Idaho Steelheads rookie Jason Bast has quickly established himself as one of the team's top players, scoring 12 points in just nine games since joining the team from St. Francis Xavier University.
But Bast hasn't really left school.
The kinesiology major is still taking five classes this semester, including microbiology. Bast is finding that balancing act tougher than finding the back of the net.
"When we run into four games in a week with travel, it's really hard to get work done. I've fallen a bit behind," said Bast, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound forward.
"When you're at school, you're in the routine and you kind of get used to it. Now that I'm here, I want to be kind of hanging out like all the other guys, and I've got to lock myself in my room and study."
Bast isn't the only Idaho player locked away finishing school work.
Defenseman Eamonn McDermott, an economics major at Colorado College, is working on his senior thesis: "Coaching Efficiency in NCAA Football," a study of which coaches are best at getting their players drafted in the NFL.
Andrew Perrault joined the Steelheads when Lake Superior State's hockey season ended. He played in two games, but opted to return to school this week.
"I've invested a lot of time and money and effort into that process and it's been three-and-three-quarters years. I have to finish properly at this point," said Perrault, who was taking five classes and will graduate in May.
College hockey players become available to professional teams like the Steelheads immediately after their seasons end. In basketball, for example, Duke's players didn't become eligible for the NBA or the D-League after the Blue Devils' early exit from the NCAA Tournament.
Steelheads coach Brad Ralph scouts the NCAA, Canadian universities and major junior hockey for players that can help - not only in this year's playoff push but next season.
"There are a lot of players that are available, so there's a lot to track. I think we've done a good job picking up some quality players," Ralph said. "It's that time of year when there are a lot of players available and you're trying to build the best team you can for the playoffs. At the same time, you're trying to be loyal to the guys that have been here all year. It's not an easy task."
Nor is carrying a full-time class schedule and trying to adjust to professional hockey. Ralph and the Steelheads' players, many of whom faced similar situations, are understanding.
"That's what's most important at this time of the season and at this point in their career," Ralph said. "They've come this far. They need to finish that in good standing."
The players with college work left feel the same way. Bast has worked with his professors and will soon take exams. He plans to finish his degree requirements in the summer and earn his diploma.
"I've put in four years of real hard work," Bast said. "I don't want it to be all for nothing."
Brian Murphy: 377-6444,Twitter: @MurphsTurph