Gophers defenseman Ben Clymer, who would have entered this season as one of college hockey’s top players at his position, informed the Minnesota coaching staff last week that he would forego his remaining three years of eligibility to pursue opportunities in the National Hockey League.
“We talked about it throughout spring quarter,” Clymer said. “They knew I was thinking about leaving school. I just told them that I thought this was the best choice for me to make right now.”
Clymer was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the second round of the 1997 NHL entry draft, the 27th selection overall. Contract negotiations with the club are ongoing; Clymer deferred questions about the potential value of a professional contract with Boston to his agent, who could not be reached for comment.
In the meantime, Clymer said he expects to start the season with Seattle of the International Hockey League before moving to the Bruins’ farm team in Providence, R.I.
Clymer missed all but one game last season after suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery. At the time, Clymer said he looked forward to rehabilitating and getting on with his college career. Had he returned this season, he would have been a sophomore in terms of athletic eligibility.
But Clymer said playing with a farm team would give him a greater opportunity to hone his talents. That club will play a 70-game schedule, while the Gophers will play only 32 games.
“I didn’t play a whole lot last year, and being able to play in this environment will give me a lot more opportunity to develop,” Clymer said.
Clymer’s departure is the latest in a list of high-profile Gophers to leave school early in favor of the NHL. Prior to last season, sophomore wing Erik Rasmussen and junior defenseman Mike Crowley departed for the Buffalo Sabres and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, respectively.
Both players enjoyed short stints with their NHL clubs, but spent the majority of their seasons with farm teams. With less than a full year of college experience (Clymer also missed eight games as a freshman with a viral condition) under his belt, Clymer’s early career is likely to run the same course.
“I thought about leaving before last year, too,” Clymer said. “It really doesn’t bother me that people might think it’s too early. There’s really no way I can respond to that other than to say I made a decision and I’m happy with it.”
The Gophers struggled defensively last season in the wake of Crowley’s departure, and might well do the same again with Clymer out of the lineup. Only four defensemen remain from last year’s squad — senior Bill Kohn, juniors Mike Lyons and Ryan Trebil and sophomore Dylan Mills — and three freshmen will have to help fill the void.
“I have a lot of close friends on the team. That’s going to be the toughest thing, not being around those guys every day,” Clymer said. “I know it’s going to be tough to leave, but it’s the best thing I could do.”