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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Stafford becomes a Sabre

I don’t think anybody was too surprised to see Drew Stafford sign a pro deal Wednesday. Stafford put together good season and developed a strong all-around game.

He led one of the most explosive teams in the country in scoring. He showed a quick, accurate wrist shot. He developed a great one-timer. He was a key component of the power play. He was one of the team’s best penalty killers.

He could score, pass, work in the corners and throw his body around.

There’s no way Buffalo could let him go unsigned and risk losing him next summer, when he would have become a free agent. Stafford is a versatile player who the Sabres can use however they want -- as a scorer or as a checker. He’s proven he can play both roles effectively.

When I talked to Stafford on Wednesday morning, he sounded beat. That’s to be expected, though, when a 20-year-old is named to Team USA’s World Championship squad, rearranges finals and finishes classes, flys to Buffalo to work on a contract, flys to Latvia to participate in the tournament, plays an exhibition game (in which he scored a goal) and signs a pro deal -- all in a week.

The knock Stafford heard throughout his career was that he wasn’t consistent. This season, he did a good job quieting his critics. Stafford finished in the top 10 nationally in goals. He played a key role in getting the Sioux to the Frozen Four by scoring 15 points in his last 10 games of the season.

Stafford played through a knee injury in the West Regional and even scored a shorthanded goal to break Michigan’s back in the first round game.

His play late in the season earned praise from coach Dave Hakstol, who called Stafford a leader in a lot of ways.

Teammate Ryan Duncan echoed that sentiment. Upon winning the WCHA Final Five, Duncan explained to the media how Stafford and Erik Fabian spent time in the locker room before each game to help the team get ready -- even though both players were out with injuries. “Drew and Erik have been great leaders for us,” Duncan said.

I always was amazed at how little attention Stafford received for the rare talent he possesses. He became UND’s fourth-highest drafted player ever in 2004, but he wasn’t talked about nearly as much as Zach Parise or Brady Murray. Maybe Sioux fans were starting to get accustomed to all the high-end players UND was bringing in.

But if everyone knew in 2003 that the 17-year-old youngster from Shattuck-St. Mary’s would leave UND after three years just five career points behind Lee Goren and Bryan Lundbohm, would Stafford have generated a few more conversations?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The knock Stafford heard throughout his career was that he wasn’t consistent. This season, he did a good job quieting his critics. Stafford finished in the top 10 nationally in goals.

How many of those goals came against the "good" teams? If Stafford had skated with a tenth of the effort of say, Oshie, he would have re-written every record UND has ever seen. Things came too easy for him and he disappeared in the big games. Effort like that won't go far in the next level. Hopefully for his sake he is able to gain some focus and give what he's capable of every night. UND fans were certainly not shown that from night to night.

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