Steamboat Springs -- Ryan Dingle isn't sure how he's going to spend his first paycheck as a professional athlete -- that's something he has to first run past his mom, Karen.
What he's sure about is he's one step closer to a dream he's been pursuing for the past 19 years.
On Wednesday, Dingle agreed in principle to sign with the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL, foregoing his senior year at the University of Denver.
"I started playing when I was four," Dingle said while hashing out details of the contract at Steamboat Springs High School. "I always remember sitting in the driveway playing street hockey imagining I'd be in the NHL."
Dingle, who was a free agent, said when the Pioneers' season ended early, he gave his family adviser the go-ahead to start talking with NHL teams. After weighing his options, and seeing the Ducks with two players on their roster (Andy McDonald and Chris Kunitz) that were signed as free agents out of college, he decided Anaheim was the best fit for him.
"They obviously have a history placing players in the NHL that were free agents," Dingle said. "I felt very comfortable that this is going to be my best chance to take that next step."
Dingle's coming off a two-year stretch as one of the most dangerous offensive players in college hockey. This season, Dingle led the Pioneers in goals (22), power-play goals (9), short-handed goals (2), game-winning goals (4) and finished second in points (37).
He also is Denver's active career scoring leader with 98 points and a two-time All Western College Hockey Association third team selection.
"I think when you look at a guy that's been the third-leading scorer in the country the last two years, you're talking about one of the best players in the country from an offensive standpoint," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. "To do that in the best college hockey conference says he's a pretty special player."
Dingle, 22, wasn't draft eligible because of his age. North American players who are not drafted by the age of 20 become unrestricted free agents.
While Dingle's numbers were slightly down from his sophomore campaign (27-16-43), Gwozdecky said that wasn't an indictment on Dingle's play.
Dingle switched to center during his junior year and Gwozdecky said he became a more complete player.
After spending his freshman and sophomore years of high school attending the Lowell Whiteman School in Steamboat Springs, Dingle transferred to Battle Mountain his junior year to play Triple A junior hockey. During his senior year, he moved to Des Moines, Iowa to play for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League. In December 2002, he was traded to the Tri-city Storm in Kearney, Neb. He joined the Pioneers for the 2004-05 season and helped lead them to their second straight national championship.
Dingle will be in Anaheim starting July 5 for a conditioning camp. After that, he'll most likely be assigned to Anaheim's American Hockey League team in Portland, Maine, the Portland Pirates.
Although Dingle said he doesn't have a timetable for making the NHL, Wednesday was a step in the right direction.
"Obviously (making the NHL) is the end goal and the end result of a dream," he said. "We're still working at it. We're not there yet, but we're still working at it."