Thanks For The Memories…

So far it has already been a bit of a busy off season with the Force as the team confirmed on Friday what players would be leaving the team.

The Force are losing 12 players from this year’s team with most of the damage being done at defense. Defensemen Ian Young (Colorado College), Oleg Yevenko (UMass) and Dan Weissenhofer (Air Force) are all going to be playing college hockey next season. Keaton Thompson, of course, is leaving the team after a brief stay to play for the US National Team Development Program.

Force spokeswoman Whitney Baumgartner said the team hasn’t received an indicator on defenseman Willie Corrin and if he’ll return to the team or start his freshman season at national champion Minnesota-Duluth.

Also gone is goaltender Ryan Massa (Nebraska-Omaha), which really isn’t much of a surprise. Massa was in his last year of eligibility and once he committed to UNO in November, it was a done deal that he’d be gone.

As for the forwards, the Force will also be taking some losses. There were the expected moves like Chad Demers (Air Force), Colten St. Clair (North Dakota), Jimmy Mullin (Miami) and Nick Oliver (St. Cloud) moving on. Others that will be leaving town include Tyler Magueri (Princeton) and Tanner Kero (Michigan Tech).

That means the Force will be left forwards Nate Arentz, Austin Farley, Tanner Lane (UNO), Colton Hargrove, Jonathan Brodzinski (St. Cloud), Joe Rehkamp and Nick Stopskopf. The team will also be returning forwards Corbin McGuire (Wisconsin) and Jakob Batcha, who were loaned out to teams in other junior leagues to get more playing time and experience.

At the back is where it could get really busy in the offseason with the Force only returning Brian Cooper (UNO) and Justin Wade. Goaltender and Boston Bruins draft pick Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) will also return next season and potentially be the team’s starting goaltender.

We’ll provide some more analysis on what it all means in Tuesday’s edition of The Forum.

Until then, enjoy the weekend everybody.

School’s Out…

The season has been over for the Fargo Force for about a week now and before we head into off-season stuff, let’s take a look at the final gradings for the team for the year.

We printed mid-season grades in the Forum back in December and we just wanted to follow up on things now that the season is over.

Forwards: Getting shutout by Dubuque to end the season wasn’t the greatest note to go on, but the playoffs really did sum up the season for the forwards. The opening round against Lincoln say the forwards get off some incredible chances before finally breaking through and racking up the goals. The Dubuque series also showed that this is an offense that does have trouble scoring. The last two periods in Game 3 against Dubuque resulted in the Force firing shot after shot on Morris, but very few came via the odd man rush, the breakaway or use of individual talent that has pretty much defined this group all year. With Jimmy Mullin and Chad Demers leaving, it’ll be interesting to see who fills in for the group.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Defenseman: If you want to just base it on college commitments, the Force, on paper, have one of the best defenses in the USHL. Not many teams have guys that are college commits but that’s not to say this group was perfect. There were too many times this season where Ryan Massa or Zane Gothberg gave up goals because the support at the back wasn’t there. But as for the things they did well, they could score, hit and gave the Force a physical edge that was needed. Take away the first five minutes of Game 3 against Dubuque and the defense had a very good playoffs. It appears most of this group could return next season and if it does, there’s no reason why it cannot be the best in the league.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Goaltenders: Massa was for sure the MVP of this team. There’s no denying it. He kept the Force in a position to win every night and when it came time for Zane Gothberg to step in, he didn’t do a bad job either. Massa was able to make the standard save to the spectacular save but there were times a cross ice clearance went in for a goal or two. Even with those mishaps, he was what teams want in a goaltender. As for Gothberg, he made the transition from high school to the USHL and didn’t look bad while doing it. Of course there are things to improve on, but for a guy who has never had to be a backup, he handled it pretty well.

