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North Dakota players Smaby, Zajac to leave for NHL

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- University of North Dakota defenseman Matt Smaby and forward Travis Zajac are leaving early to sign professional hockey contracts.

Smaby, a junior and team captain this past season, on Thursday signed with Tampa Bay, UND said. The Lightning selected him in the second round of the 2003 NHL draft.

Zajac, a sophomore this past season, signed with New Jersey. The Devils selected him in the first round -- 20th overall -- in the 2004 draft.

Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.

"It's something I always dreamed of doing, and I think it
became more and more realistic recently," Smaby said. "This year
I elevated my game, my level of play. I think I have a game that
suits the next level."

Zajac did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment
left with the Sioux athletic department on Thursday. UND coach Dave
Hakstol also did not immediately respond.

Zajac will report this week to New Jersey's American Hockey
League affiliate in Albany, N.Y., UND said. Smaby said he will
report to the Lightning this summer, after finishing the spring
semester at UND.

Smaby, from Minneapolis, played in 129 games for the Fighting
Sioux over three seasons, with six goals and 23 assists. He had a
career-best four goals and 15 assists this past season, during
which UND made it to the NCAA Frozen Four for the second year in a
row.

Zajac, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was UND's second-leading scorer
this past season with 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists). He played
in all 91 games during his two-year college career, scoring 38
goals and recording 48 assists.

This past season, he had six points (three goals, three assists)
in three NCAA Tournament games, tying for the tournament lead in
total points and points per game.

UND had 11 NHL draft picks on the roster last season.

"I think there's going to be a couple of other guys who are
going to have the opportunity to move on if they want to," Smaby
said.