The Small Print…

Whether it be Dubuque Fighting Saints head coach/general manager Jim Montgomery or his Kelowna Rockets counterpart, Bruce Hamilton, they’ve both had something to say about Zemgus Girgensons’ future.

Girgensons, who is in his second season in Dubuque, also had something to say about his future: It doesn’t involve going to the Kelowna Rockets or any other team in the Canadian Hockey League.

“You know, first of all I don’t see my future in the CHL,” Girgensons said after his team’s 4-1 win in Fargo. “I talked with other CHL teams that were interested in me. I thought about The Q (The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) and the Quebec Remparts, but (Kelowna) drafted me and didn’t say anything to me about it. After that, I felt they disrespected me a little bit. They pushed it a little bit onto my adviser and I don’t think he really liked it.”

The 17-year-old Latvian forward came into the season as the top NHL Draft-eligible prospect in the United States Hockey League.He had five points (3 goals, 2 assists) over the weekend and has 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists), one point shy of the league lead.

NHL.com recently added Girgenson’s photo to it’s main 2012 NHL Draft Page, something usually reserved for players expected to be selected in the first round.

Girgensons attracted attention scoring 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in 51 games last season on a line with now-Northeastern forward Vinny Saponari (Winnipeg) and current Boston College forward John Gaudreau (Calgary) en route to helping the Fighting Saints win the Clark Cup Championship in the franchise’s first season.

He was drafted in June by the Rockets during the CHL Import Draft with the 45th overall pick. It led to Girgensons’ future coming into question over the summer following comments made by Hamilton in DubNation, a blog covering the Western Hockey League.

“His agents think (Dubuque) is where he should be playing and he’s very loyal to that program. But I know as soon as he’s drafted, the NHL team’s not going to want him in Dubuque and they’re not going to want him going to the University of Vermont, either,” Hamilton said. “We’ll have a real good opportunity to have him here for sure next year, and potentially after Christmas this year. When the Latvian team plays in the world juniors, we’ll be very aggressive again there.”

Hamilton’s comments were noticed this summer considering the number of high-profile players opting out of the USHL/college hockey path to choose Major Junior.

The remarks weren’t too well-received by Montgomery, who played college hockey at the University of Maine.

Here is what Montgomery told Slightly Chilled a few months ago:

“First of all, I was wondering how he could be tampering with a player that plays with another junior team in the middle of the season. I was also wondering about his ethics and why would you want to try and approach someone trying to win a gold medal for his nation. Being a Canadian, he should know how important it is to win a gold medal. If junior hockey is coming to this type of level where you’re going to bother someone while they’re trying to win a gold medal for his country speaks volumes about the integrity of some of the people in junior hockey. I know for a fact that (Girgensons) hasn’t spoken to an adviser and (Girgensons’ adviser) hasn’t spoken to the kid either. He’s defending his draft pick and that’s why he’s putting a positive spin on it as possible. Really, he’s making himself look like he’s unethical.”

Girgensons said he was aware of Hamilton’s comments and didn’t agree with them.

“I don’t think it was a great move by them,” Girgensons said about Hamilton’s comments. “If they had said ‘We support his decision to go to Vermont’, that would have been fine but they said I should not go there. They disrespected my thoughts and I felt like they didn’t even trust me.”

In addition to being drafted by Kelowna, Girgensons was taken in the second round of the KHL Junior Draft by HC CSKA Moscow.

“The KHL came out of nowhere,” Girgensons said. “That was not even close that I’d go there. I keep my plans straight. I don’t have a Plan B because it would distract me from Plan A. The plan has always been to go to Vermont. That’s been Plan A. There’s never been a Plan B.”

Girgensons was named Dubuque’s captain to start the season and he said it is a role he’s really enjoying.

He said learning under Saponari and T.J. Schlueter, who is now at Ferris State, really helped him prepare for what it would take to be a leader.

Montgomery said during the summer Girgensons’ work ethic and his mental approach to the game are just a few of the qualities, which makes him an integral part of Fighting Saints. He said Girgensons’ work ethic is similar to former NHL star Rod Brind’Amour and the way he thinks about the game is similar to another former NHL star in Paul Kariya, who Mongtomery played with at Maine.

