Destination Unknown…

No. This is not a misprint. No one at the USHL office in Chicago had too much Cristal Rose 2004 before doing the standings.

The Fargo Force ARE actually in fourth place in the Western Conference standings heading into 2012. Beating the Dubuque Fighting Saints in a 3-2 overtime win on Saturday helped them reach that locale in the standings.

When you think about it, it wasn’t too long ago where some fans were wondering what was going on with this team.

Was it the lack of having an explosive forward?

Were the players just not getting what first-year coach John Marks was trying to establish?

Was everyone else simply better?

It’s fair to say at least two of those questions, for now, can be answered. Forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) scored again and scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. So much has been said on this platform about Farley’s season and how it has helped sparked this team.

When it comes to the second question. Maybe. It does take time to get used to a new coach and it appears the Force are finally understanding what Marks wants. Look at the run they’ve been on.

Actually, look at both of them.

The first one, you know the one I’m talking about, came with the team losing 13 of 15 games. It led to frustration but it also led to a ‘moment of clarity’ if you want to get all Pulp Fiction about it.

Guys like captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) had no problem admitting Marks was doing everything possible to give them a chance to win. It just fell on the players to get it done.

It did fall on the players. And they dropped it like Usher drops a beat.

Now. They haven’t dropped a beat, rather they’re making people take notice and go OMG in a way.

Think about it. They’ve won three of the last four games and have managed to win six of the last eight games. Some have come against what would be considered cupcakes (see Chicago), but that’s bound to happen.

But there have been games they’ve won against good competition (see NTDP, Dubuque and Omaha) so it says they can win games against teams which appear to be bound for the playoffs.

What they do from here is anybody’s guess but if this trend continues then there’s a damn good chance by February, this team could be sitting high in the standings.

They have a two-game homestand against Sioux City coming up. Sioux City has become better since the Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) trade but they have the worst defense in the USHL having given up 100 goals heading into Saturday, the most in the league.

Combine that with a steady balance of games against Tri-City, Sioux Falls and Sioux City again to name a few, it’s fair to say these are winable games.

Force assistant and chief scout Jesse Davis said earlier Saturday the team would probably be asleep on the team bus back to Fargo when the rest of the time zone is ringing in the new year.

With the way the Force are playing, this might not be the time to fall asleep on them.

 

Relax…

Yes. The rumor is true. Force defenseman Justin Wade will be playing with the NTDP’s U-18 Team.

But only for this weekend. The NTDP called the Force earlier in the week and asked if they could have Wade on loan for this weekend with the U-18′s taking on Minnesota State-Mankato and Wisconsin in exhibition play.

Wade played Friday against MSU-Mankato in a 3-3 tie.

“They asked if Justin could play and we really left it up to him,” said Force assistant and chief scout Jesse Davis. “Justin decided he wanted to do that and we let him go.”

Wade was called up with the NTDP missing defensemen Jacob Trouba (Michigan) and Seth Jones. Both players were called to represent Team USA in what has been a dismal U-20 Tournament campaign. Jones was injured in the U.S.’s training camp and appears to be out for a while. Trouba, however, has been playing for the team, which suffered a 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic on Friday.

Moves like this are commonplace. Last season, the U-18 team got three players on loan from Alexandria in the NAHL with some of its players participating in USA Hockey’s U-20 camp.

Also, having players go on loan or go on international duty is pretty normal for this time of year. The Force play the Dubuque Fighting Saints, which are missing captain and leading scorer Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont), who is playing for Latvia in the U-20 Tournament. They are also missing defenseman Michael Downing (Michigan), who is off playing with the NTDP’s U-17 team in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

“People thought we lost Justin for the year,” Davis said. “It’s really more of a loan than anything.”

Davis said the coaching staff tinkered with the idea of bringing up players off the affiliates list but decided against it in the hopes of giving more players such as first-year defenseman Neal Goff more playing time.

Goff, who has played in 14 games this season, played last night in the Force’s 5-2 win over the Chicago Steel. It is the Force’s fifth win in six games and sent them to fifth place in the Western Conference standings.

As for Wade, who Davis said will be with the Force next season, he will return to the team on Monday and be ready for next weekend’s homestand against the Sioux City Musketeers.

“Playing for the NTDP this weekend will also give USA Hockey a chance to look at Justin for future tournaments like the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge,” Davis said.

Wade, 17, is no stranger to playing for USA Hockey. He represented the U.S. this past summer at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and a year prior, represented his nation at the Five Nations Tournament.

The defensive-minded Wade has played in 25 games for the Force this season and has garnered one point, an assist.

He played last season with the Force in a limited role before getting more playing time and was constantly featured in more games. In all, he played in 33 games for the club last season.

Earlier this year, he committed to Notre Dame after having received offers from Cornell and RPI among others. Wade, the son of a chemical engineer and a oil company executive, said he plans to major in engineering.

High Powered…

Around here having an off-season where the Fargo Force have to hire a new coach is pretty much routine.

So is having to retool the roster in the hopes of another playoff run.

Yet something which hadn’t been seen around here is the saga that was defenseman Garrett Haar. Haar, 18, came to the Force as a bit of an unknown and was really known more for being from California and being committed to Northeastern.

Haar, in the course of a season, went from obscurity to constantly in the limelight after he was drafted by the Washington Capitals, which changed everything and that’s why he’s the Fargo Force Story of the Year.

