Haula, Alt add to list of early departures

Five Gophers players have left the team early to play professionally.

Drew Claussen

Two more Gophers hockey players decided during the weekend to sign professional contracts and forego their senior season.

Junior forward Erik Haula signed an entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild that was announced Sunday, and junior defenseman Mark Alt signed an entry-level contract with the Philadelphia Flyers that was announced Friday.

Five Gophers players have left the team for the professional ranks in the past week. Minnesota’s season ended March 29 with an upset loss to Yale in the NCAA tournament.

Haula will begin his career with the Houston Aeros, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Wild. The Wild selected Haula in the seventh round of the 2009 NHL Draft.

Alt will likely start in the AHL as well. The defenseman was drafted 53rd overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and had his rights traded to Philadelphia this season.

The duo joins Nate Schmidt, Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish as juniors who decided to forego their last year at Minnesota and sign professional contracts.

Haula skated in 114 games for the Gophers and had 124 points. He was the first player at Minnesota since Ryan Potulny (2003-06) to average more than a point per game.

“It’s never easy to leave a team, especially when you’ve been with the same guys for three years,” Haula said in a release. “But this is the right move for me.”

Haula led the Gophers in points the past two seasons. The Pori, Finland native was the second international player in Gophers hockey history.

“Erik has been an impact player for us for three seasons, and I think he has proven that he is ready to play at the next level,” head coach Don Lucia said in a release.

Unlike the other four signings, Alt’s departure came as a surprise.

The junior from St. Paul notched 39 points in his three seasons at Minnesota. After a strong sophomore campaign in which he netted 22 points, Alt had no goals and seven assists this season.

The departures of Haula and Alt likely end the exodus of Gophers players leaving for the professional ranks.

A Gophers senior class that was supposed to feature nine players next season will instead have five: Nate Condon, Justin Holl, Jake Parenteau, Tom Serratore and goaltender Michael Shibrowski.

Helgeson signs

Minnesota’s lone senior last season, Seth Helgeson, also signed a professional deal this weekend.

Helgeson signed an amateur tryout deal with the Albany Devils, the AHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils. The Devils drafted Helgeson in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Draft.