Major Minus…

With Bryn Chyzyk committing to North Dakota yesterday, it raised a question for quite a few Force fans.

What does this mean for next year?

Yep. February is next door. There’s still 23 games left in the tank and a potential playoff run and people are already asking about next year. Interesting. Either way, it is a fair question to ask because turnover is the No. 1 thing coaches and scout have to plan for when it comes to the game.

But for your amusement here’s some thoughts on how next year’s roster could look.

 

Forwards:

-Potential returners: Nate Arentz, Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), Dave Gust, Alex Iafallo, Nick Stoskopf, Jordan Nelson, Stanislav Dzhakov, Pavel Zykov, Taylor Fleming: Hardest part about determining something such as this is you don’t know what could happen in the future. Someone like Nelson or Fleming could commit to a school and be gone for next year. Also, there’s a chance someone like Colton Hargrove could be back for another year which probably isn’t going to happen given the college interest there is in him.

-Potential newcomers: Dominic Toninato, Duluth East (Minnesota-Duluth), Zach Doerring, Blake, Brendan Harms, Portage (Bemidji State), Brett Heikkila, Marquette Electricians (Northern Michigan), Corey Ward, Aberdeen (Bemidji State), Gage Torrel, Alexandria: These are most the forwards on the Force’s affiliate list, which is the list of players in the team’s system so to say. This is assuming all of these players make next year’s team and don’t get traded. Trades are the other thing to keep in mind. The USHL trade deadline isn’t far away (it’s in February) so that could have a big role.

 

Defensemen:

-Potential returners: Justin Wade (Notre Dame), David Mead, Dominic Racobaldo, Neal Goff: The idea of four defenseman sounds good. So did the idea of having Garrett Haar return for another season and we all know how that one turned out. The team has already said Wade is returning and you’d expect Goff to be back too.  Racobaldo remains a wild cards because he could commit to a school. Mead, however, cannot because he played Major Junior. So there could potentially be four defenseman returning from last year’s team. There’s a chance Taylor Richart could come back but something says he’ll be gone because he’ll be in college next year.

-Potential newcomers: Charlie Pelnik, Shattuck-St. Mary’s (North Dakota), Zach Urban, Penticton, Dante Suffredini, Detroit Honeybaked: Those are the only three defensemen eligible to come in next year off the affiliates list. One would have to think grabbing defensemen in the upcoming Entry and Futures Draft would be the top priority for the Force. Or they could get some blueliners for the future via some trades.

 

Goaltenders:

-Potential returner: Reed Peters: Yep. He’s the only guy in net who could come back with Zane Gothberg heading off to North Dakota next season. No pressure on Peters. At all. Ever. Period.

-Potential newcomers: Anders Franke, Elk River, Nick Kulmanovsky, Alaska, T.J. Black, Chicago Mission: Whoever gets the spot is more or less being groomed to be the Force’s goaltender of the future with the assumption Peters will be the No.1, which a likely reality. Developing a No. 2 into a future No. 1 is something the Force are proving they can do after looking at Gothberg this season.

 

Dreams…

A life-long love for Ralph Engelstad Arena certainly helped Fargo Force Bryn Chyzyk decide Monday he wanted to commit to the University of North Dakota.

Dave Chyzyk recalled the different moments in his son’s recruiting process and talked about how the family was needing some advice on how to handle everything.

Chyzyk was being heavily recruited by Western Michigan along with Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Michigan in addition to North Dakota.

“Things transpired so fast and tons of schools were talking to him showing interest, then it cooled off and then more transpired in the last 10 days to two weeks where the interest was reaching a certain level and we were really unfamiliar how to handle it all,” Dave Chyzyk said. “We talked to Andy Murray and we asked for advice and he said he cannot give us advice because they were interested in Bryn. But he said you cannot go wrong with any one of those schools.”

Dave Chyzyk knows everything happened so fast. He doesn’t know what’s next. He just knows there’s no way the rest of his trip to Hawaii can top what happened Monday.

Monday is when Dave Chyzyk’s son committed to North Dakota for hockey. Most might not know him as Dave’s son but as the first-year forward who in three months went from recluse to recruit de jour by being one of the major reasons why the Fargo Force won nine straight games.

“Haha, no it certainly wasn’t planned,” Dave Chyzyk said about the timing his son committing to North Dakota and his week-long stay in Hawaii. “We’re excited for Bryn and he’s worked hard his whole life.”

Parents, at times, might have more excitement about their son committing to a college program than anyone.

Dave Chyzyk was no different.