FROM THE BEGINNING

Haar was drafted by the Force in 2009 out of the Russell Stover system in Kansas City, Mo. and came to the team in 2010 under then-Force coach Jason Herter, who also coached Haar with the midget team. He was also coached by Pat Ferschweiler, who is now an assistant at Western Michigan.

Before coming to Fargo he spent the off-season back home in Huntington Beach, Calif. where he got a chance to work out with NHL stars such as Bobby Ryan, Shawn Horcoff and Sheldon Souray.

They all told Haar the most important thing he could do before coming to Fargo was to “know his role.”

It took time for Haar to adjust to the league but he really came alive in November scoring three points in a 8-3 win over Waterloo, which was known more for being a game with both teams combining for more than 200-plus penalty minutes.

“I felt like that game we came together and my teammates said it was the best game they’ve seen me play,” Haar said earlier this year. “That really helped me gain confidence and turn around my season.”

Haar finished the season with 7 goals and 16 assists in 51 games helping the Force reach their third consecutive playoff appearance. It was in the playoffs where Haar really started to take off.

In the Force’s five playoff games, Haar might have been the team’s most consistent player.

He had three points in the playoffs and gave the Force another offensive-minded, puck-moving defenseman.

Haar had already been on a few NHL watchlists, but his strong playoff performance is what led scouts to say he would be taken by a team in the NHL Draft in June.

“Garrett’s the kind of guy who can make up or jump up into a play,” said then-Force captain and Air Force forward Chad Demers. “He’s got good speed and he’s making things happen. This time of year you need guys to step up and Garrett Haar did that for us.”

SUMMER OF LOVE

Days before the draft, a few NHL teams let Haar know they were interested in him and he could be taken anywhere between the fourth and seventh round.

One of those NHL teams, the Chicago Blackhawks, let Haar know Northeastern coach Greg Cronin resigned from the team to become an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I got a call from the Blackhawks and they asked if I was leaving Northeastern because they told me he was leaving,” said Haar, who had committed to Northeastern in 2010. “I told them I am waiting for my adviser to call me and we’re going to talk about it.”

With one part of his hockey future up in the air, Haar watched Day 2 of the draft wondering when or if his name was going to be called.

It reached a point where he opted to play “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” with his brother instead of watching the draft. Then came the seventh round and a phone call from his adviser.

Haar was the newest member of the Washington Capitals organization.

“When he said that I got selected by the Caps I ran downstairs and yelled, ‘Mom, Dad, I got drafted,’” Haar said about 10 minutes after he was drafted. “To be selected is great and I am really humbled to have this experience.”

A day later, Haar decommitted from Northeastern.

He had a list of five schools he wanted to play college hockey at in the hopes of furthering his development.

Haar got the chance to see where he was at when he went to the Capitals development camp where he stole the show and was dubbed by general manager George McPhee as the “surprise of the camp.”

McPhee was so impressed with Haar he look at trying to get him into college for the 2011-12 season and called Boston College coach Jerry York. Ultimately, there was no room for Haar at Boston College.

He was offered scholarships by Western Michigan and UMass-Lowell but declined the offers at the time.

That’s when Haar decided he was going to return to Fargo for one more season before playing college hockey.

I wanted to come back and I wanted to do it for my development,” Haar said in late July, about two weeks before the Force began training camp. “It will help me hockey-wise, taking a year off from school and focusing on hockey will be good for me.”

Western Michigan, at the time it offered Haar, was without a coach as Jeff Blashill left the program to become an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings. Weeks after Haar said no, the team hired former Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray to take over the program.

Murray and his staff, which included Ferschweiler, invited Haar out to Kalamazoo, Mich. take a campus visit. Haar liked what he saw and then signed his National Letter of Intent to play for the Broncos for the 2011-12 season meaning his time in Fargo was over.

Haar’s decision was met with disappointment by the Force. Instead of telling the team over the phone about his decision, Haar used his Twitter account to inform everyone he was going to Western Michigan.

Force head coach John Marks and assistant Byron Pool were notified by The Forum about Haar’s choice.

“We’re disappointed to hear that he’s leaving us and a little disappointed that we’re the last people to know,” Marks said at the time. “(The Forum) had an article in the paper what was it, a few days ago, about him coming back to Fargo and knowing that he’s not quite ready. He said it himself.”

A day later, Haar talked about why he made the decision to attend Western Michigan while addressing the Twitter situation.

Obviously, the Force feel let down and there’s nothing I can do anymore,” Haar said. “I talked to (other Force players) and they’re not mad. They still support me on what I am doing and I’m not really sure what to say.

CURRENT AFFAIRS

It can be debated what the Force would look like this season if they had Haar.

They would have had an experienced defenseman capable of changing a game and perhaps it could have helped them avoid a slow start resulting in the team losing 13 out of 15 games at one point.

The Force have picked things up recently having won four of their last six games and sit in sixth place in the USHL’s Western Conference.

Haar, on the other hand, is having a solid year. He has four points in 10 games with the Broncos and has already made an impact. He scored in his opening game and following his performance against Alaska, was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week.

His play has helped Western Michigan climb to No. 8 in the college rankings this season.

“Being comfortable with (Ferschweiler) definitely helped a lot,” Haar told the Kalamazoo Gazette (Mich). “Right after I decommitted, I called him and told him what happened. (Ferschweiler) said, ‘We’d love to get you up to Western.”

The situation with Haar not immediately telling the Force has been used as a teaching tool, said Scheels Arena general manager Jon Kram.

Kram said the team’s staff sat down with the players at the start of the season to show them the importance of what they say and do.

He said this year’s group of players have responded well.

