Freshman forward and New Jersey Devils prospect Travis Zajac enjoyed an outstanding season with the University of North Dakota this year, helping to lead the Fighting Sioux to their 12th NCAA National Championship appearance.
Zajac led all North Dakota rookies in scoring with 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists). His 20 goals also led the team. He has enjoyed a stellar NCAA Tournament run, amassing six points (five goals, one assist) that earned him a berth on the NCAA Frozen Four All-Tournament team. He was the only non-Denver player to make the team.
The Winnipeg, Manitoba native’s outstanding season earned many honors including a spot on the WCHA All-Rookie Team.
Hockey’s Future spoke with Zajac after North Dakota’s practice on Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus during the Frozen Four.
HF: With everything that the team has had to endure, particularly in the second half of the season, what do you feel were the keys to getting here?
TZ: Coming together and sticking together as a team, especially through the hard times. That made us that much stronger and determined to get here.
HF: You came to North Dakota from Salmon Arm of the BCHL. How has the transition from the BCHL to NCAA been for you?
TZ: It wasn’t so bad. It just took getting used to the speed and the bigger guys here. The game here moves so much faster.
HF: As a Canadian, did you ever think about playing in the Canadian major juniors?
TZ: Yeah, but when I took my (recruiting) trip here to North Dakota, I liked the coaches and what they had to offer and if I can get an education at the same time as playing hockey on a scholarship, then I felt this was where I wanted to be.
HF: If there were one area of your game that you feel that you will need to improve for next season, what would it be?
TZ: Definitely skating. The guys here are bigger and stronger and I have to be able to skate with him. I think I can always improve on my skating.
HF: When the New Jersey Devils had drafted you, what was your initial reaction?
TZ: It was awesome. I was a bit surprised that I was drafted as early as I was. I think the rankings had me lower than where I was drafted so that was kind of a surprise. They’re a great organization and hopefully one day I’ll be playing for them.
HF: Have you had any contact with the Devils since coming to North Dakota?
TZ: They’ve been to some of my games and I’ve seen them around here. They just tell me what I need to work on and that’s basically it. They just leave me alone and let me play and develop here at North Dakota.
HF: Having grown up in Canada, who were some of the players that influenced you?
TZ: Definitely Wayne Gretzky. I remember watching him growing up and it was unbelievable seeing him out there. It was something special. I also looked up to Mario Lemieux. The player that I’ve tried to pattern myself after is Joe Thornton. He’s a great two-way centerman and power forward. He’s a great player.
HF: So would you say that Joe Thornton’s style is one that you try to emulate?
TZ: Yeah, absolutely. He’s just so skilled and just all of the things that he brings to his team is just unbelievable.
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