For all but four teams in college hockey, the focus is now on next season.
Included in that focus is the stress over potential early departures.
Undoubtedly, there are cases where schools don't mind players leaving early, and usually the player in question is well aware of it.
Sometimes, the school is completely blindsided by the player's decision. That stinks, because it's likely they didn't plan for that departure. These are usually the ones that sting.
There are other times that the school -- while not happy about it -- expects the player to leave early, and has a chance to plan ahead.
Rarely, you'll get the pleasant surprise of a guy you thought would bolt that decides to stay.
It appears the University of Minnesota may have that in defenseman Cade Fairchild. I have learned from a source that Fairchild is planning on returning to school for his senior season. The former Duluth East Greyhound is a draft pick of the St. Louis Blues. He played two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., and was on a gold-medal winning Team USA at the 2006 World Under-18 Championship.
Fairchild led all Gopher defensemen with four goals and 21 points in 2009-2010, and he has 15 goals and 69 points over 114 games as a Gopher.
As recently as January, it seemed Fairchild, a good puck-moving defenseman who has improved his physical game at Minnesota, would be a virtual lock to turn pro. He wasn't having a breakout season, but was playing some consistent hockey and getting a ton of minutes. Keeping him in college one more year is a major plus for coach Don Lucia, especially considering that the Gophers were rather thin on the blue line this season and have already lost David Fischer to graduation.
Unlike other sports, there is no deadline for a player to declare himself pro or sign a pro contract. A hockey player can sign at any time, forgoing any remaining college eligibility. While this can never be totally ruled out, it sounds as if the Gophers can build their blue line around a talented and experienced senior next season. That'll be a plus for them as they look to improve on a .500 record and seventh-place WCHA finish.