“We use this an example to say this is no one’s fault but how something like this can happen,” Kram said. “People are watching them and more than they think and a decision can impact quite a few people.”

The Sweet Escape…

If you missed out on today’s Force story (shame on you) you’ll see there was a lot of talk about what players did or maybe didn’t do during the USHL’s Christmas Break.

Force coach John Marks was blunt. Marks opined after his team’s 5-3 loss to Lincoln if any of his players really did any workouts during the break, which lasted around two weeks.

Here’s what Marks said in today’s paper.

“I used to worry about it more when I coached guys who were older because they could go out and these guys can’t,” said Marks, referring to his time coaching in the ECHL. “There’s no reason why you can’t go out for a run, a bike, go to the gym and get a sweat.”

Marks, safe to say, was visibly annoyed. Think about it from his point of view. Let’s say there were players who didn’t do much over break. But they still managed to rally from a 3-1 hole to start the third and tie the game at 3-3 only to lose by a close margin given the fifth goal was an empty netter.

But here’s the other perspective.

Force captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) made the point it is hard for some guys to find ice when they’re at home and try to train by themselves.

Cooper, who is from Anchorage, Alaska, got a chance to train back home with a few USHL-based players including Lincoln’s Dax Lauwers and Jared Hanson, who are both from Alaska.

“Dax is a big, strong guy, I mean he went to Army last year,” Cooper said about Lauwers.

Cooper added there are times where training with players within the league can be a disadvantage. One day, you’re training with a guy. A few days later, you’re trying to beat the same guy.

“Sometimes it can be hard to have friends,” Cooper said.

Speaking of having friends, chances are this morning’s skate probably wasn’t fun by any means.

Marks said he was going to skate the team at 7 a.m. and have them go for an hour before getting on the bus for the team’s two-game road trip, which starts Friday against Chicago and wraps up Saturday against defending Clark Cup champions, Dubuque.

“The game is 90 percent mental anyways,” Marks said. “In our case, wherever they were on Christmas, they left the mental part of it back home.”

Crazy…

Even if it’s considered to be a break, for some guys the USHL’s Christmas hiatus doesn’t feel long enough.

Throw Kevin Roy on that list of players. Roy, 18, got a chance to see family and friends but was also constantly flooded with questions about his future after a report came out stating there was a possibility he could go play for the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“It was weird. The first few days were not very relaxing,” Roy said. “At the beginning we had a lot of stuff to do deal with but it ended up with my family’s values and my values about school was more important than anything else out there.”

Roy, a Brown commit, has been a bit of a hot commodity this season.

He came to Lincoln this year and in his first season is the USHL’s scoring leader. The Lac Beauport, Que. native leads the league with 40 points and 21 goals through 26 games this season helping the Stars to a 16-8-2 mark, which is the best in the Western Conference.

It can be argued either no first-year player or perhaps a player in general has done more for a team this season than Roy. He gave the Stars, which was already a physical team capable of offense, a real playmaking threat and a player who could change the shape of a game.

Roy, in his team’s 5-3 win over the Fargo Force on Wednesday, picked up a goal and an assist. He finished the game with a plus-4 rating. Also, the two-point night extended his scoring streak to nine games. It also continued his dominance over the Force having scored nine points in five games against them.

“Some people thought it was already done or it wasn’t going to happen,” Roy said about the potential move to play with the Remparts. “I felt people were still throwing stuff out there to influence (Roy and his family’s) decision. We have a strong future. My brother is coming to Brown with me and that was too important to walk away from.”

Roy certainly discussed how important education is to him. Then again, if you got a chance to graduate from an Ivy League school, wouldn’t you be the same way?

He flexed his intellectual muscle during the interview by talking about the Remparts and why they’d be interested in him.

Before getting to that, know this. The Remparts are having one of the best seasons of any team in junior hockey whether it be Major Junior or the USHL.

The Patrick Roy-owned and coached team is 28-6-2, which is the best record in the entire QMJHL. The franchise in 2006 won the Memorial Cup, a title going to what is often considered to be Major Junior’s best team following a four-team tournament pitting the champions from the OHL, QMJHL and the WHL plus the team from the host city.

Quebec has a good chance at making a run for a league title and a Memorial Cup and  Roy, Kevin that is, understands why there would be a team after him.

“We had a game in Green Bay on the 17th and got home on the 18th and on the 20th, its when everything happened,” Roy recalled. “It happens to all players in the USHL and that the CHL teams are trying to get them. They don’t have to trade anyone to get a good player. It allows them to get more players for a Memorial Cup run. There have been a lot of players who have been in my position.”

Roy staying with the Stars gives him a chance at winning a few awards such as the Clark Cup, the Forward of the Year and the highly-coveted Player of the Year.

Stars coach Chad Johnson said around the time when all of this first happened, Roy was an extremely loyal player.

To hear Roy tell it, it sounds like it considering all he could have gained if he had left the Stars to play with the Remparts.

“I mean, it was kind of hard for sure,” Roy said. “The Remparts are five, 10 minutes away from my house. I’d be with my friends and my family, mainly my mom. It was hard to say ‘No’ but at the end it was the right decision.”

Rough Draft…

Great thing about the Internet. Everyone is an expert.

From iPhones to airlines, the web is never short of opinions and the same can be said for hockey. Or in this case, the NHL Draft. The NHL Draft is still six months away but there are quite a few sites and people dedicated to the draft and those who could get selected.

