Let Down…

The source may have varied but the result was the same Wednesday around every part of Scheels Arena once it was learned the Omaha Lancers fired coach Bliss Littler.

Everyone was a bit surprised. Omaha, third in the Western Conference, fired Littler, who first announced the news via his Twitter account. The team shortly sent out a press release stating it relieved Littler of his duties and assistant Mike Aikens is the team’s interim coach.

When the Fargo Force’s front office staff was asked if they heard the news about Littler, just about everyone including Scheels Arena general manager Jon Kram was taken aback by the news and understandably so. Littler was 117-60-22 in a little more than three seasons with the Lancers.

“We found out at the start of practice,” said Force defenseman Dominic Racobaldo, who was traded from the Lancers recently in the Tanner Lane deal. “I was surprised.”

Racobaldo wasn’t alone. Force equipment manager Paul Wixo didn’t know until he was told about Littler’s tweet and he even wondered what happened.

Given that Omaha’s press release didn’t have an explanation, it is easy to understand why some would wonder what led to Littler’s dismissal. A Omaha TV anchor said via Twitter, Littler stated he was let go because ownership lost faith in him.

Force coach John Marks said he heard about the news before getting on the ice to start practice.

“I knew Bliss when he was a kid because he’s from around the state,” Marks said of Littler, who was born and raised in Minot, N.D. “I remember him coming to UND for camps when I was there.”

Marks, like everyone else, was surprised.

Practice had been over for about 20 minutes when Racobaldo talked about Littler. He said he hadn’t had a chance to learn from some of his old teammates about what happened.

Racobaldo, the New Jersey native and Shattuck-St. Mary’s product, played 41 games for Omaha last season and played nine games this season for Littler before the trade.

“I am certainly not happy about because he has a family back there,” Racobaldo said. “I guess whatever is best for the team as far as the owner’s decision. Maybe they’ll find the right fit. I am not mad because he traded me.”

Back For The First Time…

Former Illinois-Chicago coach Val Belmonte, who is part of an ownership group looking to bring a USHL team to Marion, Ind., said Tuesday the league is finalizing plans to bring a team to the city by the start of the 2012-13 season.

Belmonte said the new Marion franchise is awaiting a decision from the league’s executive committee and they are reviewing a number of items before giving Belmonte’s group the green light to give the league what would potentially the USHL’s 17th franchise and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Belmonte said his group purchased the old Thunder Bay Flyers franchise’s membership. The Flyers creased USHL operations in 2000.

“That discussion is being finalized as you and I speak right now,” Belmonte said. “The last time we talked to the league, we were finalizing the process of the design, finalizing getting the property, getting our financing in order and things we had to get in line before we move forward. We wanted a franchise that has dormant…it is the old Thunder Bay franchise based on approval from the league. I am very confident we should get their approval. It is going to be a dynamic approval.”

Belmonte said the deal to bring Marion into the league could be finalized in early January, less than one month away. Once the deal has been finalized and the second construction phase begins on a $30 million, 5,400-seat facility, the Marion franchise will begin operations.

When that happens, it will start the search for a head coach/general manager for the USHL Futures Draft in April and the USHL Entry Draft in May to build a team for the 2012-13 season which will start in late September or early October depending upon scheduling. That is also when the team will focus on finding a nickname, mascot and jersey design.

Belmonte, who was also an assistant at North Dakota, UIC and Harvard, said he would not be the team’s general manager/head coach but entrust someone else with the role.

The 2010-11 season it the last time the league expanded and it added two franchise in the Dubuque Fighting Saints and the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Belmonte said he didn’t know if the league was looking at adding a second franchise to accompany Marion pending league approval.

“To me, the only (new franchise) that I am familiar with is our franchise,” Belmonte said. “I have not heard of another new franchise. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been discussion of one, but I am not aware of it.”

Bringing a franchise to Marion has been discussed since May when the city issued a press release announcing it would be constructing the Marion Sports and Entertainment Complex along with making a USHL franchise its primary tenant.

Belmonte’s ownership group, the Chicago-based Game 7 Seven LLC, will own the franchise and operate the facility. The ownership group also includes attorney and Chicago Wolves owner William Buddy Meyers and Minneapolis-area executive Kevin Dulin, who is president of an equity company specializing in the sale of companies along with providing strategic plans for clients.

