What’s going on…

A three-game winning streak. Second place in the Western Conference. Looks like things are going well for the Fargo Force these days.

Not to damper things for Force fans but there was a bit of bad news. With Warroad and Blaine winning this weekend in the Minnesota High School sectional round, that’s more time the Force are losing on Nick Stoskopf and Jonathan Brodzinski.

If you’re a Force fan, you’re hoping both Blaine and Warroad lose in the section final or in the first game of the state tournament, if both teams make it that far. Remember, these high school guys have to play a minimum of 10 games with the Force to have veteran status and return to the team next year. If not, then they go back on the market and the Force would have to draft them.

Brodzinski, a Mr. Hockey candidate, ended the regular season on a tear having scored six goals in four games. He was held scoreless’ in Blaine’s opening round game against Coon Rapids, which was a 4-1 win. Blaine hasn’t lost in a month and on Tuesday it faces Osseo, which could be a win given Blaine swept the season series. The section finals could be interesting because if Blaine plays Maple Grove, this could be the game that sends Brodzinski to the Force.

Maple Grove has gone unbeaten in 15 games including a 10-game winning streak has become one of the best teams in Minnesota this season. Maple Grove has also beaten Blaine too.

Then there’s Warroad which got pushed to the limits over the weekend by East Grand Forks in a 3-2 overtime win. Warroad gets the winner of Thief River Falls (land of Zane Gothberg)/Lake of the Woods. Not sure how many people follow Minnesota hockey, but know this. Lake of the Woods goalie Alex Lyon is a-freaking-mazing. He’s the best goalie in the state and if that guy is on, good luck.

Stoskopf has been solid for Warroad with six points in two games. He’s a guy that Jason Herter likened to Nick Oliver, which isn’t a bad thing. Oliver might not score goals like Jimmy Mullin, but he eats minutes, he’s someone that can play on the penalty kill and he’s the kind of forward that can go to the dirty areas and stick it out.

That’s the update on the high school guys the Force have tabs on. Hope everyone’s Monday is going well. Things over here are going quite well. Its even better when you have Monday off and you’re watching the much loved TSN back in the home and native land.

Take care everybody.

Flashing Lights…

For reasons beyond winning, this could be one of the most important games in the Fargo Force’s three-year history.

Because tonight marks the Scheels Arena debut of Devils Lake product Keaton Thompson. This blog has chronicled all the hype surrounding Thompson and all the expectations that have been placed on him. Just the other day, there was a story in The Forum about Thompson becoming the third North Dakotan in the United States Hockey League.

Here’s the last and perhaps, most important reason why getting Thompson was a good thing for the Force: Revenue.

The Force have done a good job of getting North Dakota kids on the team and helping create an identity across the state. Grafton product Chad Demers is the strongest example to this point of being a North Dakota kid that has become one of the more complete players in the league this season.

Demers came to the Force with a big reputation after leading Grafton/Park River to a state title but it took time for him to become a guy that got consistent playing time and one that was in the public eye for scoring goals.

In Thompson, the Force have someone who could transcend that. The Force are third in average attendance this season, which continues to improve yearly. Thompson, if he lives up to the hype, could help increase that number.

Junior hockey doesn’t have the strongest reputation in certain parts of the nation because some want to argue that it is glorified high school hockey. It appears the Force have done their best to shatter that myth but having Thompson could help because seeing a 15-year-old playing against this nation’s top talent could do a lot to draw fans.

Should Thompson be able to deliver on these expectations and I was the Force’s PR department, I’d be thinking of ways to market this kid. We’ve all seen the infamous video of Colten St. Clair and Colton Hargrove drinking milk. Who’s to say that isn’t Thompson next year?

Having guys like St. Clair and Zane Gothberg, who are both North Dakota commits, have helped the Force draw Sioux fans wondering about the future. Having Gothberg has made Boston Bruins fans take notice of what he’s doing. Thompson could do the same thing, if he lives up to the hype.

The Force already do a lot to stay in the community. From visiting public libraries to raising money for cancer-stricken youth, this is a franchise that does plenty to stay visible in the community.

But with Thompson the Force have a chance to do something a lot of American junior hockey teams don’t have by having an instate kid be the face of a team for years to come.

All that hinges on Thompson living up to those expectations.

Those expectations start today.