All of these things – plus Girgensons’ offensive numbers – have helped Dubuque to a 7-2 record, which is tied for the best in the Eastern Conference and the USHL along with the Green Bay Gamblers.

“We won the cup last year and I noticed what Vinny and T.J. did last year,” Girgensons said. “I just want to keep things going like they did, let guys do their thing, put the team first and good things should come from that.”

Rise From The Shadows…

As I mentioned earlier on Twitter, expect a podcast here in a bit previewing this weekend’s games against Green Bay and Dubuque.

But for now, here’s an update on a few players on the Force’s affiliate list. The affiliates list is pretty much a list of players each USHL team has of guys in their system. These players can be called up if need be but in most cases, they usually don’t get time with the team until later in the season.

So here it is:

-Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota), defenseman, Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN-HS): The 6-4, 210-pound Pelnik was supposed to come to the team this season after being the Force’s No. 10 pick in the Futures Draft in the spring. But it was decided he would better develop playing prep hockey at the factory that is Shattuck-St. Mary’s. He’s on Shattuck’s U-16 team and so far he’s played 14 games scoring 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) this year. He’s helped the team to a 7-4-3 record this year.

-Brendan Harms (Bemidji State), forward, Portage (MJHL): Arguably the premier forward on the affiliates list, Harms is having a solid start to his season. He has scored 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 10 games for the Terriers making him the team’s second-leading scorer. Harms was never slated to join the Force this season. But at this rate, it appears he could be a  big asset for the Force in the future.

-Brett Heikkila (Northern Michigan), forward, Marquette Electricians (Midget): So far he’s having a pretty strong season also scoring 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) through 22 games for the Electricians. He’s the team’s second-leading goal scorer and is fourth in points.

-Johnny Baiocco (Yale), forward, Delbarton Prep (NJ-HS): Prep hockey hasn’t started yet in New Jersey, but Baiocco will be a player to watch. He was part of the machine known as Delbarton, which pillaged just about every team it played by going 23-1-2 and winning the state’s non-public school state title. The 16-year-old scored 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points. The Force have said Baiocco will wait until he’s done with high school before coming to the team. He will be a junior this season.

-Trevor Hamilton (Miami (Ohio), defenseman, NTDP (USHL): The Force drafted Hamilton knowing he’d spend two season with the NTDP and then play a season here in Fargo before heading to Oxford. He has 2 points in 5 games with the U-17 team, which opened the season scoring 10 goals in its first game against Youngstown.

-T.J. Black, goaltender, Chicago Mission (Midget): The potential netminder of the future is off to a 2-2 start for the Mission with a 2.51 GAA and a .921 save percentage to boot.

-Zach Urban, defenseman, Penticton (BCHL): He’s spending his second season in the league with his third team and has scored two points in 11 games. Those numbers could improve as he’s playing on a team loaded with big-game former Minnesota High School stars such as Mario Lucia (Notre Dame) and Stephen Fogarty (Harvard).

-Max McHugh, forward, Wenatachee (NAHL): McHugh opened training camp on the roster but was sent back to the NAHL where he has scored four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in seven games.

-Zach Doerring, forward, Blake School (MN-HS): The 6-3 senior is playing this fall in the Elite League, a league where the state’s top prep school players play. It is an invite-only league and so far he’s been a playmaker with 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) in 19 games before returning to Blake for his senior season. As a junior he scored 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 27 games for the Bears.

-Dominic Toninato, forward, Duluth East (MN-HS): Toninato will probably be one of those players who could come to the team after the high school season is over. He was part of the Greyhounds’ top line last season, which lost the Class 2A state title game in overtime to Eden Prairie. Like Doerring, he played in the Elite League and had some solid performances scoring 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) in just 21 games.

Deep In The Heart of Texas…

If the Texas Rangers pull off a Game 6 win tonight and clinch the World Series, it should make Force forward Colton Hargrove a happy man.

Part of it has to do with the fact he grew up in Rockwall, a Dallas suburb. The rest of it is because Hargrove’s cousin, Josh Frasier, is the bullpen catcher for the Rangers.