It took about a year, Belmonte said, for him and his partners to come up with a business model along with the type of venue they wanted to build. Once it was decided they wanted a USHL franchise, the focus turned to using a feasibility study to find a community which would fit the league’s blueprint and benefit from hockey.

“This is a multi-sport facility and we are going to have to put in 130 events a year and hockey is going to be 30 and it is only going to be 25 percent of our business,” Belmonte said. “We had to make sure it would fit into the other type of events. At the same time, it had to be a community that was missing a component to fulfill its needs. There are a lot of great places in the Midwest and we wanted to stay in the Midwest.”

Marion became the best fit following conversations with the city’s mayor, Wayne Seybold, a former figure skater who along with his sister represented the United States in pairs figure skating.

Belmonte said Seybold told him about the land, which is now the site for the arena and following conversations with multiple parties including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, an avid sports fan, a partnership between Game 7 Seven and the city was forged.

Yet it isn’t all about hockey in Marion. The arena would be part of a project which would include a few residential areas, shopping centers and restaurants in the hopes of expanding Marion, a city of less than 30,000 people.

“We got there and we said in our minds it was a good spot and the feasbility study proved it would sustain this type of building, this type of income,” Belmonte said. “We’re trying to build a building and there is nothing on the site except of 188 acres of old farm land. The other thing I liked was in the last year, was as of August there are over $500 million worth of economic devleopment projects in Marion.”

Plans for the arena show it will hold 4,100 people for hockey and will have a second sheet of ice, which will be used for a variety of other activities.

If the league approves the Marion franchise, it would give the USHL a second team in Indiana. The first being the Indiana Ice, which were created in 2004 after the franchise moved from Danville, Ill. after its first season.

The Ice have become one of the league’s most successful franchises having won the Clark Cup in its fifth season and last year was second in attendance.

Night and Day…

An ownership group led by former Illinois-Chicago head coach Val Belmonte are behind a bid to put a USHL team in Marion, Ind. by the start of next season.

Belmonte’s group, Game 7 Seven LLC, is a Chicago-based firm also comprised of Chicago Wolves (AHL) principal owner William Buddy Meyers, who is also listed as a principal partner, according to the group’s Website. Minneapolis-area executive Kevin Dulin is listed as a senior executive vice president with a business background who is the president of an equity firm specializing in the sale of companies along with providing strategic plans for clients.

The City of Marion said in a May press release a 5,000-seat facility would be constructed with the hopes of being completed prior to the 2012-13 USHL season. A recent report in the Marion Chronicle-Tribune states the facility is in the initial step of construction with the project waiting for buyers to purchase $30 million Midwest Disaster Relief bonds issued by the city’s council in May..

City development director Darren Reese told the Chronicle-Tribune movement on the final bond package could come soon.

Game 7 Seven said on its Website it will own the franchise and be responsible for all facility operations. The company’s website had a list of specific amenities the arena will feature upon its completion. It lists the arena’s maximum occupancy will be 5,400 people and for hockey it will hold 4,100 people.

A small blueprint of the arena is on the company’s website in regards to what the Marion Sports and Entertainment Complex will offer.

The arena will have suites and a private luxury club and attached to the arena will be space for a second ice sheet, which will be used for youth hockey, figure skating and a variety of other uses.

Game 7 Seven also stated on its website the USHL team will be the primary tenant of the facility.

USHL spokesman Brian Werger referred to league commissioner Skip Prince, who was not immediately available for comment.

Both Werger and Prince have said on multiple occasions over the last year the process for adding another USHL franchise typically begins 18 months prior to a team’s inaugural season.

“They have applied to the league and it’s been submitted to a review,” Werger said in May when the City of Marion sent out its press release regarding the arena and the team. “Just because an arena has gone up there, it does not qualify them for the team.”

Considering the city first announced its plans in May, it is conceivable a team could be in place as it would have taken at least 17 months to get things in order for the 2012-13 season given the USHL season usually starts in late September/early October.