The Chyzyk’s live in Virden, Man., a town of 3,080 people. If it’s not for oil, hockey is easily the most popular thing in the town. The Tim Hortons would be third.

Back in 2005, the Chyzyk’s took a family trip to Grand Forks for the World Junior Championships. It was the first time Chyzyk had seen Ralph Engelstad Arena..

“The first time we went in there, from that point forward he said I would love to play in The Ralph,” Dave Chyzyk said about his son. “Bryn is a student of the game and he researched the team’s roster and facilities and UND has been at the top of his radar right at the top but we’d never thought it’d come to him being able to get a commitment from UND.”

Dave Chyzyk insisted he didn’t want to come off as corny when talking about how his son reached this point in his life. But he couldn’t help but be amazed at how three or four years ago, his son was being cut from every team he tried out for.

The 19-year-old Chyzyk, who is now 5-11 and 181 pounds, went through a late growth spurt. At 16 years ago, he was 5-2 and a 102 pounds and was deemed to be too small and not be the right kind of skater most teams were looking for.

Dave Chyzyk said he and his wife wanted to find a way for their son to realize the strengths he had and wanted him to continue playing hockey.

Fast forward a few years and their son is the sixth-leading goal scorer in the United States Hockey League and is now heading to a program known for sending players to the NHL.

“He got crushed more than once or twice emotionally because it was a roller coaster of emotions and he was passionate about the game and to have the one thing in life you cherish more than anything else, he had the rug pulled from underneath him,” Dave Chyzyk said. “It made him stronger. At one point he got cut, he didn’t fall down and said ‘I am going to prove they made a mistake’ and every time he got cut, he got stronger and faster and worked harder in the offseason and it seems a bit phony like a Cinderella story but we are happy for him.”

Next…

The Bryn Chyzyk Sweepstakes are officially over.

Chyzyk, the Force’s first-year forward, has committed to the University of North Dakota, the team said via Twitter around 4:20 p.m. Chyzyk will become the second Force player on the roster who will commit to North Dakota. He joins goaltender Zane Gothberg as the other.

Chyzyk, 19, also becomes the third player in franchise history to commit to North Dakota along with Gothberg and St. Clair. It had been believed Chyzyk was going to commit to North Dakota considering his last two of his last three home games had been watched by UND head coach Dave Hakstol and assistant Carey Eades.

The 5-11, 180-pound Chyzyk has 31 points (20 goals, 11 assists) in 37 games for the Force, which are in fourth place in the Western Conference this season. His 20 goals are sixth in the USHL and second on the team behind Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth).

He has paired up with Farley and Colton Hargrove to become the top line for the Force and one of the best first-line pairings in the USHL altogether. Chyzyk, who centers the line, brings a variety skills ranging from scoring, playmaking and adding a physical edge.

He’s constantly featured on both the penalty killing and power play units, where he’s done quite a bit of damage by disrupting the other team’s flow on the penalty kill to pressuring on the power play leading to a goal.

Committing to North Dakota is another milestone in what has been an impressive first season for Chyzyk.

He came to the Force from Dauphin in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and wasn’t even promised a spot on the team because of the USHL’s import rule only allowing four non-American players.

With Dauphin, he was one of the top scorers in the MJHL and colleges had been after him but they wanted to see how he’d fare in the USHL before pursuing any more interest.

Force assistant Byron Pool said last week Chyzyk impressed so much during the team’s pre-season camp they had to put him on the roster.

It was a move which worked out for both parties. Chyzyk, who is an alternate captain, gave the Force a consistent, two-way forward which was desperately needed after the team opened the season losing 13 of their first 15 games.

Then, of course, the Force went on a nine-game winning streak and Chyzyk was extremely influential during the run. He scored 11 points over a six-game span and in turn, he became one of the Top 5 goal scorers in the entire USHL before dropping a spot over the last weekend.

Chyzyk’s commitment could mean this could be his last year in Fargo after the team lost prized forward Stefan Matteau to the QMJHL. Matteau is currently playing with the National Team Devleopment Program’s U-18 team this season.

Pool said for a story in The Forum last week many college coaches had been in contact with Chyzyk.

So Special…

Quite a bit has happened this season but even more things happened in January.

There were plenty of players which got some eyeballs in their direction and put themselves in position to potentially pick up some trophies, at least of the non-Clark Cup variety, at the end of the year.

So where do certain players stand when it comes to awards like Player of the Year, Forward of the Year and Goaltender of the Year? Let’s find out.

