- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Last summer, prospect Travis Boyd drew praise from Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee for his smarts and guts during the the team’s development camp. A sixth-round pick in June’s draft, the young forward was a pleasant surprise.

Heading off to the University of Minnesota in the fall was a dream come true for the 18-year-old from Hopkins, Minn., but there’s plenty of pressure that has come along, too.

“There are so many people that want to come to Minnesota and play for the Gophers, you feel if you don’t perform, that it’s like you’re letting people down and they’re going to just replace you,” Boyd said.

That feeling has been there for much of his freshman season, as Boyd went his first 34 games without a goal. Then he finally broke his drought in Minnesota’s 5-2 NCAA quarterfinal victory over North Dakota on March 25 that helped the Golden Gophers reach the Frozen Four.

“You can’t really stage a first goal better than that,” sophomore forward Nick Bjugstad said.

It was perfect timing for Boyd, who admitted squeezing his stick tight in the hopes of scoring something. Anything.

“I found myself doing that a lot throughout the year, which kind of hurt me,” Boyd said in a phone interview last week. “The last couple of weeks or months, I’ve just been going out there and just playing hockey and finally popped one.”

It was Minnesota’s fourth goal in beating North Dakota, but any kind of goal did the trick for Boyd’s confidence.

“A huge relief. It felt like a huge weight was just lifted off my chest. I was just like, ‘There we go. It’s out of the way.’ Now hopefully more will come,” he said. “It’s such a great setup to get that first goal. I’m happy it happened in that game.”

Boyd put up points in high school but not as much during his time with the U.S. national development program. He impressed at development camp, and the feedback he has gotten from the Caps has been positive this season even with a lack of production.

“They just said keep doing what I’m doing. As far as going through the first year, they said it’s going to be hard getting used to everything and there are going to be a lot of adjustments I need to make,” Boyd said. “They’ve been supportive and just said, ‘You’re doing well, and don’t worry about scoring or the points right now; it’ll come.’ “

Boyd hopes the Frozen Four, which begins with Minnesota’s matchup against Boston College on Thursday in Tampa, Fla., is the scene of at least a little more offense.

He has eight assists and a plus-3 rating in 34 games this season, and he said the adjustment has been just as difficult as the Caps expected, from getting acclimated to dorm life to classes and and even new coaches.

“It’s been hard. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but it’s part of being a freshman,” Boyd said. “A lot of new experiences you have to take in your first year of college. It’s been tough, but I’ve learned a lot.”

Boyd is probably at least two years, if not more, away from playing professionally, even in the minors. He’s taking it “day-by-day, year-by-year,” and doesn’t have any kind of timetable to reach the Capitals by.

For now, he’s just got his sights set on trying to enjoy some Florida sunshine and possibly the warmth of a national championship.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun being able to play on a big stage like that, down in the Frozen Four with all of college hockey and a lot of people watching,” Boyd said. “It’s really exciting. It’s been a goal of our team since Day One and to be able to go down there, it’s a huge thrill right now.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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