With the USHL resuming its second half tomorrow, here’s a look at a few players in the league who are either draft-eligible or in their second draft year and where some people see them going in their mock drafts.

Don’t worry Force fans. We’ll include a few of your guys too.

-Zemgus Girgensons, forward, Dubuque (Vermont): Just about every website has Girgensons as the top USHL-based pick going in the draft. Some sites have him going as high as sixth. Others have him going anywhere in the middle of the first round. Girgensons, who is Dubuque’s captain, has helped the Clark Cup Champs to second in the Eastern Conference standings. Right now, he’s off on international representing Latvia in the U-20 Tournament. The 6-1 Girgensons has 12 goals and 14 assists through 22 games this season.

-Jacob Trouba, defenseman, NTDP (Michigan): Here’s the other guy extremely high on a lot of lists right now. The 6-1 Trouba will for certain be a first-round pick by the looks of things and like Girgensons he’s getting the Web’s seal of approval. Many mock drafts have him going either in the Top 10 and a few, not many, have him being a middle-round selection. Like Girgensons, he’s is playing at the U-20 Tournament and is the youngest player on Team USA’s roster. Trouba is the team’s only 17-year-old. With the NTDP playing a mix of USHL teams, international competitions and college teams, his USHL stats might be deceiving. He has three points in eight games.

-Jordan Schmaltz, defenseman, Green Bay (North Dakota): The opinions on Schmaltz suggest he’ll be another first-round pick and could anywhere in the teens into the 20s. The offensive-defenseman made news earlier in the year when he was traded from Sioux City to Green Bay. He’s been part of the league’s best defense and could very well be a major part of why the Gamblers could return to another Clark Cup Finals. He has 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) in 21 games, which is tenth among USHL defensemen.

-Nic Kerdiles, forward, NTDP (Wisconsin): It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Kerdiles the most talent forward the NTDP has at the moment. He has size, stickhandling and knows where to be on the ice. Those merits are why he’s been touted as another first-rounder the USHL and NTDP could have come the summer. He only has two points in eight USHL games. Those two points came here in Fargo where he absolutely stole the show helping the NTDP take the to a shootout before losing. The projection is Kerdiles will go mid-to-late first round.

-Michael Matheson, defenseman, Dubuque (Boston College): Feeling is Matheson could go late first or early second, which isn’t bad by any stretch. Right now he’s helping keep Dubuque very much in the picture for who can challenge Green Bay for first place in the East and a team which could make a run for a Clark Cup repeat. Matheson’s stock could rise in the second half if he scores more. He came into the league touted as an offensive-defenseman. His eight points don’t even register in the Top 20 among league blue liners.

-Stefan Matteau, forward, NTDP (North Dakota): The 6-1 winger has been talked about as a player with quite a bit of upside. Sites are suggesting he could be a third-round pick. He has four points in nine games and is a bit edgy with 57 penalty minutes – the most of any player in the NTDP.

-Jon Gillies, goaltender, Indiana (Northeastern): Gillies is practically fighting it out for Youngstown’s Matthew O’Connor (Boston University) for the league’s best netminder this season. Gillies has been a constant presence for the Ice this season with 13 wins and has logged more minutes and saves than any goalie in the USHL. Very few sites go past the second or third round so it is a bit harder to get a feeling for where he could go. A site called draftsite.com has him being a fifth-round selection.

-Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln (Brown): Roy was draft eligible last season but no team took a pass at him. Given his season, something says no one will be passing him by. Roy, who played at Deerfield Academy (MA-HS) last season has taken the league by storm topping the scoring charts. Draftsite has Roy going in the sixth round.

-Mike McKee, defenseman, Lincoln (Western Michigan): Similar to Roy, was draft eligible last season. He got a lot of press but in the end, he went unselected. McKee could get taken anywhere past the third round. Draftsite actually has McKee going as a third-rounder.

-Brian Cooper, defenseman, Fargo (Nebraska-Omaha): Where Cooper ends up in the draft could be anyone’s guess. A year ago, he was decently high on a few mock drafts and could have gone in the third round. He still could. Draftsite has him going in the fourth round.

-Justin Wade, defenseman, Fargo (Notre Dame): Draftsite actually has Wade going a few spots before Cooper in the fourth round. Wade’s height and size are why so many scouts like him. They also like his defensive-minded approach.

-Austin Farley, forward, Fargo (Minnesota-Duluth): Believe it or not, there really isn’t much to find on Farley in regards to the NHL Draft. It’s pretty surprising given he’s been one of the most offensively-dynamic players in the USHL. He headed into the Christmas break in fourth place in the points race, second in the scoring race and either leads the league or is tied for the league in at least three offensive categories.

Best Of What’s Around…

Here’s the gift which keeps on giving. John Marks’ one-liners.

When a man has spent more than 30 years in professional hockey doing multiple interviews, he’s going to say some things to raise a few eyebrows.

Below is Marks’ best one-liners from the first half of the season.. We’ll be back at the end of the year to recap everything interesting, surprising or clever Marks has said.

 

“We’ve told our kids to be physical and not be afraid. You can’t play with a skirt on in this league,” – said Marks on media day about the team’s need to be physical.

 

“I kicked him off the team to send a message. Four days later, he apologized to the team in tears and two years later, he was hoisting the Stanley Cup. He was a tough kid. Tougher than whale (expletive).” – Marks on Andre Roy, who he coached while the former NHL player was in the ECHL on a rehab assignment.