 

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln, forward (Brown): The league’s scoring leader kept up his impressive season in January. He now has 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) so far this season but it made some wonder how he’d do in the second half with teams now knowing more about him. Roy has been electric since the post-Christmas break scoring 18 points in 11 games. He’s only had one game in January where he didn’t get a point.

-Andy Welinski, Green Bay, defenseman (Minnesota-Duluth/Anaheim): He’s led what’s easily been the best team in the USHL this season to what could be one of the best year’s in this league’s history. Welinski’s true mark on this team could be how he’s spearheaded a defense which has been indomitable. Green Bay still hasn’t surrendered 100 goals on this season we’re more than halfway through the year. Don’t forget about his offensive production scoring 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 33 games. He’s already surpassed his numbers from last season and has a remarkable plus-26 to his name.

-Austin Farley, Fargo, forward (Minnesota-Duluth): Fargo’s nine-game winning streak was powered by many players and Farley was certainly at the top of the list. Farley’s 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) put him on a pace to shatter the franchise mark for most points and possibly most goals in a season. Eighteen of those came during the Force’s nine-game winning streak. Throw in how he’s extremely good at agitating opposing players and it can be argued he serves a dual role making him even more valuable to the Force.

-Jon Gillies, Indiana, goaltender (Northeastern): Gillies is proving month in and month out he’s one of the best – maybe the best – netminder in the league. Indiana, like Fargo, went on a strong stretch winning seven games in a row and Gillies helped his team try to climb what feels like the impossible ladder which is the Eastern Conference. Gillies won his first six straight starts following the Christmas Break and as a result has some of the best numbers of any goalie in the league. He’s 19-6-5 with a 2.56 GAA, a .921 save percentage and has 1,760 minutes too.

-Nolan Zajac, Omaha, defenseman (Denver): Zajac is the name on this not many people expected to see but get familiar with it. Zajac is tied with Green Bay’s Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) with 25 points, the most among defenseman in the league. Zajac showed last season at Cedar Rapids with his 30 points in 47 games campaign, he could put up points. This year, however, he was traded to an offensively-starved Omaha and has chipped in 24 points in the 31 games he’s played there. He has 12 points in his last seven games and has helped Omaha reclaim first place with a four-point lead over Lincoln.

OUR PICK: It has to be a toss-up between Roy and Welinski. We’ll go with Welinski for now because it’s hard to argue against anything he and the Gamblers are doing right now.

 

FORWARD OF THE YEAR

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln (Brown): See our argument for Roy when it comes to Player of the Year. Dude has been incredible for Lincoln all season and it appears what he’s done to this point is not a fluke.

-Austin Farley, Fargo (Minnesota-Duluth): His season jump started a team and a franchise which didn’t have the greatest start in the world. He hasn’t scored in the last three games and that’s bound to happen because no one in this league scores in every game all the time. Going back to Farley’s role as an agitator, it certainly helps him get into an opponent’s head and it can’t be overlooked how good he is at it.

-Daniil Tarasov, Indiana: Tarasov is having one the best seasons for any player in the USHL as his 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) practically mirrors that of Farley. Tarasov’s numbers aren’t a surprise given the high-octane system Indiana runs. The fact he’s done it with a younger cast is extremely impressive. Aside from Roy and Dubuque’s Zemgus Girgensons, there isn’t another forward who can change a game like this guy.

-Zemgus Girgensons, Dubuque (Vermont): Injuries and international duty took a few games away from the Latvian superstar but let’s face it, he deserves to be in this talk because he’s just one of those players who teams do gameplan around. Girgensons has 31 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 29 games and he’s a four-point game away from being in the Top 15. Getting into the Top 5 might seem improbable but if anyone has the talent to do it, it is him.

-Nolan LaPorte, Green Bay (Western Michigan): LaPorte’s a victim of the whole, “Good team, good system” argument but he shouldn’t be. The talent is there and he’s showing it but there is a difference with him and everyone else on this list. The other four guys need to score for their teams to win. Green Bay’s success doesn’t hinge on just LaPorte but let’s face it. If he’s not there, maybe their first line isn’t so stacked and neither is their power play. He has 10 power play goals and seven helpers on the one-man advantage. Argue all you want but you can’t overlook him.

OUR PICK: Roy yet don’t be surprised if Mr. Girgensons wants to make this interesting. He’s good at that.

 

DEFENSEMAN OF THE YEAR:

-Andy Welinski, Green Bay (Minnesota-Duluth/Anaheim): Same with Roy. He’s an MVP candidate and at least in our eyes, has to be the easiest player to choose for this award Then again, that’s us.