Should Marion get a USHL team, it would expand the league’s footprint out east and give the league its second team in Indiana. The Indiana Ice were created in 2004 after the franchise moved from Danville, Ill. after one season. The Indianapolis-based Ice have become one of the league’s more successful franchises producing copious NHL Draft picks along with making the playoffs every year and winning the Clark Cup in its fifth season.

It has also been one of the league’s best franchises in regards to attendance with the Ice currently third in crowds this season and last season drawing more than 110,000 fans ranking second in attendance.

Yet a question that remains is: Will Marion be given an expansion team or will a team relocate from another market?

The league’s last expansion effort came in 2010 when the Dubuque Fighting Saints and the Muskegon Lumberjacks joined giving the Eastern and Western Conference eight teams each.

Should Marion get a team for the upcoming season, it would give the Eastern Conference nine teams.

Werger said in April the league gets phone calls from quite a potential parties wanting to own a franchise. He said there is a footprint the league likes to stick with making items such as travel easier for teams in the league.

Marion would indeed fit in the blueprint given its proximity to Indianapolis (85 miles) and other teams in the Eastern Conference.The 2010 Census reported Marion’s population to be 29,948 people. If the league were to put a team in Marion, it would be the smallest market in the USHL.

Given Belmonte’s and Meyers’ hockey background, having a team in Marion could work after all.

Belmonte has held a variety of positions within the game. He was an assistant at North Dakota, UIC and Harvard before taking over the UIC program in 1985 leading the team to a 25-win season. He coached at UIC for five seasons winning 97 games.

In 1990, Belmonte became the Director of Coaching at USA Hockey in Colorado Springs, Colo. until 2000 when he became the athletic director at Union College. He spent four years at Union and later became the vice president for athletic marketing and external relations at Quinnipiac University. Belmonte’s bio on the Game 7 Seven website states his duties at Quinnipiac meant he oversaw the school’s 21 varsity sports and its business-related activities including the $52 million TD Bank Sports Center, which opened in 2007.

Meyers is a former certified NHLPA agent and was an attorney for the CSKA Moscow (KHL) hockey team. He is the principal owner of the Chicago Wolves having been part of the ownership group since 1994, the team’s inaugural season. The Wolves are the current AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

Equals…

There have been quite a few surprises in the USHL so far this season and to some the Youngstown Phantoms and Lincoln Stars might be at the top of that list.

The Phantoms have rocketed off to a hot start for third place in the Eastern Conference while the Stars are atop of the Western Conference standings.

None of this should come as a surprise. Listen here to find out why.

Are You Ready…

The Minnesota High School Hockey season is just around the corner and with that comes all the talk about who will be the next Mr. Hockey.

Last year Kyle Rau gave up the USHL returning to Eden Prairie leading the Eagles to the Class 2A state title and picking up Mr. Hockey in the process. This year’s race appears to be another good one and with that being said, here’s a look at some players who could contend for the award.

-Jay Dickman, forward, senior, St. Paul Johnson: Some list him at 6-5, 210 while others have him at 240. Either way, he’s a big deal and he’s one of the reasons why St. Paul Johnson could return to relevancy after a bit of a hiatus. Dickman had 44 points (29 goals, 15 assists) last season for the Governors and had a solid fall in the Elite League with 22 points in 21 games.

-Christian Horn, forward, senior, Benilde-St.Margaret’s: Horn is a gifted puck-handler who can create and score. He showed off some of that skill last season when he flat out undressed Moorhead goaltender and Frank Brimsek front runner Michael Bitzer. Horn, with a defenseman draping him, deked Bitzer and managed to score before he was pulled down. Horn had 45 points (13 goals, 42 assists) last season and had 20 points in 20 games in the Elite League this fall. Oh and by the way, voters have pegged B-SM as the No. 2 team in Class 2A to start the season.

-Justin Kloos, forward, senior, Lakeville South: If there was a guy to peg as the early favorite, signs would point to the Minnesota commit and there are a few reasons why. Let’s look at last season. Kloos scored a remarkable 90 points (41 goals, 49 assists) in just 27 games leading South to the section finals where it ultimately lost to (surprise, surprise) Lakeville North, a game where Kloos was held pointless for the third time all year. His Elite League season was superb leading the league in scoring with 17 goals and 30 assists in just 21 games. The next closest player was Hill-Murray’s Jake Guentzel with 41 points. Kloos could conceivably score more than 100 points this year and maybe, just maybe lead South to the state tournament. If all that happens, he’ll win the award. Even if he comes up short, he’ll certainly get a lot of consideration.

