Just two and a half weeks ago, Bobcat forwards Jamie Bates and Ben Nelson were playing their hearts out for the blue and gold in a bid to win Quinnipiac a championship.
Now the two will get paid to do the same elsewhere.
Nelson signed with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL on March 21 and has played in four games since. He scored his first professional goal this past Friday night in the Stingrays 6-1 victory over the Mississippi Sea Wolves. Nelson received third star of the game honors.
On Saturday, Nelson and the Stingrays, an affiliate of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, faced off against their in-state rival, the Columbia Inferno, an affiliate of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs that also features former Bobcat captain and defensive star Reid Cashman. Cashman has had a strong first professional season with the Inferno, notching five goals and 21 assists to go along with 52 penalty minutes in 36 games. He didn’t stop his production against the ‘Rays on Saturday, tallying two assists while working on the power play for Columbia. Nelson’s squad got the best the Inferno in the end however, going on to a 5-4 victory in overtime.
South Carolina, the only team in league history to win the Kelly Cup championship twice, have clinched a playoff berth and are now jockeying for position in the 2008 playoffs. They are currently tied for second place in the South division. Columbia has also clinched a playoff spot.
Bates signed an amateur tryout contract, or ATO, with the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League Saturday afternoon. Just hours later he picked up his first professional point for the NHL affiliate of the 2004 Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning when he assisted on Radek Smolenak’s 15th goal of the season, helping the last-place Admirals to a 4-3 victory over visiting Manchester. He also finished the night with four penalty minutes; two for high-sticking and two for slashing. Bates was named the second star of the contest.
“Jamie is a big strong kid with strong hands and good hockey sense,” Admirals head coach Steve Stirling told The Chronicle. “He’s not the prettiest of players but he has the potential to be a top six forward in the American Hockey League, and with us clearly out of the playoff picture he’ll get a good look down the stretch here.”
College seniors often sign ATO’s following the conclusion of their NCAA season. The ATO prevents a potential call-up by an AHL teams’ National Hockey League affiliate.
The ECHL is considered two steps below the NHL in the hierarchy of minor-league hockey, while the AHL is classified as one step below.
Both Nelson and Bates will continue taking classes at Quinnipiac and are expected to graduate on schedule in May.