 

“I would say I’m old and rough, dirty and tough, too snuff and hard to bluff. Kids today have their cell phones, iPods, Twitter, Facebook and I could give a crap about all of that. All I want is for them to work hard on the ice, in the weight room and be good citizens in the community.” – Marks on dealing with younger players despite being in his 60s.

 

“Getting the points was kind of like a robbery. I almost felt bad shaking (Omaha coach) Bliss Littler’s hand because maybe he should have checked his wallet because we probably had it in our back pocket” – Marks following a 1-0 shootout win over Omaha.

 

“Thanks for the compliment on the suit. I rented it for tonight and I need to have it back by 10:30.” – Marks on when I said he was wearing a nice suit.

 

“Is it a good time? Yeah, it is a good time for lunch. But for talking to you, there’s never a good time.” – Marks before an interview with me.

 

“I got pissed off at the end of the game. In the second period, right at the end of the power play, Willie Corrin’s shot came off the backboards to the side of the net and their guy was on his belly and had his hand on the puck and swept it out. Their goalie later covered it. The initial play was their guy swept it out and no call,” Marks said. “With 26 seconds left in a 7-0 game, yeah, our guy swept it up. If you are no going to be to consistent than don’t make the (expletive) call. That was inconsistent refereeing on his part. I told him it was a (expletive) call. He said say one more word and he was going to give me a game misconduct. It’s a $750 fine. It’s right here. Here’s the rule…I am going to fight it because he was not (expletive) consistent in his call from the second period to the third period. I am not (expletive) paying it.” – Marks on a penalty shot being awarded with 26.2 seconds left ending Zane Gothberg’s shutout bid in a 7-1 win over Omaha right before the USHL’s Christmas Break.

 

All I Want For Christmas…

Hey, just figured we’d throw out one more blog item before taking a break for Christmas ourselves.

Everyone has a Christmas list. But what about USHL teams? Surely there are things they want this year for the holidays. Here’s a look at what a few teams could ask Santa Claus for to help them the rest of the season.

Here’s the list going in alphabetical order:

-Cedar Rapids RoughRiders: Experience. The RoughRiders are younger than they’ve been in most seasons so they can only hope this year’s new group of players can take what they’ve learned in the first half and make the most of it.

-Chicago Steel: The Steel want Santa to help them with some road wins. They’ve only won twice away from home this year. If they want to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff race, winning away from home is important.

-Des Moines Buccaneers: Captain Regg Simon and his motley crew want some offense. They’ve scored 69 goals and given up 69 goals. If they can add some offense, they’ll be a dangerous team to play.

-Dubuque Fighting Saints: They want people to keep paying attention to Green Bay and Youngstown making it easier for them to strike when no one is looking.

-Fargo Force: For the local newspaper to fire the bum they have covering the team and hire someone new. That or cloning Austin Farley. Take your pick.

-Green Bay Gamblers: For Andy Welinski to get his own State Farm commercial.

-Indiana Ice: For the City of Indianpolis to realize, they’re the only team wearing blue and white in the town actually winning games these days.

-Lincoln Stars: Hoping Chad and Steve Johnson’s family tree never runs out so they can continue to have success for the next 50 or so yeras.

-Muskegon Lumberjacks: Not saying their fanbase doesn’t recognize this. But hoping people realize team owner Josh Mervis might be one of the best if not the best owner in the league after 1.5 seasons.

-NTDP: Clone Seth Jones. Make the playoffs. Produce first-round picks. Hoping the lump of Danton Cole stays in their stocking forever.

-Omaha Lancers: Not letting Lincoln win the division.

-Sioux City Musketeers: Hoping to get over .500 so the world realizes, “Hey, they’re pretty damn talented down there.”

-Sioux Falls Stampede: Stop losing. Start scoring.

-Tri-City Storm: Hoping to take pressure off of Adam Wilcox and Pheonix Copley.

-Waterloo BlackHawks: Laughing when the world realizes January through March is when AJ Michaelson tends to get good.

-Youngstown Phantoms: Nothing. This season has been one giant Christmas for the Phantoms.

Popular Demand…

On Wednesday, we took a look at frontrunners for USHL Awards and now its time to look at who has had an award-winning season for the Force so far.

It’ll be the typical stuff. Looking at who has been the Force’s best player in the half along with best forward, defenseman and goalie too. Plus, we’ll throw in a few other things like best individual performance and even best quote.

So here it is. Your early Fargo Force Christmas present.

Best Player In The First Half: The winner of this one is easily Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) who has had an amazing season to this point. Third in the league in scoring and he’s second in the league in goals. He leads the Force in just about every offensive category imaginable. Farley’s a big reason why the team has won four of the last five and could stay in the Top Six and reach the playoffs.

Best Forward In The First Half Not Named Austin Farley: Easy. Bryn Chyzyk. Chyzyk really surprised quite a few people (even us) with how well he’s done this season. How often do you see a player come from the MJHL come into the USHL and make the impact on a team like Chyzyk has. He, at one point, was the team’s most consistent forward and is now the team’s second-leading scorer. Chyzyk plays on the power play, penalty kill and centers the top line with Farley. He was also named an assistant captain this year too. The man known as Chyzness on Twitter has had an amazing year to this point.

Best Defenseman In The First Half: Oh boy. The defense hasn’t been great this year. They’ve given up 81 goals making them one of the worst in the league to this point. That said, it’s hard to pick a winner. Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) got off to a great start getting points but has lately cooled off. Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) didn’t start off so hot but lately has been quite a bit better. Taylor Richart also deserves some love too. Richart has done quite a bit ranging from being physical to being a puck-moving defenseman when the time calls. If we had to pick a winner it’s between Cooper and Richart. We’ll go with Cooper but Richart isn’t too far behind.