-Nolan Zajac, Omaha (Denver): Zajac is becoming an example of Omaha’s system of “Give us your tired, your hungry, your tradeable and we’ll take those players and beat you and everyone else with them.” Zajac’s offensive injection has helped Omaha comeback into focus. Also, did you see we had him listed as a Player of the Year candidate too?

-Jordan Schmaltz, Green Bay (North Dakota): We had a post here not too long ago talking about how this is when Schmaltz strikes like opponents like they’re the newest piece of meat coming into the state pen. He has 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists) in his 23 games with Green Bay since the trade.

-Brian Cooper, Fargo (Nebraska-Omaha): Cooper’s numbers are starting to get back to the pace he was on last season when he scored 33 (11 goals, 22 assists) in 53 games. He now has 17 (5 goals, 12 assists) in 33 games. What people aren’t really saying about Cooper is how he has become better as a defensive-defenseman. Plus, a few scouts have said he was the best player at the USHL Prospects Game.

-Michael Matheson, Dubuque (Boston College): Matheson and Cooper are so similar in terms of expectations. They haven’t been putting up these glittering offensive numbers but they have been better about adapting to being more complete players. Matheson is anchoring a defense which has only given up 96 goals in the league this season. And yes, if it’s not for Green Bay, this would be the lowest in the league.

OUR PICK: If we’re taking Welinski for Player of the Year, we might want to take him for this one too.

 

GOALTENDER OF THE YEAR:

-Jon Gillies, Indiana (Northeastern): Balls so hard. It’s crazy. Hova lyrics aside, guy really is having one of the best years for any goalie in the league. At 6-5, 190 pound he always had the physical tools but people questioned if he could put it together in regards to the USHL. It appears he has.

-Zane Gothberg, Fargo (North Dakota/Boston): Gothberg’s January was the stuff many goalies dream of winning nine straight starts and in the process climbing into the Top Five in wins, goals against average, shutouts, save percentage, etc. When this season is over, he could hold FIVE franchise records in the two years he’s spent with the Force. Everything from his attitude to his style of play has changed. It’s made him better and life for others a lot more difficult.

-Matthew O’Connor, Youngstown (Boston University): Gillies and Gothberg without doubt had better months, but O’Connor’s season easily ranks up there with anyone. Youngstown has had quite a few reasons for their success but O’Connor is one of the big ones. He’s provided a steady presence in net and that’s why they’re in fourth. They could be higher and they’re going to be, they need this guy who is 18-8-3 this year with a 2.67 GAA.

-Alex Lyon, Omaha (Yale): Like O’Connor, Lyon has been a constant for his team this season. He was great when the Lancers were struggling to score goals and he’s continued to be good helping them reach first in the Western Conference as of Monday. Lyon’s line is 17-8-2 with a 2.78 GAA.

-Jay Williams, Waterloo (Miami (Ohio): This spot could have also gone to Green Bay’s Ryan McKay, a fellow Miami commit, who once again is having another fantastic season but we go with Williams instead. Everyone talked about Waterloo’s offense but Williams was extremely overlooked and has put up the numbers to get hm noticed. He’s 11-5-4 with a 2.62 GAA. Waterloo is in third by a point over Fargo but they do have some games in hand on everyone else. If he plays big, Waterloo could move up.

OUR PICK: We go with Gilles but if Youngstown, Omaha and Fargo make some late season pushes, this could get fun to watch.

 

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln (Brown): Mama, there goes that man again. Yeah, he’s a rookie. So in one year he could potentially walk off with Player of the Year, Forward of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

-Taylor Cammarata, Waterloo (Minnesota): Aside from the first guy on this list, there hasn’t been a first-year player with no prior junior experience to have the impact on a like Cammarata. His 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists) are eighth in the league and he’s just two points out of being in the Top 5. If it really isn’t for Kevin Roy, Cammarata in many minds would have to be the frontrunner. Maybe he still he is.

-Michael Downing, Dubuque (Michigan): Defenseman are, at times, the biggest project a coach can take on in terms of a rookie. Downing has made Montgomery look extremely smart helping out a defense which lost its starter but still managed to never waiver in the Eastern Conference standings. Downing only has six points in 30 games but he’s achieving consistency.

-Austin Cangelosi, Youngstown (Boston University): He’s like Cammarata. Great season. A major reason why people are taking notice towards his team. He’s a gamer. He’s a baller. Playmaker. Shotcaller. He’s second on his team in points with 36 (16 goals, 20 assists). What hurts him is Kevin Roy. Between Kevin Roy and Green Bay, they’re making a lot of us forget how good others have been.

