Pipeline to a degree

UND Hockey may be an NHL factory but its academic culture is producing more than just pro prospects

Tucker Poolman

Tucker Poolman, now a pro with the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL, excelled on the ice and in the classroom at UND. Within a matter of weeks last spring, the All-American defensemen from East Grand Forks signed his pro contract and graduated with a degree in business administration after only three years at UND. Photo by Jonathan Kozub.

It’s well known that UND Hockey is a pipeline to the pros.

But for many, under the guidance of third-year head coach Brad Berry, it’s becoming a fast track to an academic degree.

And for a select few, it’s been a path to both.

Before finishing his UND collegiate hockey career last spring, Tucker Poolman did something that flies in the face of a popular, albeit, false narrative: UND blue-chippers are only concerned with making it to the National Hockey League – academics be damned.

Poolman, an All-American defensemen with UND from 2014-17, ended his time at UND to sign a contract with the Winnipeg Jets organization. But what’s less well known is that shortly after doing it he received another kind of signed contract from UND – a diploma, certifying his business administration degree (business economics) in just three years.

Drive and focus

Brad Berry

UND Head Hockey Coach Brad Berry

Berry attributes Poolman’s academic success to the push of the Poolman family. His father, Mark, is a UND alum and longtime member of the UND Athletics training staff. Tucker’s brother, Colton, a sophomore on the hockey team, is also a high achiever in the classroom.

“(Tucker) did an unbelievable job of time management and focus on getting that education in a time where it’s tough enough to get it in four years for a student athlete,” said Berry. “So you can’t say enough about what he did and his plan to get it done.”

It’s been quite a week for Tucker Poolman, who in his first year of pro hockey, found himself on the opening day NHL roster for the Winnipeg Jets.

Berry said Poolman’s drive in the classroom was demonstrated when he took a full load (12 credits) during the summer before his final year at UND.

“That’s focus,” Berry said. “That’s something where a guy has a goal to get it done, achieves it and then make sure he steps onto another goal. Tucker did it with a lot of self-discipline and obviously a family push.”

Academic culture

Amanda Hajdu, UND assistant athletic director in charge of academic services for all student-athletes, said Poolman’s determination in the classroom stood out. She added that Poolman was helped by the fact that he had some transferrable credits from high school and others he built up while playing junior hockey.

“He kind of fast tracked himself,” Hajdu said. “He worked his butt off and balanced it all.”

Poolman graduated in May with former team captain Gage Ausmus (management) and Matt Hrynkiw (mechanical engineering) — as well as Zane McIntyre (psychology), who also left school after his junior year but continued to do pursue his degree as a pro  with the Boston Bruins.

Ausmus is currently playing for the Colorado Eagles of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche organization. And Hrynkiw, a volunteer goalie coach for UND, had a job waiting for him with Grand Forks-based Fusion Automation, after graduation.

Berry said these former players and their drive for a degree is a byproduct of the program’s strong academic culture.

“The players obviously come here to hone and improve their skills to get to a pro level — but you can do both,” Berry stressed. “Our statement to our players is ‘you just don’t do one — you do both. You get it done on and off the ice.’”

Tucker Poolman

It’s been quite a week for Tucker Poolman, (left) who in his first year of pro hockey, found himself on the opening day NHL roster for the Winnipeg Jets.

‘Getting it done’

Like Tucker Poolman, a myriad of UND current and former players have taken this culture to heart.

Last year, seven UND players were named American Hockey Coaches Association All-American Scholars: Hrynkiw, Ludvig Hoff, Andrew Peski, Colton Poolman, Cole Smith, Zach Yon and Ryan Anderson. Also, seven freshman were named to the 2016-17 National Collegiate Hockey Association’s All-Conference Team, and a league-leading six of them earned NCHC Scholar-Athlete Team recognition. Those freshmen helped UND put 22 players on last year’s NCHC Academic All-Conference Team.

Former UND player Brett Bruneteau, who graduated Magna Cum Laude, earned his business administration (entrepreneurship) degree in just two years at UND. Then got his MBA at the University of Vermont and is now attending Law School at the University of Nebraska.

Former UND goalie Brad Eidsness also pursued law at the University of Victoria, and is now practicing in Calgary. Bryn Chyzyk, a member of the 2015-16 NCAA National Champion team, has been accepted to study law at UND.

Then there’s Rocco Grimaldi, who chased his degree online while playing professionally. He eventually earned his communication degree Cum Laude, with a minor in leadership, from UND in 2015.

Berry said that since he played at UND, coaches have shown up unannounced at players’ classrooms. It’s a demonstration of how important academics is to the program, he said.

“I think the results from some of the players over the last few years have been outstanding,” Berry said. “If you’re getting it done in the classroom, there’s a greater chance you’re going to do it out on the ice.”