Working for the weekend…

It’s Friday and that means previewing some of tonight’s USHL schedule. Here’s a look at five games of note including the Game of the Night.

1. Fargo at Sioux City, 7 p.m.

Whether its Ryan Massa (Nebraska-Omaha) or Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) getting goals will not be easy for Sioux City and it hasn’t been anytime its played Fargo. The Musketeers are 1-3 against the Force and have only scored four goals. Not good for a Sioux City team looking to escape the Western Conference basement.

2. Des Moines at Cedar Rapids, 7:05 p.m.

The Bucs need points and fast because the regular season window is closing and they’re sitting in that coveted sixth spot. Getting points won’t be easy because let’s face it, the Roughriders are one of the best team’s in the league. Brady Hjelle (Ohio State) is a hard guy to beat and Jayson Megna (Nebraska-Omaha) is having the best season of a forward not named Blake Coleman.

3. Dubuque at Muskegon, 7:15 p.m.

This one features two of the league’s top forwards in Dubuque’s Vinny Saponari and Muskegon’s Ryan Misiak (Mercyhurst). Saponari, a former BU forward, is tied for third with 48 points while Misiak is second with 49 points in the midst of a breakout season with the Lumberjacks. Maine commit and goalie Matt Morris could silence Misiak or this could be a shootout featuring two of the league’s top scorers.

4. Team USA at Youngstown, 7:30 p.m. – GAME OF THE NIGHT

NHL and college scouts follow Team USA like teenage girls at a Bieber concert. So there should be plenty of scouts out tonight with Team USA going against Youngstown defenseman Scott Mayfield. Mayfield (Denver) in a lot of minds could be the best NHL Draft prospect in the USHL this season. Some have also argued that Rocco Grimaldi (North Dakota) belongs in that argument too. With plenty of talent on hand, look for Mayfield to shine.

5. Indiana at Chicago, 7:30 p.m.

If somehow Chicago beats Indiana consider it an upset and the start of something new for a team that has been taken to the cleaners often this season. Scott McConnell was just named interim coach of the team today after the Steel relieved Jon Waibel following a 9-27-9 record. Waibel’s tenure was marked by injuries and a 20-game losing streak. Indiana could easily win this game but it could also be a sign of where Chicago is headed for the rest of the year.

Have a good Friday everybody.

Black Sheep…

There’s been a lot of buzz around Devils Lake defenseman Keaton Thompson joining the Force and saying he would like to play at the University of North Dakota.

But there’s something else that’s pretty interesting about Thompson coming to the Force. He’s the third North Dakota kid in the United States Hockey League this season. In tomorrow’s paper, I’m examining why that is the case.

I got a chance to speak with Thompson and former Grafton star and Force captain Chad Demers about the trend and if there will be more North Dakota-based players entering the league someday.

And for you longtime Sioux fans, former blueliner Tarek Howard was also interviewed for the story. The former Blackhawks pick, who is now an attorney in Grand Forks, coached the Fargo-Moorhead Ice Sharks for two seasons. The Ice Sharks were in the USHL for a few seasons before the team dissolved and the Force arrived in 2008. He was also a high school coach in Grand Forks and he provided insight into the matter.

Hope everyone’s having a good Thursday. See you tomorrow.

For the love of the game…

Our weekly Wednesday profile is Chris Dilks of the Western College Hockey blog.

Dilks’ blog is always providing insight into a number of hockey-related topics, namely the WCHA. He’s also pretty adept at sizing up potential draft picks and recently shared his thoughts on the Minnesota boys high school hockey playoffs.

Here’s the Q&A with Dilks.

Q: What gave you the idea to come up with your site?

A: I became pretty interested in blogs back in 2005, when I started realizing that I could keep up with my various interests by following one good blog rather than four or five different websites. I’ve always been a huge hockey fan, and one day while I was still in school, I just started jotting down some ideas for posts during class, and it’s just kind of grown from there. After a while, I sort of realized I had a niche in that I was able to go to a lot of different hockey events here in Minnesota and there were a lot of people interested in reading about it.

Q: What are your thoughts on how, if at all, the Internet has played a role in the development of college and junior hockey?

A: I think the internet has completely revolutionized the way people follow hockey. For college hockey fans a decade or so ago, it was like players showed up on campus as freshmen completely unknown. Nowadays, it’s possible to follow a team’s recruits almost on a nightly basis, between live stats, blog reports, video feeds, etc. I think it makes the game so much more interesting to follow because people understand who these kids are a little better, and they can sort of follow the path of their careers.

