Stick of Dynamite…

Whether the Force stay fourth in the Western Conference or move up the standings, they used Friday to prove they are ready for the playoffs to get here.

Black and Blue used an 8-0 victory over Sioux Falls in what was the team’s most domineering win all season given the large cushion. It was the largest margin of victory the Force have had all year. The victory was the team’s fourth in a row, which is the longest active winning streak in the USHL.

It was also a game where some records were set too.

-Zane Gothberg, goaltender, North Dakota: Getting the feeling he might be on to something special? Gothberg’s victory now gives him 39 career victories, the most by a goaltender in the team’s four-year history. He also now has seven shutouts too. In all, Gothberg owns the franchise records for: most shutouts in a season, most shutouts in a career, most wins in a career, lowest goals against average in a season, lowest goals against average in a career, best save percentage in a career and best save percentage in a season. If he gets two more wins, he owns the franchise records for most wins in a season. Oh, he made 30 saves in the victory too. So yeah, he’s done nothing at all this year.

-Bryn Chyzyk, forward, North Dakota: Chyzyk picked up a goal and an assist giving him three points in two games. He, to our knowledge, hasn’t set any franchise records but he is further cementing what’s been one of the better individual seasons in Force history this year. Chyzyk, as its been documented, came in as an unknown and will leave Fargo for North Dakota in a few months time. He has 46 points in 53 games this season. Once again, not a bad season.

-Dave Gust, forward: Gust had his second straight two-goal game in the win for four points in his last two games. His 13 goals and 15 assists in 39 games has given the Force another dimension down the stretch. Gust and the rest of High School Musical are also giving people a glimpse at what could be one of the more potent lines in the USHL for next season. Though if they have it their way, they could prove it during the playoffs too.

-Gabe Guertler, forward, Minnesota: Speaking of the Musical, its ring leader was back at it with his second straight, two-assist game. Guertler, like Gust, now has four points in his last two games. He now has 26 points in 52 games and as a rookie that isn’t too bad. Between the Gophers vying for a national title and the Miami Heat being title favorites, life’s good for the Force’s favorite Floridian.

-Justin Wade, defenseman, Notre Dame: Yep. We know now for sure the End of Days are around the corner. Wade scored again. Guy went 60-plus games without a goal yet he has scored two goals since Feb. 25. Wade went plus-2 giving him his third straight plus-2 performance. No one is complaining about his recent offensive production. But combine his shutdown ability with the fact he could pick up a helper here and there and he’s showing why this Force defense is deceptively good.

-Dominic Racobaldo, defenseman: The Roc knew his role and made others shut their mouths picking up two assists in the win. Roc, believe it or not, has 10 points in the 43 games he’s played with the Force. Looking back at the Racobaldo-Tanner Lane trade, it appears the Force might have gotten the better end of this deal given what Racobaldo has brought to the team. He brings a physical edge. He brings a shutdown capability yet more than anything, he’s another presence on the league’s second best defense.

-The defense: They are the second-best defense in the league. Seriously. That’s no joke people. They’ve given up the least amount of goals in the Western Conference and the second-least in the entire USHL. It might seem a bit improbable given the hideous start to the season where the team lost 13 of 15, but the defense has really helped turn things around this year. With Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and Taylor Richart, they have a nastiness. Between Racobaldo and Wade, they have two physical bodies who don’t mind delivering a punishing hit. Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) and Taylor Fleming also provide some offensive skill. And don’t forget David Mead and Neal Goff too. Mead’s game isn’t too flashy but he has been efficient. Same with Goff, who was really starting to progress prior to his suspension. These guys also have the third-best penalty kill in the entire USHL too. Face it Force fans. Your defensive corps is as good as it gets in the league.

Popular Demand…

We’re back with Part II in our series looking at frontrunners for specific USHL awards.

Today’s post looks at the Forward of the Year candidates. Feeling around the league and practically the planet is Lincoln’s Kevin Roy (Brown) is going to run away with the award among other trophies.

Let’s look and see if anyone really could challenge Roy for the award

-Kevin Roy, Lincoln (Brown): He’s a Player of the Year favorite. He’s a Rookie of the Year favorite. He’s turned down the QMJHL team in his backyard. He’s about to score 100 points and in the process get drafted in his second year of eligibility. Oh and he’s also been an internet sensation long before coming to the USHL. Let the record reflect Roy has scored 90 points (47 goals, 43 assists) in 53 games. Guy has terrorized USHL defenses while making Lincoln look like an even more dangerous team and maybe the Western Conference favorite as the playoffs draw closer. The only thing Roy hasn’t done is feed the homeless but for all we know, he’s probably done that between shifts.

-Daniil Tarasov, Indiana: If anyone has reason to be mad the last two seasons it could be Tarasov. He scored 75 points in 57 games last season. It led some to wonder if he could do it again this season without some of the high-end talent he previously had. Tarasov has done it again scoring 76 points (41 goals, 35 assists) in 54 games. He has made Indiana another legit contender and he’s done it in a year where Green Bay has dominated the league and he has a younger core of teammates. Roy’s incredible season, in turn, has made people forget about what Tarasov has done this year. He’s helped younger forwards such as Robbie Baillargeon (Boston University) into becoming a solid presence on a franchise known for its scoring. He’s shown the league a player such as Jacob Fallon (Vermont) could be a playmaker and have as many goals this season as he had in the last two years. If its not for Kevin Roy, people would give Tarasov more credit. Period.