-Will Merchant, forward, senior, Eagan: Merchant’s part of a two-headed monster (see Michael Zajac later in this entry) who could very well help the Wildcats to a state title this season. Eagan comes in as the No. 3 team in Class 2A and Merchant has a lot to do with that. Some have even argued Merchant could be Eagan’s best player. Either way, the 6-1, 180-pounder had 55 points (33 goals, 22 assists) last season and found a way to make an impact during the state playoffs scoring five points in three games. Stats were not kind to him in the state tournament, but he was responsible for helping Eagan finish third at state last season. With Eagan’s physical style of play, Merchant could bruise people with his body and his points.

-Grant Opperman, forward, senior, Breck: If any of this sounds familiar, just raise your hand. Breck starts the season as the No. 1-ranked team in Class A. They’re a favorite to win state. Oh and they’ve got a player who could be one of the best in the state. This year’s thoroughbred could be Opperman, who certainly delivered for the Mustangs last season scoring 63 points (27 goals, 36 assists) in 31 games. Opperman and the Mustangs had a bit of a rough state tournament getting knocked out in the first round last season by Thief River Falls. Perhaps that experience along with a few points from Opperman could result in Breck winning its third state title in four years. The Dartmouth commit (yeah, he’s also smart too) had a good Elite League scoring 29 points in 21 games tying him as the league’s fourth-leading scorer.

-Jake Randolph, forward, senior, Duluth East: The Greyhounds might have the most to prove of any team this year considering it was a Kyle Rau overtime goal which kept them away from winning state. East has its entire top line back from last season including Randolph, who might have been (aside from Rau) the hottest player in the playoffs last season. Randolph had 10 points in three section playoff games and didn’t stop scoring four points in the state tournament including two assists in the championship game. In all, Randolph finished with 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists) last season.

-Eric Schurhamer, defenseman, senior, St. Thomas Academy: The Cadets lost quite a bot of talent from last year’s squad but has quite a bit coming back making them a favorite for the Class A title. The guy to watch on this year’s STA team is Schurhamer. His game is to pretty much create for others as was evidenced by the 23 assists he had in 31 games last season. The Maine commit will surely be someone the forward will rely upon to create chances having lost the top four scorers from last season to graduation. If he can replicate what Taylor Fleming (last year’s star defenseman) did for the Cadets, perhaps STA can repeat this year.

-Dominic Toninato, forward, senior, Duluth East: Toninato has a bit of a similar story like Randolph in regards to having something to prove. He opted (at least for this season) to not join the Fargo Force (USHL) and focus this year on trying to win a state title. He had 61 points (28 goals, 33 assists) last season and could very well have another strong year playing alongside Randolph and Olson. For what its worth, he was also 13th in scoring in the Elite League in the fall.

-Blake Winiecki, forward, senior, Lakeville North: It just feels like somehow, someway, North finds an opportunity around the playoffs and grabs it. Every year it has been a different player and this year it could be Winiecki. Guys like Nate Arentz (Fargo) and Charlie Lindgren (Sioux Falls) have left for USHL pastures over the last two seasons leaving Winiecki to be the guy for North this season. He might not get the attention like his crosstown rival Kroos, but another upset in the section finals could make people take notice. He made people notice last season scoring two goals against North in the section finals. Altogether, his 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists) in 31 games last season set up a bit of a solid year for the Panthers, who won the consolation tournament. He was also 11th in the Elite League in scoring this year and turned some heads during the Fargo Force’s tryout camp in Prior Lake in June.

-Michael Zajac, forward, senior, Eagan: When Moorhead played Eagan in the state tournament last season, Spuds coach Dave Morinville was extremely complimentary of Zajac. Zajac didn’t score but he used his 6-2, 185-pound frame to pound anyone near the puck helping Eagan pick up third at the state tournament. Eagan coach Mike Taylor described Zajac last season as being a smart forward who works hard in front of net. Eagan will need all of those attributes from Zajac should it hope to contend for a title this season. Zajac had 56 points – one more than Merchant – last season. With two 50-plus point scorers, it appears Eagan could make life difficult for quite a few teams this season.

