Former Sioux still fighting

SCOTT UNGER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Travis Zajac is trading in writing essays and exams for a chance to play against the best in the world, possibly as early as this season.

The Winnipegger left the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey team after two of a possible four seasons to sign with the New Jersey Devils in the spring.

"I've been working hard all summer to get a spot with New Jersey," said the former St. James Canadian of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, who scored 34 goals and 80 points in 88 games over two seasons for the Fighting Sioux.

"They haven't promised me a spot, but there is a spot there to fight for. I am going to have to beat out some returning guys to take it."

If he doesn't crack the Devils lineup out of training camp, Zajac will report to the Albany River Rats, New Jersey's American Hockey League affiliate. He notched an assist in two games with the River Rats this past spring after his season at UND came to a halt with a 6-5 loss to Boston College in the Frozen Four semifinal.

It was a small taste of what's to come.

"It exciting to play and learn from these guys," Zajac said earlier this week after scrimmaging with the likes of NHLers J.P. Vigier, Nolan Baumgartner and Colton Orr during practice for the Believe in the Goal Foundation and CancerCare Manitoba's Sizzlin' Summer Showdown charity game next week.

Now that his academic career is put on hold, Zajac can admit the classroom was somewhat secondary at UND.

"Well, I don't want to directly say that," Zajac chuckled when asked if he was just at UND for hockey.

"After my second year at college I felt I was ready for the next step. It was a great stepping stone for my career and I learned a lot. They have a great program there."

It was so great that Zajac helped the Sioux to back-to-back Frozen Four appearances in his two years on the ice.

Travis' younger brother Darcy will follow in his footsteps at UND. Darcy will start his freshman season with the Fighting Sioux this fall after playing junior hockey with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League, another former team of his older brother's.

So while learning in the classroom may not have been Zajac's top priority at UND, learning on the ice at the Ralph Engelstad Arena certainly was.

The learning will surely continue somewhere along the Eastern Seaboard.


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