ST. PAUL, Minn. — Last March, Derek Gustafson and Ricky DiPietro dazzled the college hockey world in an NCAA Tournament regional game between their teams, St. Lawrence and Boston University, respectively. The two freshman goalies turned in memorable performances as St. Lawrence won the four-overtime classic to advance to the Frozen Four.
Less than three months later, the college careers for both players are over.
Gustafson, after much consideration, has decided to accept a contract offer with the expansion Minnesota Wild of the NHL. He follows DiPietro, who decided last month to opt-in to the NHL draft, which starts June 24 in Calgary. They will be forever linked.
“Derek has shown a lot of promise in just one season for a top-notch hockey program at St. Lawrence University,” said Wild general manager Doug Risebrough. “We feel that he is ready to contribute at the professional level.”
If Gustafson, 20, makes the NHL, it is believed he will be the first Oregon native to do so. He hails from Gresham, a suburb of Portland.
Gustafson was not the full-time starter for St. Lawrence until late last season. He finished the year with a 17-4-2 record and .936 save percentage. Gustafson’s 72 saves in the BU game broke Chris Terreri’s old NCAA Tournament record, and are second behind only the 77 DiPietro had in the same game. He was named the 1999-2000 ECAC Rookie of the Year, and was MVP of both the ECAC Tournament, which St. Lawrence won, and the NCAA Eastern Regional.
The Wild have already signed a number of former college players this spring, including the USCHO Division III Player of the Year, Steve Aronson of St. Thomas. Also under contract are Cory Larose and Brendan Walsh (Maine), and Pete Gardiner (RPI).
The NHL’s other expansion team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, have also signed a pair of college free agents this spring. So far, Columbus general manager Doug MacLean has inked former Niagara goalie Greg Gardner, and former Boston College forward Blake Bellefeuille.