Best Goaltender In The First Half: Not really hard to pick this one. It is Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) simply because he’s had a lot of hard luck this season. Gothberg’s had games where he’s been hung out to dry due to a young and somewhat inexperienced defense. Numbers may not reflect it but if its not for Chyzyk and Farley, he’s this team’s MVP.

Best Rookie Not Named Bryn Chyzyk: Survey says…Alex Iafallo. He’s appearing to make the transition from midget hockey pretty well. He’s been scoring goals and has become the leader on the Force’s all-rookie line of him, Dave Gust and Gabe Guertler (Minnesota). He’s making a name for himself so far. He has 11 points in 24 games and only has two penalty minutes.

Player With The Most To Prove In The Second Half: Kind of a few we could choose. Cooper is a candidate because it is his draft year. Defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame) is also a candidate for the same reason. But the guy we’ll go with is forward Colton Hargrove. Hargrove had a hell of a first half. He went front first-line forward with the potential to score 40 to 50 points to being moved to the defense because he wasn’t scoring. Hargrove started improving and was moved back to the first line where he’s coming around.

Most Impressive Performance This Season By An Individual: Has to be Farley’s 4-point night on Dec. 2 against Tri-City. Farley had a had trick and an assist sparking the Force’s current run. He’s been continuing on with these kind of performances making life easy for his teammates.

Best Quote From A Player: We did a post earlier in the year about Gothberg getting a new mask and how the design on the back honors his grandmother who died over the summer and a friend who had a son around the same time. Here’s the quote, “Mitch and his wife over the summer had a kid,” Gothberg said. “He’s been such a good friend to me. I put the bee on the mask because of his little one. I see it as honoring the passing of one person and celebrating the life of another. In a way, its the circle of life.”

Best Quote From John Marks: Check out that post in the next few days. It’ll be a good one.

Brighter…

We might be at the Christmas Break, but it doesn’t mean its too early to talk about postseason awards.

You know the drill. Player of the Year. Forward of the Year. Defenseman of the Year. Goalie of the Year. Rookie of the Year and finally, Coach of the Year. We’ll take a look at four candidates, to this point, explaining what makes the worth considering for these awards.

Let’s start with the most coveted award:

Player of the Year:

-Austin Farley, Fargo Force, forward (Minnesota-Duluth): Yeah, Farley’s team had a really rough start but so far has bounced back winning five of the last six. Fargo’s always had a big-game forward and it appeared to be lacking it this season. Then Farley, stepped up surprising quite a few people. At the break he is either tied for or leads the league in three offensive categories including game-winning goals with four. He also is tied for third in scoring. He’s second in goals and he has nine multi-point games this season including a four-point performance against Omaha in a 7-1 win before the break. In all, he has 17 goals and 13 assists in 24 games.

-Matthew O’Connor, Youngstown Phantoms, goaltender (Boston University): Many things can be said about the resurgence in Youngstown. Of those discussion topics, O’Connor comes up frequently. O’Connor has been the backbone of the Phantoms this year and he’s using his hulking 6-5, 195-pound frame to make the net small and keep his team in games. He’s tied for the league lead in wins with 13. He has a 2.48 GAA, which is third in the USHL. He’s sixth in saves and fourth in save percentage. All of these things has helped the Phantoms be the shock of the season as they headed into the break tied for second in the Eastern Conference.

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln Stars, forward (Brown): Maybe no player has had a greater impact on a team this year than Roy. Lincoln had several solid pieces in place but there was a question of who would be the player to ascend and take control. Roy has done just that and has changed the way people look at Lincoln. Lincoln last year had a solid playmaker in Ryan Dzingel but with Roy they have more. They have a goal-scoring threat. A creator. Someone who is illusive and can draw attention freeing up others. Roy is having the season of the year with 20 goals and 18 assists. He leads the league in points (38), goals, and shots on goal. His best performance and arguably performance of the year to this point was a five-point night against the Force.

-Andy Welinski, Green Bay Gamblers, defenseman (Minnesota-Duluth/Anaheim): Welinski really impressed people last season as a rookie scoring 14 points in 51 games. This year? He’s shattering everything he did last year. Welinski already has 15 points through 21 games this season and he’s in the Top 5 in just about every offensive category for a defenseman this year. His smooth skating and active stick have helped the Gamblers cripple the USHL having given up a league-low 57 goals making them the best defense in the league. He has helped lead Green Bay to a team which went from promising to let’s admit it, historic. They are damn near unbeatable. They are what Ivan Drago should have been: A mean, unrelenting machine who seeks perfection and domination. Welinski is a big, big reason why.

DARK HORSE: Two guys are hard to ignore. One is Indiana’s Daniil Tarasov. The 20-year-old Russian has 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points, making him second in the league in scoring. Don’t be surprised if he make a serious run at this award. Another guy is Green Bay’s Ryan McKay. McKay (Miami (Ohio)) is just having another stellar year in net with an 11-2-1 record and a 2.17 GAA. McKay’s biggest hurdle for winning the award might be his team. They’re playing well and his strong season could get lost in it.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: Right now, it has to be O’Connor. Very few people saw Youngstown having this kind of season. O’Connor had a dismal year last season and needed to be good this year for the Phantoms to have a chance. He’s done that and more.