FINAL GRADE: A

Special Teams: Where do you start with this one? The power play wasn’t exactly the most productive out there. A lot of passing, maybe at times too much passing and not enough shots. There are times where you want the right shot but there were many times this season where the power play tried to be a bit too perfect and it resulted in a missed chance or too. That’s why the power play finished as the fifth worst in the USHL. As for the penalty kill, there was a stretch towards the end of the year where the Force had given up nine goals on 13 penalty kills. But there were also times where it was very affective and helped the team win games. The force finished eighth in the 16-team USHL on the penalty kill. That’s proof that it could be worse, but it could be better

FINAL GRADE: C

Front-office moves: We didn’t have this one in December because its kind of hard to judge how moves will pan out half way through the season. But let’s go ahead and get to the February trades that were made. No one has been short on opinions about the Brandon Carlson trade that paved the way for Keaton Thompson. If you want an idea of how some people feel about this, just check out FinishYourCheck.com What it comes down to is this. Herter made the move that he felt was best for the team long term and if you had a defenseman in your back yard that was said to be the next big thing, would you pass it up? Probably not. There was a chance that Thompson could go to the NTDP and he did and yeah, it looks bad that he’s gone after a few months. But what if he wouldn’t have made the NTDP and got snapped up by someone else? Then fans, etc. would have been pissed they didn’t go after him. Getting Stoskopf and Brodzinski were good moves because both of them can score and they”ll only get better. The potentially most underrated move could be trading Troy Hesketh, which resulted in the team getting two first-round picks in the Futures Draft. The Futures Draft went well for the Force as they addressed every need imaginable and look to have constructed a solid future.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Coaching staff: This staff had its obstacles and they’ve been well chronicled on this blog and in The Forum so there’s no point in rehashing it. Given that this was a brand new staff from top to bottom, they didn’t do that bad of a job. Say what you want about Herter but the guy kept this team in the chase for the No. 2 seed until the last weekend of the regular season. Their first playoff campaign wasn’t bad either. They just got met by a team that got some breaks and made the most of it. Those that have never dealt with Herter, know that he’s a tough man who demands quite a bit. That being said, it appears that the foundation for next season has been set and the Force could possibly come back with the most experienced group to start a season for the first time in what will be the team’s fourth year.

FINAL GRADE: A-

Mr. 305…

There’s being told you could be the future and then there’s seeing it.

Gabe Guertler had to settle on hearing that he was the future. That is until the USHL Futures Draft web page started working and he saw that he was selected by the Force with the No. 2 overall pick.

“Truthfully, I wasn’t exactly sure. I thought I’d go somewhere in the first round but I was not sure if Fargo was going to take me,” Guertler said. “I figured they take me 10th and then they called the night before the draft and I was pretty excited that they were thinking about picking me.”

Guertler, 15, is expected to come into camp next pre-season and compete for a roster spot on a team that could potentially return nine forwards from last season. The plan would be for Guertler to be a high-end forward that can score goals and create chances.

He did just that for Team Illinois in the Tier I Elite League last season scoring 59 points (25 goals and 34) in 35 games last season. If Guertler can deliver on the USHL level like he did for Team Illinois he could help cushion the blow that’s being left by departing forwards like Chad Demers (Air Force) and Jimmy Mullin (Miami), who lead the team in scoring this season.

There’s a good possibility that could happen. He was part of the 40-man invite to the Team USA National Team Development Camp and just missed the cut. That’s the same camp that Force defenseman Keaton Thompson attended and it resulted in him playing with the NTDP for next season.

Guertler said he’s excited about coming to Fargo and getting a chance to play in the USHL, however, does that excitement get curbed knowing that he’s trading away locales like Chicago and beautiful, sunny Florida for what’s been voted as this nation’s toughest weather city?

“Even though I am from Florida, I like the cold better,” Guertler said. “I like the cold a lot actually and I rather be in the cold than be in the heat.”

Guertler said he got use to dealing with cold weather and being away from home playing in Illinois this past season.

So adjusting to the weather and a billet family shouldn’t be a problem for him. But he did say that he’s never been to North Dakota before and he is interested to see what it would be like to live and play in Fargo for the next few years.