Q: When you do things like your ratings, how much prep work is involved?

A: I’ve always really liked Bob McKenzie’s “ladder theory” which is the idea that the world of hockey is like one giant ladder, and players are constantly either moving up or down depending on how they’re playing. I always try to keep a running list of college and high school players, and keep it updated every time I go to a game, or talk to someone whose opinion I value. So they are constantly being modified. Then, usually right before I post them, I’ll email them off to one of my contacts that get paid to watch hockey for a living and say, “This isn’t crazy, right?”

Q: Finally, assuming this isn’t your day job, how do you manage investing time in this blog and your regular job without getting burned out?

A: Because this is something I started as a hobby and it’s something I love to do, burnout has never really been an issue. Sometimes once the college season ends, I feel ready to take a week or two off, but after that, I’m ready to be at the rink again. The other nice thing is that I have enough flexibility with my blogging that if it’s late at night, I feel tired, and have a half-finished post, it’s not a huge deal if I go to bed and finish it in the morning, which really helps.

With March being women’s history month, our goal is to feature women involved in the game of hockey for our profiles. So make sure to be on the look out for that. Once again, thanks to Chris Dilks and thanks to everyone reading the blog.
Have a good one everybody.

Outshined…

Living here makes one believe that, to a degree, some University of Minnesota hockey fans have a sense of entitlement.

Gopher fans complaining about losing Force defenseman Brian Cooper to Nebraska-Omaha last week proves that point.

The Gophers haven’t been tearing it up the last few years and it’s made fans throw out a variety reasons as to why. Some say fire Don Lucia. Some say it is Lucia’s staff. Some say Minnesota isn’t getting the best talent.

I say, that’s just part of college sports.

Minnesota isn’t the first school that claims to be the “State of …” to have struggles.

There’s no doubt Indiana is the “State of Basketball” and even that place has gone through its problems when it comes to Indiana University basketball. Remember a few years ago when Kelvin Sampson resigned because it was believed he was violating NCAA allegations?

IU went out and hired Tom Crean and people automatically thought the Hoosiers would be back to prominence within two years. IU is better but it is not what it once was. And maybe it may never be.

Gopher hockey isn’t going through anything remotely close to what went on at IU but some fans seem to think that it is the end of the world.

The same holds true for the state of Texas. Do people think the University of Texas has always been good at football? There was a time where UT was the whipping boy in the state because Texas A&M and $MU were getting all the good players.

I’m sure that sounds familiar to Minnesota-Duluth, Bemidji State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State.

Let’s think about this. Minnesota is still a great place to play hockey. So what if it hasn’t won national titles lately? Take North Dakota. UND hasn’t won a title since 2000 and there’s no talk of firing Dave Hakstol or the thought no talented players want to come to North Dakota.

College hockey is a very hard sport to win a national title. Maine, in 1993, was the last school to win a national championship for the first time. That’s proof that winning takes time.

Say what you want about Lucia but guy won back-to-back titles less than a decade ago and that’s only been mirrored by Denver since then. Some Gopher fans want Dean Blais and it is their right. But who is to say Blais will leave UNO? Why would he? He just got Brian Cooper.

All jokes aside, Blais may or may not leave. If he does leave, there’s no guaranteeing it will be for Minnesota.

Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.

Whatever happens with Lucia or the Gopher hockey program, just know this. There are winners and there are losers.

Perhaps Minnesota fans will remember this the next time they’re winning.

You’re the best around…

Here it is, the bi-weekly update of front runners for the USHL’s postseason awards. In captions will be where a player was at the last time of our rankings.

Player of the Year: 1.Blake Coleman, forward, Indiana Ice (1): This really isn’t a contest anymore with Coleman running away with the league scoring title. He leads the league with 62 points and is a plus-31, which is also a league-high. Barring injury or a late-season surge from someone else, this is his award to win.

Others to mention: 2. Brady Hjelle, goaltender, Cedar Rapids (2). 3. Vinny Saponari, Dubuque (3)

Forward of the Year: Ryan Misiak, Muskegon Lumberjacks (NR): He wasn’t rated on the list a few weeks ago, but he has been really good for the ‘Jacks this season. Misiak has been a big reason why Muskegon has looked pretty sharp over the last few weeks and finds itself fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.

