NORTH ANDOVER — Whew!
That pretty much sums up the feeling on the Merrimack College campus, particulary over at the Lawler Arena after an official announcement this weekend.
Stephane Da Costa, the country's top rated freshman hockey player and native of France, is returning to Merrimack for his sophomore season.
After leading the team with 45 points and ranking seventh in the nation with 1.32 points per game, his exodus to greater heights ... A K A the National Hockey League ... appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
After winning every rookie-of-the-year award college hockey had to offer, and being a finalist for Hockey East Player of the Year as a freshman, Da Costa had several NHL offers that needed only his signature.
But just as he turned heads with his electric season last year, including five goals in his first home game, he surprised again when he told The Eagle-Tribune his plans for next season.
"I'm coming back," said Da Costa. "I always thought that I was coming back to Merrimack. I wanted to get bigger and get stronger and a little more experienced on the ice. Team wise, I want to go to the TD Garden and win a championship."
As for NHL offers, they were there.
"I had a few," Da Costa said with a smile. "I had quite a few offers."
But unlike most collegiate players, who can't resist the temptation of a quick NHL payday, Da Costa says he wants to really be ready before he makes the jump to the greatest hockey league in the world, to ensure he sticks around rather than spend an inordinant amount of time in the minor leagues.
"I talked to a lot of people and a lot of people told me that it's never too late to go pro," he said. "Leaving too early to play in the NHL, sometimes you have only one or two chances. I want to be ready for that chance when it comes. I don't want to just rush it and not be ready."