The Force have had relative success drafting players out of Tier I having selected players like defenseman Garrett Haar (Northeastern) who came from the Russell Stover system and promising defenseman Justin Wade, who played for the Chicago Mission.

Guertler has gone up against one of his future teammates in defenseman Charlie Pelnik, a North Dakota commit.

“I know a little bit about him,” Guertler said. “At the 40-man camp I played against and with him and I all I know is he’s a strong, big, good defenseman.”

College hockey is also a route Guertler plans to go and he’s attracted interested from quite a few schools. He’s narrowed his top choices to Denver, Miami, Michigan and Minnesota. He is going to visit a few more schools and plans to commit by the end of this summer.

Going to Minnesota surely wouldn’t be a bad thing given that’s where his father grew up. Guertler said that is father grew up in the Cities and played high school hockey but couldn’t remember where his dad played.

Guertler said his dad’s love for hockey resulted in him getting into the game at a young age.

“I started skating at two and at three I started playing hockey and I played roller hockey until I was seven,” Guertler said. “But when I was seven I started playing ice hockey and I’ve been playing ever since.”

What’s Golden…

The season, at least for the Force anyways, is over but the USHL is still continuing the playoffs so this blog will update what’s going on with the playoffs from time to time.

Aside from that I’ll be on this thing for a couple more weeks doing some postseason items such as player grades, what to look for next year, seeing who’s coming back, who’s committing to what school along with talking to some of the selections from the Futures Draft like Gabe Guertler.

There will also be coverage of the USHL Entry Draft that will be coming up May 16, which will surely generate some discussion.

In the mean time, take care everyone and if you have any questions about the Force or the USHL feel free to ask.

Have a good one everybody.

Into The Wild Blue Yonder…

A couple days have passed and yet the image that’s been played repeatedly in my head from the Force’s 3-0 loss to Dubuque was Chad Demers outside the locker room.

To a degree, it was a typical scene following an end-of-season loss where everyone’s emotional and thinking about how its all over. Yet when Demers came out of the locker room, the thing that stood was his poise.

Most times athletes, especially younger athletes, are often in tears following a season-ending playoff loss for a variety of reasons. Demers had been in tears but he fought them off when we talked.

“It’s tough because you do get close with a group of guys you’ve known for the last two or three years of your life,” Demers said. “We’re all about to go our own separate ways.”

Yet throughout all of that, Demers managed to keep a strong face while explaining his emotions without stammers or pauses and its moments like that are why he was named the team’s captain this year.

Anyone that’s watched the Force this year knows this was a team that had no problem talking. This was a group that was loud when they ran around the arena for pre-game warm ups.

Or during a game, it was pretty easy to see that this was a group that was more than happy to talk to opposing teams.

Demers did his talking, he just did it with his teammates and many times, it wasn’t out there for the crowd to see. A few months ago, The Forum did a feature on Demers and his teammates said that he was the kind of leader that always checked up on guys and was respected by everyone on the team.

Commanding respect from his teammates and others is one of those things that led to Demers going to Air Force. Force defenseman Dan Weissenhofer nearly a week later also committed to Air Force.

Weissenhofer said he and Demers talked about Air Force quite a bit leading up to both of them committing to the school. Weissenhofer said the idea of going to Air Force with a friend made it reassuring that he was indeed making the right decision.

Demers said being named team captain along with making it to consecutive Clark Cup Finals were the biggest moments in his Force career.

“I just wish I could have been the first captain to hoist that trophy,” Demers said.

Missing out on a Clark Cup certainly wasn’t planned yet, in a way, it represents what happened with Demers so much this season.

Jason Herter said when the season started Demers was seen as a third or fourth-line center and offered him a chance to be traded to the North American Hockey League so he could get a chance to play on a top line there and get noticed by schools.

Herter said he wouldn’t make the trade unless Demers said he wanted it to happen. Demers, obviously, said no and he turned into one of the team’s most valuable players.

Much can be said about Chad Demers in his time with the Force but the thing that stands out the most is something his teammates are often saying. They say that Demers leads more by showing and doing instead of talking.