Others to mention: 2. Jayson Megna, Cedar Rapids (1), Coleman (3)

Defenseman of the Year: 1. Nick Mattson, Indiana (1): Mattson has pretty much pistolwhipped the league with how talented he’s been offensively.  His 25 points are four away for most points in the league by a defenseman but his plus-26 rating is second in the league behind Coleman. The North Dakota commit hasn’t been bad defensively either. His play raises the question of who deserves to win the award. Mattson or Youngstown’s Scott Mayfield, the player many consider to be the best pro prospect? Mattson wins.

Others to consider: 2. Mayfield (NR), 3. Ben Marshall, Omaha (2)

Goalie of the Year: 1.Brady Hjelle, Cedar Rapids (1): Goalies like Dubuque’s Matt Morris, Fargo’s Ryan Massa and Green Bay’s Ryan McKay have stellar GAA’s on teams that have dominated the league. No one else, however, has won 26 games like Hjelle, a Ohio State commit. That and his 2.21 GAA isn’t horrible it is just that there are so many goalies who that are closer to 2.00 GAAs.

Others to consider: 2. Morris, Dubuque (2). 3.  Massa, Fargo (3).

Rookie of the Year: 1. Matt Morris, Dubuque: What Morris is doing is gaining attention from many people, notably a lot of University of Maine fans. Morris committed to Maine not long ago and his strong rookie season has the Black Bear faithful seeking him as a savior to the goalie crisis the team has faced all year. No other first-year player has been discussed as much as Morris. That and league-leading 2.02 GAA, league-leading .926 save percentage and 18 wins are also pretty good numbers too.

Others to consider: 2. John Gaudreau, Dubuque (2). 3. Jimmy Mullin, Fargo (3).

Coach of the Year: 1. Bliss Littler, Omaha (NR): Omaha has been skyrocketing up the USHL’s Western Conference standings and he’s a big reason why. The West, for most of the season, has been about the leap-frog game that has been Dubuque-Fargo and out of nowhere, in a way, came Omaha, which is second and is looking like one of the best teams in the USHL.

Others to consider: 2. Jim Montgomery, Dubuque (1). 3. Eric Rud, Green Bay (2).

Playing with my delirium…

Every now and again, a subject will run across this blog that makes you wonder.

Thanks to our buddy Yeti over at the Lincoln Stars blog we heard about this incident in Youngstown. The Vindicator is reporting that goaltender Jordan Tibbett returned to the team based on his good conduct despite the fact he is suspended from Mercyhurst for a sexual assault charge.

Tibbett, 21, and a teammate were suspended from the school in November after being charged for an on-campus incident with a female student, according to the newspaper. He goes to trial March 9 and Mercyhurst said both students would not be allowed to return to the school until their legal status is cleared.

Youngstown team president Alex Zoldan told the paper that the team is aware of the incident but has decided to bring Tibbett back because of his time at Youngstown.

Incidents like this are never easy because one can understand a team wanting to help out a former player that’s going through a hard time. But how can one justify bringing back a player that is potentially facing something like a sexual assault charge?

Tibbett will get his day in court and for all we know, he could be found innocent or guilty. That doesn’t matter right now. The important thing is why should he or anyone be playing hockey when their main concern should be their future. Some can argue that playing hockey can take his mind off things, but in this case, that might not be a strong argument.

When I first moved to Texas, there was a high school where three of its players were accused of sexually assaulting a cheerleader and it was such a sensitive subject for obvious reasons. What happened there was pretty bad. The cheerleader was kicked off the team because she refused to cheer for one of the players who allegedly sexually assaulted her.

Not saying that will happen in Youngstown, but it is an example of how when something as serious as sexual assault comes up, the people involved should remain out of the public eye.

USHL commissioner Skip Prince commented on the matter and ruled Tibbett was eligible because it did not violate any policies by USA Hockey.

Even still, this cannot set a good precedent for Youngstown and to a degree, the USHL.

We all know how people in this nation feel about athletes (Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds) who have either been accused of crimes or have served jail time following it. It doesn’t end well and no one walks away a winner.

In this case, walking away from the situation until it is cleared up is the best thing the Phantoms and Tibbett can do.

Starry-eyed-surprise…

There isn’t a USHL All-Star game this year, but the league said it had plans to honor players having good seasons.