 

Forward of the Year:

-Austin Farley, Fargo: Farley’s case was already made in the Forward of the Year discussion but here’s more to chew on. If Farley just scored goals, he’d still lead the Force in scoring. If you just used his assists, he’d be second on the team. He’s also been deadly on the power play. Farley has a league-high eight power play goals and leads the USHL with 13 power play points. He’s also tied for second in short-handed goals with two.

-Jimmy Murray, Omaha Lancers (St. Cloud State): Murray has just been the lynchpin making everything in Omaha strong. This was a team which had trouble scoring goals and Murray’s been the remedy. The USHL’s assist king has 24 helpers and 30 points this season. He’s helped Omaha overcome a scoring slump and a change at coach to win six of the team’s last seven games.

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln Stars: Like Farley, Roy’s case has been made earlier in this entry. But let’s look at what he does for Lincoln. The Stars last year relied upon Dzingel, an NHL Draft pick, in a playmaking role more than anything. For as good as Dzingel was, he never took over a game quite like Roy. Also, when http://slightlychilled.areavoices.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpthe Quebec Remparts are supposedly interested in you, you can’t be that bad.

-Daniil Tarasov, Indiana Ice: Homeboy is showing he can go from being a supporting cast member to a leading man this season. There were questions about him and whether or not he could replicate last season’s performance without Blake Coleman (now at Nebraska-Omaha) or Brian Ferlin (now at Cornell). So far, Tarasov has been a goal scorer and a facilitator for what might be the most dangerous offense in the USHL.

DARKHORSE: Hard to think that Alex Broadhurst would be a dark horse candidate but so far that’s the position he’s in. Broadhurst (Nebraska-Omaha/Chicago) has been lights out this year scoring 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) for the Gamblers. He’s on pace to smash his 33-point effort from a year ago.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: Roy. There’s no question about it. Guy is the best forward in the USHL right now.

 

Defenseman of the Year:

-Seth Jones, NTDP: Go ahead and make this argument about how Jones plays for the NTDP and how the NTDP “doesn’t count.” Doesn’t matter. Guy is the most skilled defenseman in the league and every scout will willingly admit that. Jones has a smooth blend of a powerful shot, punishing body checks and making smooth, easy passes. He may have only played in eight USHL games this season due to the NTDP’s schedule but he’s made the most of it with five points. NTDP players usually don’t win these awards but don’t get it twisted. Jones is the real deal and has to be considered for the award even if he doesn’t win it.

-Paul LaDue, Lincoln Stars (North Dakota): LaDue was a bit of an unknown having spent last season with Alexandria in the NAHL. This year, however, he’s hard to miss. LaDue plays first-line minutes. He’s on the power play. He’s on the penalty kill. LaDue does a lot of things for the Stars and has been part of the success they’ve had this season. One thing his coach Chad Johnson said is LaDue is a smart player. It shows. He has no penalty minutes this season. Yep. None at all. He also has 12 points in 22 games this season too.

-Markus Lauridsen, Green Bay Gamblers (St. Cloud State): Hey look. It’s a Green Bay Gambler on a list for post-season awards. Lauridsen has been absolutely stellar in his second season with the Gamblers. Offensively, he’s been dynamic as it gets. He leads all USHL defensemen with 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) in 25 games. Lauridsen has also been extremely good on the power play with 10 points. Defensively, he’s been a smart player this year only having six penalty minutes. Lauridsen along with Welinski are anchoring what is the best defense in the USHL.

-Andy Welinski, Green Bay Gamblers: What do you know? There’s another Gambler on this list. When you have the league’s most dominant defense, it tends to happen. Welinski is having a standout year. It’s why we think he should be a Player of the Year candidate as well. Numbers aside, Welinski’s leadership has been tested this year and he’s passed every time. He watched as the team brought in Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) and helped make losing three players appear to be seamless. In fact, he and Lauridsen have played so well, it almost makes Schmaltz an afterthought. Now watch Schmaltz put up explosive numbers and get into this argument.

DARKHORSE:  Indiana’s Alex Barron (Quinnipiac) has moved into the offensive-defenseman role, which has become such a mainstay with the Ice. He’s improved on last year’s 14-point effort in 51 games scoring 13 points (2 goals, 11 assists) through 25 games this year.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: Should be Jones. But for the sake of being accurate, we’ll go with Welinski. He’s the safe bet. Not that we’re betting. Or Bettman.

 

Goaltender of the Year:

-Jon Gillies, Indiana Ice (Northeastern): Defense, at least last season, was such a concern for the Ice. Gillies has managed to take those worries and erode whatever thoughts people may have had about Indiana at the back. He’s been amazing for the Ice putting up a 13-5-4 record with a 2.47 GAA. His wins are tied for first. His GAA is the second-best in the league. Now here’s where it gets really interested. Gillies leads the league in minutes played with 1265:32 and has faced more shots (526) than anyone in the league. Gillies even leads the league in save percentage with a .923 clip AND he’s played in 23 games. Indiana has had 25 games so far this season. He’s been a workhorse. Or a Jawhorse. Take your pick.

-Ryan McKay, Green Bay Gamblers: McKay just continues to win games and put up awesome numbers in the process. The third-year vet has a 2.17 GAA, which is tops in the entire USHL. Not to mention he’s backstopping the league’s best team. All McKay does is win games and he’s won 11 of them so far. We have him listed as a darkhorse candidate for Player of the Year because he’s been that good. But he does have competition for Goaltender of the Year.

-Matthew O’Connor, Youngstown: He’s our pick to win Player of the Year to this point. That says it all.