For those non-baseball aficionados, the bullpen catcher is pretty much what the title entails. He catches balls from pitchers warming up in the bullpen. DJ Gallo of ESPN.com wrote a “Page 2″ column about it a few years ago naming it one of the “10 Cushiest Jobs In Sports.”

Hargrove might be the hockey player in the family, but for now, Frasier is definitely the superstar. The fact he’s been with the Rangers for 11 seasons helps, but 2011 has just been a banner year for the man.

“It is actually pretty cool,” said Todd Hargrove, Colton’s father. “He (Josh) has been pursing a dream for a long time and the family is behind him and it is a good feeling.”

Frasier traveled with the Rangers coaching staff to the All-Star Game this year in Arizona where he got a chance to do several things including a bullpen session with Detroit Tigers superstar Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

But there’s more. He’s got a pretty solid Twitter following too. His handle, @Frasier66, has more than 5,300 followers.

Todd Hargrove said before the Force’s home-opener against Muskegon he was really proud of Frasier and the Rangers for returning to the World Series for a second straight year.

He then pulled out his iPhone and there was a photo of his cousin’s gigantic American League Championship Series ring he got with the Rangers when they made it to the World Series last year.

“We have a big get-together at the end of the (baseball season) and we had one last year and I got to put his ring on,” Todd Hargrove said. “I show everyone (the photo) when I talk about it.”

Football, and deservedly so, is the lifeblood of Texas. Baseball, however, is a close second. The Texas High School Baseball Tournament, usually held at the University of Texas in Austin and at Dell Diamond in nearby Round Rock, draws thousands every year to watch the best teams in the state.

College baseball is the same way. The Texas Longhorns’ baseball program has amassed more than 3,000 wins – the second-most of any college program – and six national titles, the most recent coming in 2005. Other programs in the state – Baylor, Houston, Rice, TCU and Texas A&M to name a few – have made it to the College World Series and have sent many players to Major League Baseball.

Yet when it comes to pro baseball, the state of Texas has had its struggles.

The Houston Astros have come close (a 2005 World Series appearance) but recently have fallen upon some hard times. In fact, the team is locally known as the ‘Lastros’, a nickname which got a lot of play with the team losing more than 100 games this season.

And as for the Rangers, they had plenty of tough seasons until recently. So its easy to understand why many Texans are hoping tonight goes their way. Hargrove, of course, being one of them.

One last thing about Hargrove. He played youth baseball and had the chance to continue but opted not to according to a Wall Street Journal (yes, you read that right) article discussing baseball’s decline.

“I’d sort of just be standing there on the field,” Hargrove said in the story. “It was kind of boring.”

Todd Hargrove said they were interviewed in March by the Wall Street Journal after receiving a phone call from his son’s old baseball coach.

“Colton’s old coach called and said some guy from the Wall Street Journal talked to him for some reason,” Todd Hargrove recalled. “He then told me this guy was going to call me about players in Texas choosing hockey over baseball. I was actually in Fargo when he called me.”

Todd Hargrove said he and his wife, Tonda, have been texting with Colton about the World Series and all of them will probably do the same tonight.

Having a cousin on the team is obviously the biggest reason Hargrove will watch the game, but Todd Hargrove added there is another twist to the game too.

“I think he and Coach (John) Marks have a bet on who is going to win,” Todd Hargrove said.

When asked if his son picked the Rangers, he chuckled and then said, “Oh yeah.”

Under Cover of Darkness…

Force coach John Marks said this afternoon he believes his team actually has more to gain with players heading off to the World Junior “A” Challenge in Langley, B.C. next week.

The Force (3-4-1) are losing defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and goaltender Zane Gothberg (North Dakota/Boston) for four games with the duo representing Team USA for the second year in a row at the tournament.

Marks said Cooper’s absence will allow him to play the team’s six remaining defenseman along with giving backup goalie Reed Peters more playing time.

“As for as them being gone, will we miss them? Absolutely,” Marks said. “They are very important to our club and two of the better players in the league. We are are looking for someone to back up Reed right now. It will be a good opportunity for Reed to get some games while Zane is gone.”