A Clark Cup title might not have happened, but his greatest accomplishment could be the fact that he did something a lot of North Dakota kids haven’t done. The former Grafton-Park River hero became an embodiment of what junior hockey can do for an individual.

He went from being a player that garnered statewide attraction to accomplishing a dream of making it to a major college program.

It might not be the same as a Clark Cup title, but its certainly not a bad way to go.

I Want My City Back…

Much has changed with Vinny Saponari over the last year.

About a year and a half ago, he had been dismissed from Boston University for conduct away from the ice and was re-evaluating his future. He’s a suburban Atlanta kid and the thought of playing for the hometown Atlanta Thrashers, which drafted him, appeared to be a possibility.

Until it was clear that the Dubuque Fighting Saints wanted him even if it was for a year. Exchanging Kenmore Square for the Fourth Street Elevator has changed Saponari and has helped him ultimately return to Boston next year after saying Saturday that he will be playing at Northeastern.

“My academics passed through and that’s where I am going to be next year,” Saponari said. “They have a strong crew coming back. I took a visit there, met some of their players and I felt accepted.”

Saponari will undoubtedly bring a lot to the table and leadership will have to be one of those qualities following the news that head coach Greg Cronin is expected to leave the program to take a coaching position in the AHL. Nearly an hour after interviewing Saponari, The Forum learned from a different source about Cronin’s expected departure.

Coming to Dubuque allowed Saponari to be re immersed with hockey but to also make a few changes in his life. The biggest change has been being a leader.

People like Dubuque coach and former Maine great Jim Montgomery have often said that one of the team’s strongest assets has been the older players like Saponari, who are willing to set an example to the younger players.

Saponari did just that on Saturday night when he rifled in a goal early in the first period in the team’s 3-0 win over the Fargo Force to help the Fighting Saints advance to the Western Conference Finals in the re-started franchise’s first season.

“We wanted to send a message early,” said Saponari, who finished the regular season with 18 goals and 46 assists for 64 points in the regular season. “I think we were able to do that.”

Sending messages has been a pretty common thing with Saponari when it comes to the impact he’s had with younger players like Vermont commit Zemgus Girgensons and Northeastern commit John Gaudreau.

Girgensons, who scored the game’s opening goal, and Gaudreau have played on the same line with Saponari all season. Girgensons and Gaudreau said in their last trip to Fargo that Saponari has been a positive influence.

Being a better leader, a better player, but overall, a better man is what Saponari is striving for when he arrives at Northeastern next season.

“I learned just what it takes to be a leader because I have been a younger guy on the teams I’ve played on,” said Saponari, who scored 47 points in 82 games from his time at Boston University. “I have a passion for the game again and I have to be aware of the situation I am in. That and I’ve learned to appreciate everything I have because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Right Here, Right Now…

Oh, how things can change so quickly.

The Force a week ago were coming off a first-round sweep of Lincoln and it looked like this team was different than the one most people saw at Scheels Arena late in the regular season. It appeared that the penalty kill was sharper, the power play was getting a few more chances and that this could be another third straight Clark Cup Finals.

Then there’s the here and now. This team is down 0-2 against Dubuque and tonight could realistically be the last game at Scheels Arena this season.

Some say the season is over and it is fair to understand why they feel that way. Overcoming a two-game hole is pretty tough especially when the team you’re going against just happens to get the lucky break or bounce needed to win a game. The Force would know as they got plenty of them last round against Lincoln.

It isn’t like the Force have been playing horribly, they’ve just went up against a team that just seems to have things going their way right now. An argument could have been made that the Force had an advantage going on the road because they won 19 road games this year, which tied for first in the USHL’s Western Conference.

Plus this is a team, at least until prior to the Lincoln series, hadn’t really looked sharp at home down the stretch.

But here’s why some say there’s still a chance.

It isn’t like we haven’t seen the Force get hot. This team won four games in a row back in March, which isn’t that long ago. Remember that six-game winning streak the Force had in the first-half of the season? Yeah, that included beating this same Dubuque team.

