Since taking over at North Dakota in 1978, Gasparini has seen more than 30 of his players sign NHL contracts, including the Rangers' James Patrick and the Blackhawks' Troy Murray. It is a total the Sioux coach views with mixed emotions. Unlike other college team-sport athletes, undergraduate hockey players do not have to plead hardship to turn pro. Consequently, very few campus superstars can resist accepting a pro salary much beyond their sophomore or junior years. Sixteen of the 28 players on North Dakota's current roster have been drafted by NHL teams, including all three first team All-Americas: Hrkac, Joyce ( Boston) and defenseman Ian Kidd ( Detroit, although Kidd is a free agent because he was overage when he was picked in the 1986 supplemental draft).
"It's not something that keeps me awake at night," Gasparini says. "There's nothing I can do about it. You can't stand in the way of a man's right to make a living. All we can do is talk with them and help them decide what is best for them. The thing is, whatever they decide, we want them to keep their options open. If they turn pro, we still want them to finish their education. Right now we have about eight players in the NHL who are still working toward their degrees. I think that shows that we have taught them something."
"Some guys do well in the pros," says Joyce, a solid B-average student in recreation administration, "and others fall by the wayside. There's no guarantee."
"Playing in the NHL is something I've always wanted," says Hrkac. "If it doesn't happen, well.... It would be a disappointment if I don't make it but I will just have to take it and go on from there."
Hrkac, who is from Thunder Bay, Ont., already has a pretty good idea of how he might fare in the NHL. While with Team Canada last year, he played in five exhibition games against NHL teams. He had three goals and three assists.
In the championship game on Saturday night, Michigan State, which had reached the final with a 5-3 victory over Minnesota (a team North Dakota had beaten in five of six games during the season), was in contention for only 15 minutes against the Fighting Sioux. In the next 1:55 of the first period, North Dakota exploded for three goals. The outcome of the game was essentially history with two periods still to play.
North Dakota's initial score came on a power play. From behind the net Joyce passed into the slot to Kidd, who drew Spartan goalie Bob Essensa to the left and then buried the puck in the right side of the net. A minute and a half later, with the teams at even strength again, defenseman Murray Baron fired a boomer from the top of the crease that sailed over Essensa's outstretched arm. The third goal came 18 seconds later when Hrkac pounced on a shot kicked out by Essensa and flipped the puck to Joyce for the score.
"There were all those Michigan Slate fans up in the stands," said Kidd. "After those three goals we kind of quieted them down and took them out of the game."
Michigan State scored twice (Tom Tilley and Kevin Miller) in the second period and got its last goal (from Kevin's brother, Kip) with 1:26 left in the third. But by then North Dakota had added scores from Malcolm Parks and Bobyck, and the Spartans had been unable to close to less than a two-goal deficit.
The Hrkac Crkac had ended the season with another boffo performance.