The Michigan Wolverines hockey team took the ice for practice on March 12, just as they would on any ordinary Thursday. However, the team reconvened post-practice as news broke that their season was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The news was disheartening for the No. 14-ranked Wolverines and especially for the senior class, including New York Islanders prospect Nick Pastujov, who had their college careers ended as a result of such extraordinary circumstances.
"It was definitely a weird situation since we actually got on the ice for practice that day," Pastujov said. "We had heard rumblings, but it wasn't until after [practice] when we had a team meeting that we got the official word. It was frustrating and disappointing in that moment, but then you think, what can you do about it? It's out of your control and there's obviously more at stake happening around the world. It's one of those things."
In the weeks since, Pastujov has digested the initial shock and is relishing in his remaining time as a student. He has remained on campus in Ann Arbor where he resides in a house with a few of his teammates, including his younger brother Michael, who is a junior. Pastujov is still training and taking online classes to complete his degree in Economics, which finishes this May.
With his college career officially bookended, the Isles' 2016 seventh rounder (193rd overall) reflected on what it meant to play for the University of Michigan the past four years and looked back on some of the triumphs he accomplished during the course of his career.
"[My experience] was everything as advertised and more," Pastujov said. "I couldn't have asked for a better place, team and school to play for. I'm really grateful for everything we were able to do during my time here. It is sad that we aren't able to see what this group could do down the stretch. I think we were the hottest team in college hockey following the Christmas Break or something like that. We were really clicking and coming together there. There were a lot of similarities between this team and the (2018) Frozen Four group. I think that's the hardest part; just that we never got to see what we could have done."
Throughout four years, the left winger-turned center amassed 60 points (25G, 35A) through 136 career games, played in an outdoor game against their rivals, Notre Dame, in 2019 and went to the 2018 Frozen Four. He finished his senior season with a career-best six power-play goals and 27 blocked shots and matched his career-high faceoff win percentage of 55.8% (287-227).
Pastujov was content with how his game had evolved throughout his career and even throughout this last season since attending the Islanders Development Camp over the summer. The left-shot compiled 18 points (9G, 9A) and was plus-five during 36 games of his senior season.
"I was really happy with my game and feeling pretty confident in myself," Pastujov said. "I think that even during that last Michigan State series [March 6-7], I was playing some of my best hockey...I was on the PP last year too, so it was good to get that responsibility again. This year, our power play was really strong. That unit just clicked. There'd be times when we were frustrated when we came to the bench because we were generating so many good chances, but just didn't capitalize, and that's not necessarily a bad problem to have. Then, I also got some minutes on the PK. I did pretty good there. I only got scored on once when I was out there on a five-on-three. I took a lot of pride in having those extra minutes in those kinds of [special teams] situations."
Pastujov entered his senior season eager for more responsibility and in turn, he was afforded a larger role and critical opportunities. Faceoffs, in particular, were an area in which the 22-year-old hoped to hone.
"It may sound weird, but for me, every faceoff feels so important," Pastujov said. "You feel good when they send you out to take a big draw and feel even better when you win it. If you don't win it, you feel like you let your teammates down. I took a lot of pride in that part of my game. Coming into matchups, I made sure I was prepared. I studied guys' tendencies ahead of time. I was really happy with how I developed that part of my game and just want to keep getting better and be that guy again in the future."
While Pastujov has lived in Michigan since 2014, when he was selected as a member of the U.S. National U17 Team, the Bradenton, Florida native has enjoyed seeing hockey flourish in recent years down in the Sunshine State.
"The hockey community is super tight-knit in Florida," Pastujov said. "It's been really cool, in even just the last couple of years, to see hockey kind of explode and really take off down there. I grew up a Tampa Bay [Lightning] fan, so to see that team become so dominant these last few years has been really good for the sport and for the hockey community. Just to see how far [the sport of hockey] has come since I was growing up to where it's at now. You always want to see the game grow, so it's cool to be a part of that having grown up there."
Pastujov will officially graduate from Michigan at the beginning of May, although the official commencement ceremony has been cancelled due to the pandemic. The Isles prospect is unsure of where next season might take him, but regardless he hopes to get back and resume playing as soon as he can and further his career.
"We'll see what happens next," Pastujov said. "It's nice knowing I set myself up for success either way [with a college degree]. But I'm definitely ready for that next step [with hockey] whatever it might be. I just really want to get back playing, especially with my season ending like this. It'll be really nice once we can get back out there and start playing again."