The Force also have a chance because they’ve been losing games by one goal. It’s not like they’re getting blasted by a team that’s just flat-out superior. They’ve come close, just not close enough.

Perhaps that could all change tonight. Maybe tonight is the night where the Force grab a win, then come Monday they grab another win and maybe, just maybe, they force a Game 5 and win the whole damn thing.

Or maybe tonight is the beginning of the end. Either way, we’ll find out in a few hours.

Please Please Please…

There’s obviously been a lot of drama regarding the Fighting Sioux nickname. Anyone following this blog knows that I like to be a bit sarcastic at times.

Sadly, Twitter feeds my sarcasm and because of that, here’s your Top 10 list of what North Dakota’s new state motto should be in regard to the Sioux nickname.

Remember folks, this is all in good fun:

10. North Dakota: We get Siouxed so you don’t have, too.

9. North Dakota: Where being Siouxpressed is a way of life.

8: North Dakota: Get your Sioux-veniers while you still can.

7, North Dakota: Sioux me, pal? No, Sioux you and your family, too.

6. North Dakota: Rarely do we get screwed, but we’re always getting Siouxed.

5. North Dakota: Land of Siouxperheroes. Well, at least until Aug. 15.

4. North Dakota: Who throws a Sioux? Really, man!

3. North Dakota: We’re Sioux-percalifragilisticexpialidocious!

2. North Dakota: Sioux us, everyone else does.

1. North Dakota: You don’t like it? Sioux me!

Honorable mentions were:

-We haven’t won since 2000, but at least we’re not Sioux-san Lucci.

-Of course we don’t have crime, we’re under NCAA Sioux-pervision.

-We got here first so we wouldn’t get Siouxed by South Dakota.

-Sioux you and Sioux her, too.

-America’s home for being Sioux-perficial. But you if you want superficial, we hear Mariucci is nice this time of year.

If you got some more, just hit me up at twitter.com/ryan_s_clark

Falling For The First Time…

The USHL announced its Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie team today and Dubuque forward and Northeastern commit John Gaudreau was named scooped up both awards.

He was joined on the All-Rookie Team by Dubuque teammate and Maine commit Matt Morris, Sioux City defenseman and North Dakota commit Jordan Schmaltz, Omaha defenseman/Minnesota commit and Detroit Red Wings draft pick Ben Marshall.

On offense, Gaudreau led the team and he was followed by Force forward Jimmy Mullin (Miami/Tampa Bay Lightning) and Indiana Ice forward Daniil Tarasov.

Here’s more from the USHL release:

Matt Morris (G), Dubuque Fighting Saints

The 17-year-old native of Ridgewood, New Jersey posted a 23-8-4 record in helping the Saints finish first in the Western Conference.  His 23 victories tied for the fourth highest total in the USHL and he was second among League goaltenders with a 2.17 goals-against-average.  Morris posted a .921 save percentage and earned four shutouts.  Over his first 10 games in the USHL, he compiled an 8-0-1 record which included three shutouts.  He is committed to play collegiately at the University of Maine following his USHL career.

Jordan Schmaltz (D), Sioux City Musketeers

The defenseman from Verona, Wisconsin led all USHL defensemen in scoring with 44 points (13g, 31a) in 53 regular season games.  Five times this season the 17-year-old was named CCM Defensive Player of the Week.  Schmaltz finished the regular season riding a 10-game point streak (6g, 14a), helping the Musketeers to a 9-1-0 record over that stretch and earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2008.  It is the fifth time in the last six seasons that a member of the Musketeers has been named to the USHL All-Rookie Team.  Schmaltz is committed to the University of North Dakota following his USHL career.

Ben Marshall (D), Omaha Lancers

The 18-year-old was sixth among USHL defensemen in scoring with 33 points (11g, 22a) in 56 games.  Five of his goals were game-winners which were the most among USHL defensemen and tied for sixth overall in the League.  Marshall finished the regular season tied for 10th in the USHL with a plus-20 rating and was second among defensemen with 142 shots on goal.  The native of Stillwater, Minnesota is committed to play collegiate hockey at the University of Minnesota.  He is also a 2010 NHL Entry Draft selection of the Detroit Red Wings (201st overall).