Gothberg was named to the team late Monday after Dubuque goaltender and Maine commit Matt Morris suffered an injury.

The former Frank Brimsek Award winner is 2-3-1 with a 2.76 GAA and a .915 save percentage in his second season with the Force. Gothberg started five games for Team USA last season en route to winning the gold medal.

But as Marks said, this will give Peters a chance to get more time and perhaps gain some attention.

“I think he is looking forward to Zane being gone,” Marks said with a laugh. “Reed can handle it.”

Peters, who is in his first season with the team, is 1-1 and has had contrasting performances.

He opened his USHL career making 24 saves in his debut in a 7-1 win over Muskegon yet gave up five goals in a 6-4 loss last Thursday against Sioux City at home.

The 19-year-old Peters went 18-14 with a 2.91 GAA playing for Marks last season at Winkler in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Cooper’s absence, Marks said, could lead to some players stepping up considering everyone will get playing time.

“All the players want to play,” Marks said. “So it makes it easy for me when it comes time to make decisions.”

Three of the Force’s defensemen – Justin Wade (Notre Dame), Taylor Fleming and Brady Riesgraf (Bemidji State) – are pointless this season. Defenseman Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) is third on the team with six points, the most among the team’s blue liners.

Whatever happens, the Force hope to avoid what happened last season because of the World Junior “A” Challenge. The team had five players go to the tournament and lost goaltender Ryan Massa to injury.

It resulted in the Force bringing Nick Kulmanovsky, a goaltender without USHL experience, and going winless (0-5-1) in six games adding to the team’s early-season woes.

“This year, it is only four games without two of our best guys,” Marks said. “Wins are hard to make up in the second half of the season so our hope is our guys can play well.”

Black Light…

Waterloo, beware.

Things may be good now, but let’s talk again in about a month or two. Why? Let’s just say the World Junior “A” Challenge might have something to do with it.

Waterloo had four players – Tony Cameranesi (Minnesota-Duluth/Toronto), Vince Hinostroza (Notre Dame), Ian McCoshen and AJ Michaelson (Minnesota) – selected to the U.S.’s roster on Friday for an event the Stars and Stripes usually wins.

It’s great and all these four get a chance to represent their country but there is a consequence. That consequence being, what will it mean for the Black Hawks during the second and third weeks of November?

Fans may see playing for Team USA as honor and yes, it is something to be proud about. Yet missing players puts teams and organizations into an interesting position when it comes to filling those voids even if it may be for four to six games.

Think four to six games isn’t a lot? Look at what happened here in Fargo last season. The Force had five guys get named to Team USA for the World Junior “A” Challenge and just about everything bad which could have happened, did happen to the Force.

Force goaltender Ryan Massa, now at Nebraska-Omaha, suffered a groin injury resulting in the team having to bring in a netminder off the affiliates list with no USHL experience. The departures plus Massa’s injury led to the Force having a six-game losing streak.

Losing six games might not sound like a lot, but once again, think about it. The Force finished in a tie for fourth last season and were just a few points out of getting a No. 2 seed and getting a first-round bye for the Western Conference playoffs. How big does the winless streak look now? Exactly. If the Force win at least two of those games, maybe they have a better playoff run.

Green Bay joins Waterloo with having four players on the team, but there’s a difference. The Gamblers are an experienced team with proven guys they can rely upon such as goaltender Adam Wilcox and defensemen Dakota Mermis and Andy Ryan.

Waterloo, which is in first place in the Western Conference, has experienced players but when two of its top four scorers (Cameranesi and Hinostroza) are gone, it is going to be a hard void to fill. Rookie Taylor Cammarata has 10 points and is tied for third in the league in scoring. But remember, he’s still 16 years old and there’s still a lot about this league he hasn’t experienced.

Many might think the World Junior “A” Challenge is about showcasing the best players the USHL has to offer. In some ways, it is. But for teams like Waterloo, it’s about seeing how the rest of your team can do without those players.

They’ll find out sooner or later. Assuming they’re fighting for a first-round bye.