-Dave Gust, Fargo: Gust was playing midgets back in Chicago and the Force brought him in and since then he’s been everything the Force has needed and more. He has made his line, which also features fellow rookies Alex Iafallo and Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), the second-best line on a team which won nine games in a row. Gust has 16 points in just 21 games. Not bad for such a short amount of time

OUR PICK: Common sense says go with Roy. The side of us which has a heart says Cammarata. In the end, we’ll take Roy.

Start Me Up…

Many players, and you already know who, benefited from the Fargo Force winning nine straight games.

Except Reed Peters. The Force’s backup goalie had been on the bench during the team’s streak and watched as Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) went on a tear winning every start until Thursday when they lost to Sioux City.

With the streak being over it gave Marks a chance to play Peters who didn’t disappoint. He got the start – the first since mid-December – making 28 saves in the Force’s 3-2 win Saturday at Sioux City.

Peters said before Wednesday’s practice sitting on the bench had been tough but he understood why and wasn’t angry about it.

“We’re winning and it’d be different if we had lost nine in a row but if we’re winning I will continue to be a cheerleader on the bench,” Peters said. “That’s a great problem to have if you are a coach. You have a goalie on a streak and you want to get your other goalie in and you can’t because the other goalie is playing so well.”

Peters said he knew he’d eventually get his shot and in the meantime he’d come to the rink at 8 a.m. to get work in and then return around 2 p.m. for 3 p.m. practices.

So what do you do on the bench? Peters said there are a number of things going on when he’s on the bench.

Peters said his top priority is to be a positive voice on the bench for Gothberg and the rest of his teammates even if things are going extremely well. He said there are times where being on the bench gets so intense, it almost takes him away from the actual game in front of him.

But are there any ‘Miracle’ moments where Peters will pay attention to the blonde sitting in the third row?

“Lot of good looking girls in Fargo I must say,” Peters said with a laugh and a grin.

Maybe some of the women in the stands might recognize him from the commercial he’s in with teammates like Bryn Chyzyk and Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State). But those moments don’t happen often where Peters gives more credence to the stands than the game.

Peters said being on the Force’s bench means a lot of screaming in regards letting whoever is on the ice know what’s happening behind them or in other situations in general.

With the Force being one of the more “talkative” teams in the league, there surely has to be some sort of trash talking Peters does on the bench? Right?

“When opponent comes up you try to find some dirt,” Peters said. “The one I use is ‘Your skates are untied” and the guy usually looks down to see if his skates are untied. I got that one from Zane.”

The Big Payback…

Well, there’s no better way to bounce back from a loss than to beat the team which beat you.

It’s what the Fargo Force did Saturday night when they rallied from a two-goal hole to beat the Sioux Falls Stampede 3-2 at Sioux Falls.

Force forward Colton Hargrove scored the game-winning goal with early in the third period.

As is the case with any road game, here’s a bit of analysis looking back at the game.

-Nate Arentz, forward: It seems like ever since Arentz was visted by Minnesota assistant Mike Guentzel he’s really been stepping it up and he did so setting up Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud Stater) to tie the game at 2-2 in the second period. Arentz, who was also at the USHL Top Prospects Game, is also starting to become more aggressive with the puck as he’s getting more point blank chances against goalies. If he starts scoring, it could get interesting.

-Neal Goff, defenseman: Goff didn’t score but he’s putting up the numbers where it counts in terms of actually getting in games. Goff had a stretch where he spent quite a few games in suits watching along media row and has lately been getting into games making David Mead the odd man out. He’s played in the team’s last three games and is a plus-4 and he was a pls-2 against Sioux City. At 6-4 and a wiry 180 pounds Goff could give this defense another dimenson in terms of someone who could eat up minutes. Goff is extremely atheltic and is the only player on the team to win a state title in a sport other than hockey. He was a state track champ last season and showed it in the pre-season as he was easily the most-conditioned player on the team.

-Alex Iafallo, forward: The one they call ‘Coon’ because his teammates claim his facial features mimic a racoon is putting up numbers as of late. He scored Saturday and now has four points in his last five games and altogether has seven points in eight games. Still maintain Iafallo, Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) and Dave Gust have easily been the most surprising line for the Force this season. Don’t be too surprised if this line helps determine how far this team goes.

-Reed Peters, goaltender: Who? You know, the blonde-haired guy backing up Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) during the nine-game winning streak. Peters’ patience was rewarded with the start as he made 28 saves in his first game in more than a month. We’d discuss Peters more but he’s a subject of a blog post tomorrow (hint, hint).