John Gaudreau (F), Dubuque Fighting Saints

The rookie forward played all 60 regular season games and scored 36 goals, the second highest total in the USHL.  He was fourth overall in League scoring with 72 points (36g, 36a) and had the third most game-winning goals (7).  The 17-year-old from Carneys Point, New Jersey led the USHL with 15 power play goals and had the best shooting percentage in the League (.234).  Twice during the regular season, Gaudreau compiled five-game goal scoring streaks.  He is committed to play college hockey at Northeastern University following his USHL career.

Jimmy Mullin (F), Fargo Force

The 19-year-old led the Force in scoring and was seventh in the USHL with 60 points (23g, 37a) in 52 regular season games.  He was fourth overall in the League with a plus-29 rating.  Mullin equaled a team record for points in a game when he collected five (1g, 4a) in the 6-2 win vs. Sioux City on December 3rd, 2010.  On three occasions this season, he earned honors as the CCM Offensive Player of the Week.  The Cincinnati, Ohio native is committed to continue his hockey career at Miami University.  Mullin was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fourth round (118th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Daniil Tarasov (F), Indiana Ice

The Moscow, Russia native led the entire USHL with 37 goals and was second overall in scoring with 75 points (37g, 38a) in 57 games.  His plus-34 rating was also the second highest mark in the League.  The 19-year-old was third in the League in shots on goals (217) and tied for the USHL lead scoring eight game-winning goals.  Tarasov recorded seven multi-goal games this season, including a hat trick on January 22nd vs. Chicago.  The forward finished the regular season riding an eight-game point streak in which he collected 13 points (8g, 5a).

 

 

The Launch…

There’s a lot to get to but let’s start with the USHL’s announcement last night that it is seeking a partnership with the Tier I Elite Hockey League.

For those not familiar with Tier I, it is considered to be the nation’s premier midget hockey league with 19 teams spread across the nation. The league’s announcement generated some questions with the biggest one being: Does that mean each team in Tier I would serve as a farm team to USHL franchises?

USHL spokesman Brian Werger said this morning that it does not mean that at all.

“We had a feeling that was going to be the biggest misconception. That is not the case at all and its not a case that this is the only league we are going to get players from,” Werger said. “We just recognize the league as being very valuable and it gives us an opportunity to build our brand and for their brand to build and put some standards in place.”

Werger said added that though the leagues are working on a partnership, the USHL will still continue to welcome players from other leagues. That was evidenced by the USHL Futures Draft where players from 53 organizations belonging to different leagues were selected.

USHL commissioner Skip Prince along with the league’s player development personnel have been working on forging a partnership with Tier I for about two years, Werger said.

The partnership would basically allow Tier I to tap into what the USHL has done so it can grow to be a more successful league. Werger added that the recently created High Performance Hockey League will not change how the league does business with those teams. The HPHL consists of six teams that left Tier I and will begin play in the 2011-12 season.

A major part of the potential partnership would be to develop youth hockey. Werger said because many of the Tier I programs go down to the squirt level, they would like to help coaches and programs teach kid to be better hockey players and help their development as they get older.

“We want to emphasize and develop top young talent,” Werger said. “Regardless of them playing in the USHL, we want to strengthen organizations.”

Different ideas are being kicked around as to how the USHL can help Tier I accomplish that goal.

Werger was then asked if the league would be involved in the girls division that exists within Tier I.

“It is something we will keep in mind and helping this league is not only helping boys but the girls too,” Werger said. “We do not want to dismiss the girls division. We want to see hockey grow on all levels.”

 

That’s all for now, but there will be plenty more today such as the USHL announcing its Rookie of the Year team and with all the drama surrounding the Fighting Sioux nickname, there are some thoughts on that too.

Have a good lunch everybody.