Chris Wilkie, Austin Poganski and Rhett Gardner remain committed. Ryan Mantha is UND's only 1996-born defenseman commit.

Gersich will play in Ralph Engelstad Arena next weekend with the U.S. Under-18 team.

B.C. tickets on sale

Tickets are now on sale for the Great Northwest Showcase -- UND's games that will be played in Burnaby, B.C., on Jan. 3-4. UND will play Simon Fraser and the University of British Columbia.

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Tickets are being sold on the website www.burnabymountainhockey.com for $15 or $20.

Both games are exhibitions.

"We appreciate the invitation and are proud to be a part of this tournament," said UND coach Dave Hakstol, whose team will be joined by Princeton in Burnaby. "It is a great opportunity to spread the footprint of NCAA Division I hockey and, at the same time, allows many of our players from Western Canada to return home for two exhibition games."

Schlossman reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1129, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1129 or send e-mail to bschlossman@gfherald.com .

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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