It’s Never Been Like That…

Not sure what it’s like for most when they visit their parents, but for me it’s usually the same routine.

My mom wants to know what time I’ll be getting to their house. She gets pretty excited about it. The excitement grows when she sees my car in front of the house and me grabbing my bags.

She usually gives me a hug, asks me about 100 different questions including what I want for dinner every night I’m home.

It wasn’t like that when I visited this time.

My mother has cancer. I’ve known it since June, yet knowing and seeing are two different things.

My parents have a couch in their den, which is my mom’s favorite spot. She hangs out there watching anything from a Lifetime movie to the news to Music Choice. There was no music or anything fun this time. It was my mother, extremely frail, lying on a couch.

Then she looked up, saw me and started crying. I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never seen my mother cry whenever I came to visit.

It was the first of a few times when one of us cried.

For anyone who hasn’t had a parent suffering from cancer, please, be grateful. It’s an experience you don’t ever want to go through. Anytime you get a phone call and it shows up as “Mom”, “Dad” or “Home” you don’t want to answer because you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Even if it was for three days, there wasn’t that worry. Spending time with my mother was easily the greatest experience I’ve had all year and perhaps a long time.

In some ways, I felt like I got to relive my childhood in that short time. Growing up out east, eating steamed crabs is something we just did. My mom and I did that. My girlfriend, who came with me, never had steamed crabs but even she understood what made this special.

My mom and I talked about how we’ve done this for 20 years. Breaking out our favorite crab mallets and talking about how we’d always save the newspaper after we were done reading it strictly to eat steamed crabs.

If it wasn’t eating crabs, it was the game shows. My mom and I used to watch game shows a lot when I was growing up. Especially “Press Your Luck.” She told my girlfriend that and about how when I was three years old, I’d run downstairs and yell “Big Bucks, No Whammy!” for the fun of it.

My mom then told my girlfriend that I was going to watch an entire episode even though we were meeting friends for dinner. I said my mom was wrong. She was right.

Whether it’d be watching game shows, eating seafood or talking about her dislike of the Dallas Cowboys, it made it feel like old times.

The scariest part of all this, however, was the fact it reminded me of my grandmother, who also died from cancer.

My grandmother moved in with us and my mom took care of her. My grandmother and I watched game shows, and she wanted to know everything going on with me.

Maybe it was the familiarity of the situation, or maybe it’s because my mother looks like my grandmother more and more, but it just felt really familiar yet you hope the ending is different. I hope my mom lives longer than my grandmother, who died a few months after moving in with us.

Whatever happens, I just know I feel at peace with everything. That’s all you can really hope for.

Before this ends, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who was nice enough to show support whether it be through this blog’s message forum, Twitter or email. It certainly meant a lot. I told myself I wasn’t going to look at any of those things until I got back.

Yeah, right.

I read everything. I read everything twice, sometimes three times. All of it meant that much, and I just wanted to say thank you.

Getting that kind of support meant a lot for plenty reasons but here’s one. Before there ever was a “Slightly Chilled,” there was just a chubby kid who watched the news and read the newspaper everyday. Next to that kid was a woman who said, “Baby, you can do whatever you want.”

I’m doing what I want and what I love, and my mom is a huge reason why.

It’s always been like that.

Clocks…

Before this post goes any further I just want to admit I hate talking about myself or my personal life.

I’ve always believed a writer, unless the story merits being told, should always focus more on the people and issues they cover instead of discussing themselves. But there’s something that needs to be said.

My mother has cancer.

She was diagnosed with cancer in her lungs, which later spread to her heart since June and it’s been hard to deal with. There are days where you wonder what’s going on and when you think things can’t worse they do. She’s been in and out of the hospital for a variety of reasons.

She has her days where it becomes a lot to handle.

She has her days where she’s scared and it is something she’s admitted to me.

That’s why I am going to Florida to see my mother. It’s why I won’t be updating Slightly Chilled or my Twitter for a while.

How long? I’m not sure and I don’t really care to think about it because family comes first.

The only reason I am even admitting this is because I am extremely grateful to the people who have read this blog and have made it what it is. Right now, however, I hope everyone understands what’s going on.