-Jackson Teichroeb, Lincoln Stars: Teichroeb is finally showing people what made Lincoln go out and trade for him. Teichroeb always had the skills. He was set to be Dubuque’s No. 1 goalie last season but Morris emerged and the rest is history. With Teichroeb getting more minutes, he’s been a rock for the Stars. He’s gone 11-7-1 with a 2.51 GAA and a .903 save percentage to boot. Teichroeb will really get tested after the break with Lincoln fighting it out with Omaha for Western Conference supremacy.

DARKHORSE: Waterloo’s Jay Williams gets overlooked because of the firepower on his team. Williams (Miami (Ohio)) has gone 9-4-4 this year and has managed to keep the Black Hawks in games in case the offense has an off night.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: It really does come down to Gillies vs. O’Connor. That being said, we take O’Connor.

 

Rookie of the Year:

-Taylor Cammarata, Waterloo Black Hawks, forward (Minnesota): Cammarata came into the USHL with quite a bit of hype and so far he’s been living up to expectations. He opened the season setting up goals and now he’s scoring them. He has 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) and it has helped the Black Hawks to third place in the Western Conference heading into the Christmas Break. Waterloo was expected to do well with all the firepower it has on the team. How Cammarata would do was a question. So far he’s answered the question with ease.

-Austin Cangelosi, Youngstown Phantoms, forward (Boston College): Kind of like Cammarata, Cangelosi has played a major role in how his team is doing this season. Youngstown had plenty of experienced players on the roster. But having a player jump out as a surprise, in a good way, is never a bad thing. Cangelosi has been an extremely pleasant surprise for Youngstown this year. He gives them a consistent offensive threat as he’s second on the team in scoring with 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in just 17 games. He’s also a plus-15, which is a team high.

-Michael Downing, Dubuque Fighting Saints, defenseman (Michigan): Dubuque with a first-year defenseman for a ROY candidate. Not a shocker. His first name is Michael. Once again, not a shocker. Michael Downing? Yep. That’s the surprise for some. People expected Michael Matheson to have a good year and he has. Matheson will probably be a first-round pick in the draft and could still win this award. But for now, you have to take notice with what Downing is doing. He’s come in and has been a steady force at the back for Dubuque, which lost starting goaltender Matt Morris (Maine) for more than a month due to injury. Downing doesn’t have great numbers (5 points in 22 games) but he’s bringing consistency to a team which could do some damage in the second half.

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln Stars: Yeah, he’s a rookie. Makes what he’s doing even more impressive.

-Alex Lyon, Omaha Lancers, goaltender (Yale): Lyon has been able to transfer what he did at Lake of the Woods (MN-HS) last season into the USHL. He’s getting a lot more help offensively but is still finding ways to keep games close for his team. The 6-1, 200-pounder might not jump out as a ROY candidate right away but look at the numbers. His 11 wins are tied for third in the USHL. His 2.93 GAA is kind of high but knowing Lyon, he’ll find a way to lower it. He’ll have to if Omaha wants to stay atop the Western Conference standings.

DARKHORSE: Calling Matheson (Boston College) a darkhorse sounds weird but for now, he’s in the spot. Matheson has been getting warm as of late with three points in his last five games. He has eight points in 24 games this season. He’s been playing a more defensive role and not getting the points people expected. We have seen defenseman (i.e. 2010-11 Schmaltz) go off on a late-season tear and shock the masses. Matheson could do it.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: Cammarata looks very good but at the same time Roy is just killing people. Roy for ROY just looks cool. We’ll take Roy.

 

 

Coach of the Year:

-Chad Johnson, Lincoln Stars: Ocho Cinco, Wait. Steve Johnson’s brother. Wait. Luke’s uncle. Wait. Chad Johnson made a name for himself last year leading the Stars back to relevance. This year. He’s taking them to new heights. Between having players like Roy, Ladue and Teichroeb, he and his staff have found the right group to really build in their image. What Johnson is doing in his second year with the team cannot be overlooked.

-Derek Lalonde, Green Bay: The former Denver assistant has pretty much been rocking out in Green Bay. He and his NHL Draft Picks pretty much cruise around the Midwest shattering dreams and ruining hopes like they’re a natural disaster. They lost to the Phantoms the other day showing they’re human. Soon, they’ll look like a machine again with the inhumane way they beat people. And by inhumane, we mean they don’t give anyone a chance.

-Brett Larson, Sioux City Musketeers: When Schmaltz high-tailed it out of town many left Sioux City for dead. The Musketeers are very much alive these days. They went on a tear following the trade and are now third place in the Western Conference. Once they get over .500, more people will probably take notice with the job the first-year coach has done. When you think about it what the former Minnesota-Duluth assistant has done in the last month has been impressive. His superstar left town, he got other players in return and is winning more now than he did with his previous roster.

-Anthony Noreen, Youngstown: Noreen, who was an assistant last season, has taken over the Phantoms and has made them scary. His knowledge of the personnel and the system has them playing really well. The Phantoms missed the playoffs by a point last season. Thanks to Noreen, they are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and should be on point by the time the playoffs roll around.

DARKHORSE: Jim Montgomery has to be considered. The other day we compared his team to Cobra Kai. They’re waiting to strike hard and strike fast. Guy thrives in the second half of the season. Ask teams in the Western Conference. He walked in a trail of their blood on the way to getting the Clark Cup.

FRONTRUNNER TO THIS POINT: It’s Lalonde. He took a team with high expectations and made them even higher. That being said, Noreen and others are still in this race.