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Hockey: Hanson signs pro contract

Sam Werner | Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Even though Notre Dame’s hockey season ended with last Saturday’s loss to Bemidji State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, one Irish hockey player will be in action this weekend.

Senior center Christian Hanson signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday, and said he expected to play in the team’s Friday night game against Philadelphia.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Hanson said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet. I think when I wake up tomorrow morning, show up to the rink and the media frenzy’s there for pre-game skates, I think that’s when it’s going to hit me.”

Hanson said that the day after Notre Dame’s loss to the Beavers, he woke up to a message from his father, who said that he had received contract offers from several teams. Other than the Maple Leafs, Hanson said he had talked to the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders.

“I just kind of looked at them all, weighed the pros and cons for each one, where I thought I fit into each organization,” he said. “At the end of the day, Toronto seemed like the best fit.”

Hanson said one of the main reasons he chose the Maple Leafs was his relationship with new general manager Brian Burke, whom he talked to Tuesday shortly after signing. Burke told Hanson that, if he could make it, he could play in Toronto’s game tonight against the Flyers. However, both Burke and Hanson agreed that Friday night might be a better time for Hanson to make his NHL debut.

Hanson finished his Irish career with 36 goals and 28 assists over four years. But to Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, the most remarkable aspect was how Hanson improved over his four years.

“Especially the second half of last year, he started to open up on offense,” Jackson said. “And he started to use his hands and his size, which is his biggest asset.”

Even though he was initially undrafted, Hanson said he knew throughout this season that teams were interested in signing him. He didn’t, however, expect this much immediate interest.

“I knew there were a couple of teams out there that saw me, and liked me, and were going to keep an eye on me,” Hanson said. “I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen, though, so what happened was a pretty nice surprise.”

It’s quite a turnaround for Hanson, who was very emotional after the loss to Bemidji State.

“It was a complete 180,” he said. “I went from the bottom the barrel to the top of the mountain overnight. I still wish that we were practicing to play in the Frozen Four, but you’ve just got to move on.”

Hanson said he hasn’t talked to any of his new teammates yet, but that his agent also represents several players on the team, and they said they would look out for the rookie.

Jackson said he had no worries about Hanson handling himself at the next level.

“It’s just about consistency, being mentally tough, and being able to play with a little jam,” Jackson said. “All the things I’ve talked about since he’s been here.”