To all of those who have read this blog albeit for the 10 months it has existed or even in the minutes its taken to read this, thank you so much for your support.

-Ryan

Going Home…

Life is going pretty good for Lincoln Stars coach Chad Johnson and here’s why.

His team has jumped out to a 9-4-0 start making them the best team in the Western Conference. His nephew, Luke, is the team’s second-leading scorer. And in the same week, defenseman Paul Ladue and goaltender Jackson Teichroeb were named the league’s best blueliner and backstop a few days ago.

Oh and then there’s little tidbit, the Stars return here to Fargo making it a homecoming for the Johnsons and Ladue, who are all from Grand Forks, N.D., just 80 miles away. As for Johnson, his girlfriend and son actually live in Fargo.

“I think I can speak for them, they are excited about it,” Johnson said about Ladue and Luke Johnson coming back to North Dakota. “We have a lot of family up there and we love North Dakota. It is home. They are excited to get in front of some familiar faces.”

Speaking of familiar faces, there’s those two games against the Force. Last time the Stars played the Force things went pretty well for them.

Forward, leading scorer and YouTube spectacle Kevin Roy (Brown) torched the Force for five points in a 8-3 win a few weeks ago.

There’s no guarantee Roy will score another five points but considering the way things are going for the Stars this season, anything is possible.

“Well, I think having a pretty solid goaltender helps but I’ve been very happy with the guys,” said Johnson, a former Force assistant. “They are a good group of kids. We have a pretty solid mix of skill players and guys that are difficult to play agianst. We’ve gotten timely goal scoring and having Kevin in the mix doens’t hurt either.”

One of those players who has showed his skill has been his nephew, Luke, who has 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists) this season, Luke’s dad is St. Cloud State assistant Steve Johnson, who coached the Stars for 11 seasons and then spent a season with the Force. Luke stuck with the family tradition earlier this summer by committing to North Dakota, where his father and uncle played.

Despite the family ties, Luke Johnson isn’t living with his uncle. Instead, his billet parents are family friends on the other side of town, Johnson said.

Johnson said he hasn’t been too surprised with how his nephew has adjusted to the league. After all, he scored 142 points in 52 high school games while playing for both Grand Forks Red River and Grand Forks Central, where he helped win two championships.

There are times, Johnson admitted, where he will ask Stars assistant coach Jimmy McGroarty if he’s being too hard or soft on his nephew.

“When it comes to family, Luke has been around it,” Johnson said.  “He goes about his business. He’s good in the classroom and good in the rink. When you do lean on him he understands.”

Another player Lincoln has leaned on at times this year has been Ladue. Ladue came to the team from Alexanrdia (NAHL) where he scored 22 points in 56 games last season.

Johnson said having Ladue has added a few dimensions to the Stars blue line.

“I think he’s the full package,” Johnson said. “We play him if he are up a goal in the last minute or if we are down a goal in the last minute and he’s so patient and poised. He rarely turns the puck over and gets the puck into areas where we are going to get possession.”

Surely, that’s what Johnson has been telling the colleges who are interested in the 6-2, 185-pound defenseman.

Johnson disclosed Ladue has been offered by five schools – all of them in the WCHA – and could commit within the next week. Johnson, however, wouldn’t say what they five schools were.

“I can’t say on this one,” Johnson laughed. “Let’s say they are recognizable schools around the WCHA. Or schools in the future ‘Super League.’”

Here We Go Again…

Consider this to be an experience Fargo Force captain Brian Cooper could use to help out his teammates throughout the year.

The 18-year-old Nebraska-Omaha commit said Tuesday finding motivation for Team USA was a challenge prior to the bronze medal game at the World Junior “A” Challenge in Langley, B.C. last Saturday.

“It sucks because we didn’t get the medal we wanted,” Cooper said. “We went there with the best team and we still got the bronze. But its shows we could wake up, not give up and find it in us to play for third because no one wants to play for that. We put a hurt on (Sweden) because they are the team that put us in that position.”

Team USA’s quest for a fourth straight gold medal was denied following a few setbacks. Cooper said the first setback, which he considered the most crippling, was a 1-0 loss to Sweden in the preliminary round.