The Fargo Force had four players, which was the second-most in the league behind Dubuque, which had five.

Leading the four selections were forward Jimmy Mullin, a Miami (Ohio) commit, who leads the team in scoring with 15 goals and 26 assists. That is eighth in the USHL and according to a release, Mullin will attend Miami next year, making this his first and only year with the Force.

Tanner Kero, a Michigan Tech commit, was also named to the team. He is second on the team with 11 goals and 22 assists. He’ll also be leaving at the end of the year to play college.

Last was Nebraska-Omaha commits Brian Cooper and Ryan Massa. Cooper has 10 goals and 13 assists, which is the most goals scored by a defenseman all year. Massa is 13-4-3 and is second in the league with a 1.98 GAA and a .929 save percentage. He joins Dubuque’s Matt Morris, a University of Maine commit, as the two goalies selected to the Western Conference team.

Ready to start…

Hope the week went well for everyone. Certainly has gone well for us as yesterday was the most successful day we’ve had in terms of visitors.

Let’s head into the weekend looking at Friday’s games and what they mean.

Muskegon at Team USA, 7 p.m.

At this point, this one is a battle for points with both teams certainly in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Muskegon is fourth while Team USA sits in fifth, the second-t0-last playoff spot. They are separated by two points and given how good Team USA has been at home, this could be the weekend they do some climbing.

Des Moines at Dubuque, 7 p.m.

Dubuque finally saw its run as top dog in the Western Conference come to an end with surging Omaha taking top spot. It is not panic time for them, but this is a team that rather be first and dictate things instead of being in second. Des Moines is going for points in a tight race and given this is at Dubuque, it could be a challenge for Des Moines because Dubuque 15-4-3, the third best home record in the league.

Sioux City at Tri-City, 7:05 p.m.

Like Dubuque, Tri-City has a good home record. Tri-City is also better than the record indicates and this should be a game the Storm wins. Sioux City isn’t bad either but there is a reason it is the only sub-.500 team in the Western Conference. Part of that has to do with playing in a tough conference, the rest has to do with inconsistency. Interesting to see which Sioux City shows up.

Fargo at Lincoln, 7:05 p.m.

If it is not for the next game, this would be the game of the night because each have something major to gain. Fargo, like it has been all season, is at the mercy of other teams having played more games than anyone else. Winning would put the Force in good position for the playoffs. Lincoln is fighting to get in so they’re probably going to do everything they can to stop a Force squad that has spent a lot of time on the road this month. By the way, the Force are the league’s best road team with 15 wins so getting a win will not be an easy task.

GAME OF THE NIGHT: Green Bay at Omaha, 7:05 p.m.

Both are conference leaders. Both are playing amazing and this could be a preview to the Clark Cup Finals. Green Bay is more or less running away with the East and this could give Omaha a chance to see what it could go up against in a few months if it can survive the West. Omaha hasn’t been taking it lightly either as they’ve found ways to win games over February. There’s more pressure on Omaha because Dubuque and Fargo are right there and Green Bay does have a bit of breathing room in the east.

Indiana at Waterloo, 7:05 p.m.

Not the best game to follow Green Bay-Omaha but for anyone checking this game out, they could get a chance to see Player of the Year/Forward of the Year candidate in Blake Coleman, who is having an amazing year. Coleman leads the league with 60 points, which is 11 more than the closest scorer. Don’t forget North Dakota defensive commit Nick Mattson, who is having a pretty solid year too. Signs point towards Indiana winning this one.

Cedar Rapids at Sioux Falls, 7:05 p.m.

Sioux Falls is offensively-gifted given that it leads the Western Conference in most goals scored. What’s interesting is the Stampede will be facing goaltender Brady Hjelle, a guy that has been looking like the league’s best goaltender. Most times goalies usually get the best of shooters but if Sioux Falls has scored more goals in what has been the more competitive conference, it could be pretty amazing to see what happens.

Chicago at Youngstown, 7:35 p.m.

Youngstown is looking to make a move and grab some points to strengthen its playoff chances. Sad to say, but Chicago is that team to grab points against these days. It hasn’t been a great season for Chicago and this could very well be a game for Scott Mayfield, a guy a lot of people claim is the USHL’s No. 1 NHL prospect, could look good in.

Have a good Friday everybody.