-Colton Hargrove, forward: Funny thing about Boomer Sooner. This was his third game-winning goal of the season and it puts him in a tie with a few guys for third in the league in that particular category. Hargrove has officially rebounded from a poor start to the season by being one of the more dynamic players on this team due to his scoring and physical edge.

I’m Walkin’…

Success really can have its disadvantages.

Take what happened to the Fargo Force this week. The league’s hottest team cooled down a little following a 2-0 loss on Thursday to Sioux City snapping a nine-game winning streak, the longest in the league this season.

Fargo’s loss came a little more than 24 hours after the team had coach John Marks and four of its star players – Nate Arentz, Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) and Justin Wade – return from Muskegon around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday from the USHL Top Prospects Game.

“You lose some continuity at practice,” Marks said about the travel delays and the problems it created for the team. “Coming back we sat around in Chicago for four more hours and we didn’t get back late. I’ll give Sioux City credit…as a result we lost. We have to try and bounce back on the road Saturday night.”

Having a padded schedule is nothing new with many teams now reaching the stretch in the season where they will be playing three games in the week.

But as Marks pointed out, not many of them will finish with a week where they’ll have four games in six days with three of them being on the road.

Every team had at least one player in the Top Prospects Game on Tuesday and the Force were just one of a few teams with at least three representatives in the game. Waterloo, which had five players in the game, also played on Thursday and lost 4-3 to Youngstown.

Two of Waterloo’s players – Taylor Cammarata and AJ Michaelson (both Minnesota) – each recorded a point against Youngstown while Waterloo goaltender Jay Williams (Miami (Ohio)), who also played in the Prospects Game, got the start.

Force billet coordinator Dorian Nelson said earlier in the week Marks and the four players had travel problems. They all were delayed in Fargo due to bad weather in Chicago and it meant missing their flight to Muskegon, staying overnight in Chicago and catching the soonest flight the following day.

There were more travel issues with the Force on the way back. Wade didn’t see any of traveling as a problem or an excuse.

“I don’t think (the travel delays) had anything to do with it,” Wade said about the performance against Sioux City. “We’re used to this. We’re used to being on long bus rides so sitting four hours in an airport really shouldn’t be a problem.”

Though there was good which came from the delays. It gave Wade and Farley, who are both from the Chicagoland Area, a chance to stay at home with family for an unexpected visit home.

It left Arentz, Cooper and Marks a chance to know Dave Gust’s family pretty well as they stayed with them. Gust, a rookie, is a forward with the team who came up midway through the year.

Perhaps tonight could be different with the Force getting another crack at the Musketeers this time with a day of rest and then face Omaha on Sunday in a late afternoon game a little after 5 p.m.

Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall…

Somewhere probably exists the shiny goaltender’s mask or ‘Party In The USA’ .mp3 file that made Zane Gothberg famous.

These were two of the main items discussed when Gothberg went to his first Boston Bruins prospect camp after the team drafted him out of high school.

Fans and media alike were enamored with the kid from northwest Minnesota’s personality, his iPod choices and care-free attitude.

Maybe those remnants of Gothberg still exist. These days, they are hard to find, and there is a reason.

What today marks is one of those reasons why Gothberg has changed.

“You look at things differently,” Gothberg said. “Say if you have an hour to kill, instead of playing video games, I’ll do yoga or work on my routine.”

Today would have been Sue McIntyre’s 71st birthday. She probably would have received at least one phone call from her grandson, Zane. They’d have talked about her special day and the conversation would have quickly shifted to hockey.

She’d have asked her grandson about his games and then probably wanted to discuss this weekend’s North Dakota-Wisconsin series since she’s a UND alum.

Perhaps this is what could have happened. Gothberg will never know. His grandmother died last summer from blood clots and kidney ailments.

“It’s tough losing a loved one; it’s really tough,” Gothberg said. “It was the toughest thing of my life so far.”

No one can doubt how last year molded Gothberg into the patient and mature rock he has become for the Force this season.

He came to the Force with an extremely high profile. Higher than most high school graduates coming into the USHL.

At Thief River Falls (MN-HS), he was named the Frank Brimsek Senior Goaltender of the Year, which is annually awarded to the best senior goaltender in Minnesota.

Gothberg’s play was so impressive it made North Dakota offer him a scholarship, and in the summer, he was taken by the Boston Bruins and instantly became a media and fan favorite due to his personality.

Yet when he got to Fargo, he found himself in unfamiliar territory playing behind Ryan Massa (now at Nebraska-Omaha), making it the first time in his life he wasn’t the automatic No. 1 choice in net.