Sweden scored with six seconds left in the game beating Force goaltender and North Dakota commit Zane Gothberg. The loss resulted in the U.S. playing three consecutive games, which Cooper said took its toll.

The U.S. ultimately rebounded by crushing Sweden 4-0 in the third place game and Gothberg got the shutout.

“We had that one loss to Sweden and if we had the bye we wouldn’t have to play Canada West (which beat the U.S. 4-2 in the championship round) and we would have had the day off,” Cooper said. “It may not sound like a lot but its more rest and your body doesn’t get beat up. Having those three days in a row really wears you out compared to playing two.”

Cooper said he believed the U.S. team, which included players such as Penticton’s Mario Lucia (Notre Dame/Wild) and Green Bay duo Andy Welinski (Minnesota-Duluth/Anaheim) and Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota), had the best talent but the “odds were stacked against us” when it came to playing Russia along with Canada East and Canada West.

Coming up short, to a degree, has become a familiar theme for Cooper this season given the Force’s current slide.

The Force, who are seventh in the eight-team Western Conference, have lost nine of their last 10 games with the lone win coming against the Lincoln Stars nearly two weeks ago.

Fargo hosts Lincoln this weekend and it could pay off to have Cooper and Gothberg return to the team.

Gothberg, who was 1-1 with a 0.50 goals against average in the tournament, could help a defense, which has given up 17 goals during his four-game absence away from the team.

As for Cooper, he finished the tournament with three points – all assists – in five games.

“I can take from my experience that the hockey wasn’t better there but it was a lot faster,” Cooper said. “For Goth, he can probably see more pucks a little slower. Hopefully it also means there are more opportunities for me to get the puck quicker to the forwards. Nothing negative comes out of us coming back.”

Cooper said despite the third-place finish, there were other positives to take from his experience with Team USA.

Aside from representing his country, Cooper talked about how being named team captain was an honor because the team voted and he was the top choice.

“It was fun because it was a team-building thing,” Cooper said about choosing captains. “For those other 21 guys to think I am worthy of it was like ‘Wow.’”

Signed, Sealed, Delivered…

Criticism is nothing new for a coach such as John Marks, who has been around for quite a few years.

The way people delve out the criticism, however, that has certainly changed over time.

Marks talked about it Tuesday in response to an email sent from a fan, which was also carbon copied to the team’s assistant coaches, an email listed for team owner Ace Brandt’s company and The Forum.

“I always say if people pay their two pence, they are allowed to see the cartoons,” Marks said. “I respect people’s opinion and in some cases you might take that person’s opinion and think about it.”

The email was sent Sunday after the team’s 4-1 loss to Des Moines for the teams ninth defeat in 10 games.

Here’s what was written in the email:

“Mr. Marks,

One of your comments regarding Saturday night’s game was “we have to try to figure it out”. Let me help you: MIX UP THE LINES!
The definition of insanity “doing the same thing over and over again…and expecting different results.”

Your lines have no chemistry. Essentially you have played the exact same lines all season with poor results. You can’t expect to play your first line more than 20 minutes a game, sometimes with 1 1/2 – 2 minute shifts (this isn’t beer league) and expect them to be effective. You need to find chemistry in the correct combination of players. What’s the harm in trying? Can’t be worse. ”

Here was Marks’ response to the email.

“If the person was really in tune to our team, they would have seen that we’ve changed the lines 484 times in 14 games,” Marks said. “In the last three or four games, we’ve felt maybe we leave them alone and get continuity. As far as coming up with a great idea of changing the lines, he is way behind.”

Marks has said technology has changed the way fans have communicated with him over the years.

Years ago, if a person wanted to give Marks their opinion, they’d have to write him a letter or wait until his coach’s radio show to call in and speak their mind, he said.

Of course, things are different these days. Whether it be through email, Facebook or Twitter, fans pretty much have a variety of routes to express their feelings whether they be positive or negative.

“I will read those things. Some I might look at and say this guy has an idea or this guy does not have the right idea,” Marks said. “Just because you’ve coached some level of a game, whatever level – baseball, basketball, football or Tiddlywinks – doesn’t mean you are an authority on this game. Again, that person entitled to their opinion and I hope they keep coming to the games.”