Union students go pro: Welsh and Zajac sign professional contracts

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By Evan Slavit

This season, two of the Dutchmen’s players signed pro hockey contracts.

Jeremy Welsh ‘13 signed a one-year entry-level deal with the Carolina Hurricanes that will pay him $832,000 in the NHL or $70,000 in the minor leagues and includes a $92,500 signing bonus.

Kelly Zajac ‘13 signed an amateur tryout agreement with the Albany Devils.

In the history of Union hockey, only three other players have gone pro, including Mario Giallonardo, Steve Baker, and Duane Joyce. Giallonardo, a defenseman, played in 23 games with the Colorado Rockies from 1979-81, Baker, a goalie, played 57 games with the New York Rangers from 1979-1983, and Joyce, a defenseman, played three games with the Dallas Stars during the 1993-94 season.

Welsh has played three seasons with the Dutchmen, and has recorded exactly 100 points in 119 games.

This past season he led Union and was fourth in the nation with 27 goals.

That total is a new record for goals in a single season for the Dutchmen.

Welsh played in the last game of the season for the Hurricanes. He logged 16:32 of ice time, recording two shots on goal and four penalty minutes.

Despite already getting a taste of the NHL, Welsh still plans to finish up his degree at Union.

“The opportunity to sign an NHL contract is something I have been working towards for most of my life, but I am also mature enough to realize the importance of getting my degree,” said Welsh.

“I am in a position to graduate after Fall term ‘12 with a few independent studies over the summer. I am completing my economics thesis in the spring or summer,” he explained.

Zajac also had a strong career and season for the Dutchmen. In his four-year career here, Zajac posted 128 points in a program leading 159 games played.

He also set the single-season record for assists with 34 this season, and the career record with 91.

Zajac joins his brother Darcy, and former Union goaltender Keith Kinkaid in Albany.

Like Welsh, Zajac is looking to complete his college career and receive a degree before moving on.

“Obviously, being able to sign a deal with a pro team is a dream come true,” explained Zajac.

“It’s been a long process of hard work over the years that has built toward this moment and for it to finally be here is exciting. But my main goal at the moment is to graduate with a degree at Union. I’ve come all this way to get where I am today and I just want to enjoy that last term here with the team and friends,” he continued.

While the players are excited about their opportunities, the Athletic Department also realizes the significance of Welsh and Zajac’s achievements.

‘Obviously, being able to sign a deal with a pro team is a dream come true,” explained Zajac. “It’s been a long process of hard work over the years that have built toward this moment and for it to finally be here is exciting. But my main goal at the moment is to graduate with a degree at Union. I’ve come all this way to get where I am today and I just want to enjoy that last term here with the team and friends,’ he continued.

While the players are excited about their opportunities, the Athletic Department also realizes the significance of Welsh and Zajac’s achievements.

Director of Athletics Jim McLaughlin said, “I wish both Jeremy and Kelly success as they pursue their dreams to play professional hockey but take a great deal of pride in knowing that if this path does not work they will go on to great success in another field as a result of their Union degree.

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