“I just learned a lot from Massa last year,” Gothberg said. “I learned you can crack jokes here and there, but when it’s game time, you gotta rock and roll. You have to be focused and ready to rock.”

Handling his new role is something Gothberg did without complaining. He never voiced his thoughts on it and never projected himself in a way to give reason he was unhappy with the situation.

Yet there were times where it was noticeable something, not hockey, was in the back of his mind.

It was his grandmother, who was hospitalized last January. To know McIntyre is to know the effect she had on her family – especially her grandchildren.

She was at virtually every one of Gothberg’s games going back to when he first started playing youth hockey. Every level Gothberg moved up meant it was another chance for McIntyre to see her grandson play.

Gothberg said his grandmother’s dedication to her family is what makes her still such a strong influence in his life.

“My grandmother is not only a huge influence on me, but our family,” Gothberg said. “It is impressive the kind of mark she left on all of us.”

Every thing. Everything from the times spent riding to rinks even down to the last few hospital visits before McIntyre died in July is what made life so hard for Gothberg in the summer.

He never wanted to lose his grandmother, so he found a way to take her with him for every game.

There’s an image of McIntyre on the back of his helmet.

“It’s my grandma,” Gothberg said about the back of his mask in an interview earlier in the season. “And that’s her Diet Coke in one hand and her cigarette in the other. The nurses always said she had to have those two things in the hospital.”

McIntyre might not have been in a seat at Scheels Arena, but she’s surely been taking the best seat in the house by being on her grandson’s mask.

Gothberg has gone on to have one of the best seasons of any goaltender in the USHL, posting a 15-9-2 mark with a 2.20 goals against average and a .919 save percentage along with three shutouts.

He’s third in wins, second in goals against average, second in save percentage and is tied for the league lead in shutouts. Gothberg is just one shutout away from setting the franchise mark for most shutouts in a season.

Yet what might be the statistic that defines Gothberg is how he won nine consecutive starts helping the Force overcome a torrid start to the season to now being considered one of the best teams in the league.

All of this has made Gothberg a legitimate candidate for the league’s Goaltender Of The Year.

So instead of seeing someone who might have seen every game as a blur, fans now see a more calm, confident goaltender who realizes how important every game is – but more to the point, every day is.

Today in particular.

“I’ve got her on the back of my helmet and she’s in my heart too,” Gothberg said. “It’s tough. My mom and sister will help me get through it. The first year is always tough. Not going over to her house and celebrating on Christmas was tough. It is really difficult, but as a person, you mature a little bit more and you are more grounded and have more respect.”

Turn! Turn! Turn!

Just when you thought it was over, it comes back again.

Luke Voltin. The former NTDP forward was claimed by Chicago off waivers last week but today he said through his Twitter account he is going to be the newest member of the Des Moines Buccaneers.

Though the trade hasn’t been announced by the league yet, it certainly adds another chapter to what has been a hectic year for Voltin. Voltin goes to Des Moines in exchange for defenseman Eric Sade (Cornell), who has 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists), for New Mexico (NAHL).

He spent last season at Hill-Murray (MN-HS) helping the team reach the section finals before accepting an invitation to play this season with the NTDP.

Voltin was released from the NTDP for undisclosed reasons.

Because of the way the USHL’s waiver system works, Chicago because it had the worst record in the league had first dibs at getting Voltin and they eventually acquired him.

Even with a team in place Chicago was fielding offers from other teams around the league to grab Voltin, who is said to be one of the top forwards in his age group.

Given Chicago’s recent past with potential high-end players, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see a trade. The Steel traded former No. 1 overall Adam Krause (now at Minnesota-Duluth) last season to the Sioux City Musketeers, a move which eventually helped them reach the playoffs.

Yet with Krause only playing one year in the USHL, it appeared to be a good move for Chicago which ended up with four first-round draft picks (two entry, two futures) of the organization.

In the USHL Entry Draft the team selected forward Brian Christie (Merrimack) only to have Christie opt to stay with Topeka (NAHL) for another season.

This season, however, the big name Chicago recently moved was forward Zach Saar (Penn State) to Des Moines. Saar, who recently played in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, has one point – an assist – in four games with the Buccaneers.

Des Moines (13-15-3) sits fifth in the Western Conference nine points behind Waterloo for the fourth playoff spot and one point ahead for Sioux City, which is in sixth.

Adding Voltin to go along with Saar gives the Buccaneers two potential high-end forwards who could add an offensive jolt to a lineup which is the fifth-least scoring team in the league in terms of goals scored.

Voltin, despite being Chicago’s property, didn’t play a game in the time he was there.

Though he has shown promise in the USHL scoring six points in 11 games when he was with the NTDP.

The 6-foot, 175 pound Voltin hasn’t played in the USHL since Jan. 14 in a game against Youngstown, according to Pointstreak.

Des Moines faces Lincoln on the road tonight but has a home game Saturday against Omaha before facing Waterloo on Sunday. Voltin said on Twitter he wouldn’t be playing in tonight’s game.

If Voltin doesn’t arrive in time for any of the weekend games, the soonest he could play be next Friday in another game at Lincoln.

 

When We Ride…

Lost in the Fargo Force’s winning streak coming to an end could be the team which snapped it, the Sioux City Musketeers.

Sioux City picked up the 2-0 win on Thursday night and have now won two games in a row. The two wins came against Omaha, which had a five-game winning streak and of course Fargo, which had been the hottest team in the league.

“You know what, I think it goes the other way,” said Sioux City coach Brett Larson. “We got nothing to lose and sooner or later they have to lose one. They’re not going to win the last 30 games of the year. People expect them to win at home and you just come in, throw everything you have at them and try to steal the two points.”

You really can’t blame Larson and his team for taking the approach they did entering the game.

Winning streak aside, the numbers hinted this could have easily been a Force win. Force goaltender Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), was 7-1-0 lifetime against the Musketeers heading into last night’s game.

The Force had also beaten the Musketeers the last two times they played.

“It was a tough game,” said Musketeers forward Kyle Criscuolo, who scored both goals in the win. “The whole game they were coming at us and I think we did a good job to weather the storm.”

Fargo outshot Sioux City 15-4 in the first period and finished with 31 shots on net and it wasn’t like these were just simple shots from the perimeter either.

Just about every line combination at some point at least had two or three quality chances on net which were turned away by Musketeers goalie Matt Skoff (Penn State) en route to the shutout.

Skoff managed to stop what had been the hottest line in the USHL between Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth), Bryn Chyzyk and Colton Hargrove, all of whom had personal point streaks snapped.

The Force’s No. 2 line featuring Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) had its chances too only to have Skoff turn them away.

Skoff’s biggest save of the night came late in the third period when he got just enough of his left leg pad on a puck to preserve the shutout and annoy what was easily a visibly frustrated group of forwards.

“I was just thinking before the game, let’s just flat out go for it,” Skoff said. “We just said we wanted to compete no matter who we were playing against.”

Larson laughed when he was asked about the “insider information” he had on Farley coming into the game.

After all, it was Larson who recruited Farley to Minnesota-Duluth when he was an assistant there before taking the Musketeers job in the summer. His departure, in turn, led to the Force losing their third head coach in as many years with Jason Herter replacing Larson at UMD.

Larson said he had nothing special planned with Farley and his line and gave all the credit to his team.

“Against Farley’s line you have to be disciplined and play defense as much as you can,” Larson said. “We wanted to make sure we had our best defensemen out there and it was hard to get our best forwards out there when we could. For the most part, we thought we competed with that line.”

Getting shutout against a team featuring the USHL’s second-leading scorer and two players in the Top 5 in goals could easily instill confidence in a young defense trying to establish a foundation.

Sioux City’s defense has allowed 127 goals, the second-most in the entire USHL.

It is a defense which has been under some pressure ever since star Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota) asked for a trade out of town and eventually landed in Green Bay. The trade resulted in Sioux City getting a few pieces most notably Andy Ryan (Notre Dame) to add experience to what was a defense featuring four players who entered the year with no more than five games between them.

The defense against the Force, however, did more than just assist Skoff with the shutout by doing a variety of things. Alex Kuqali (RIT) broke up the Force’s attempt at getting some rhythm and it turned into his team getting a 2-on-1 and an eventual 1-0 lead.

Dane Cooper, a first-year defenseman, had no problem going up against Dominic Racobaldo, one of the league’s heavyweights, in a fight. Cooper held is own until Racobaldo got some leverage and ultimately won the fight.

“The amount of goals we’ve given up has been through no fault of Matt,” Criscuolo said. “But we’ve had a really young defense and we were just trying to work things out.”

If Sioux City has worked things out, it appears this could be the time to do it.

The Western Conference is getting tighter by the weekend and it won’t be long before a bad weekend here and there could take a serious blow at a team’s playoff seeding or even playoff chances.

With Sioux City currently in sixth (the last playoff spot), it is pretty clear what must be done from here on out.

“We know we’re in a certain position,” said Criscuolo, a Harvard commit. “We’re chasing people and we’re also being chased too. We just have to keep winning games.”