-Mike Ambrosia, Youngstown (Princeton): Ambrosia is in the same boat as Tarasov when it comes to being overshadowed by Roy. Ambrosia has been one of the better forwards in the league this year constantly creating chances for his teammates. He’s created chances and been a leader on a team which definitely had the pieces to compete and contend for an Eastern Conference title. Ambrosia’s 44 assists – second in the league – have gone a long way towards changing the image many have had about Youngstown’s forwards and in truth, that whole team. We’ve talked to him for an upcoming feature and you can tell he gets it. He gets how important it is to achieve consistency and be a leader for a team. Ambrosia looks the part, sounds the part and acts the part.

-Jimmy Murray, Omaha (St. Cloud State): Murray, in a way, represents what’s been so intriguing about this year’s group of top forwards. From Roy to Murray, every one of these guys were questioned. Murray was questioned as to whether or not he could really succeed in the USHL. He was here in Fargo and was later shipped to the NAHL and then eventually the Lancers. All he’s done is lead the USHL in assist along with having Omaha as one of the favorites to challenge for the Clark Cup title. Teammates say he’s been a leader and it’s even made some in Fargo say they wish he was back. Murray also managed to earn a scholarship to St. Cloud State in the process. Can’t discount the kind of year he’s having.

-Zemgus Girgensons, Dubuque (Vermont): See this post to get an idea of where Girgensons stands in this debate.

 

THE VERDICT: All of these players make really legit arguments. But when it comes down to who has been the best forward this year, without question it is Kevin Roy. It’s Roy all the way. But if we had to pick a winner that wasn’t Kevin Roy, it’d be a toss up and in that regard we’d have to go with Ambrosia. Nothing against Tarasov, Murray or Girgensons but what’s being done in Youngstown gets more impressive by the week.

NEXT IN THE SERIES: Defenseman of the Year

Always On Time…

We had a story in today’s Forum about former Force goaltender Mike Lee forgoing his senior year at St. Cloud State to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Lee, 21, signed a three-year deal with the team and will play in the organization next season so he could focus on his college coursework. Lee admitted he wasn’t really worried about when he’d reach the NHL.

“I just want to work hard,” Lee said. “When it happens, it happens.”

It’s another example of how timing just happens to have a way with Lee given the way his career has played out.

Guy said yesterday he just had a feeling it was his time to leave. There was no sign or anything like that. It just hit him one day that it might not be a bad idea to pursue his professional career.

Considering what the guy has done over time, no one can blame him.

His resume is impressive. Lee’s work reads as if it should belong to someone older who has done this longer.

For example:

-He won a Minnesota state championship at Roseau, of all places, as a sophomore.

-As a junior he was 25-0 with a sub-1.00 goals against average heading into the Minnesota state hockey tournament. He and the Rams were a favorite to win but somehow finished fourth.

-When he left Roseau to play for the Force, it apparently resulted in his family facing the cold shoulder back home because this would have been his senior year.

-He came to Fargo leading the Force to a Clark Cup Finals appearance going 26-15-4 in his lone season.

-In 2010, he helped Team USA to a gold medal at the IIHF U-20 World Championships, the premier event for the world’s future hockey stars.

-Lee walks away from St. Cloud State playing 74 games with the Huskies in three seasons, going 32-29-9 with a 2.59 GAA and a .919 save percentage.

“I thought about it for a couple of weeks and just like any other major decision you weigh both ends of it,” Lee said of signing with the Coyotes in Friday’s Forum. “You decide what is best for your life. My family and I thought about it and decided this was a great opportunity.”

Signing a professional contract also does more than just give Lee and his family another item to be stoked about.

There’s this aspect of it: He could potentially become the next Roseau alum to play in the NHL which already features Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien and his Lee’s former teammate, Aaron Ness, who had a call-up with the New York Islanders this summer.

Once again, he’s in no rush but this time it is for a different reason.

“Whoa, whoa,” Lee said when asked about being the next possible Roseau alum to make it to the NHL. “There’s a lot of great company on that list. You are throwing something really heavy at me right now.”

Fair enough.

Maybe it was a bit too early to ask that question or even raise that point.

Yet what can’t be argued is how Lee’s contract also sets the bar for anyone now wearing a Force jersey. This franchise has been around for four seasons and has now done everything but win a Clark Cup title.

Lee signing now sends a message that it is indeed possible for a Force player to sign a professional contract. Yet when he features in his first NHL game, it will probably resonate even more.

“It’s nice to look back on what we did that first year back in Fargo,” Lee said. “It’s nice to see what they are doing now too.”

With Lee, the Force can now state that it has a player who is closer to reaching the universal dream.

He’s not the only one. Former captain Luke Witkowski is a Tampa Bay draft pick who is heading into his senior year at Western Michigan. Witkowski said he’s returning for his senior year and could be the next one to sign a pro contract.

Then there’s more recent players like Witkowski’s current teammate, Garrett Haar, who is a Washington Capitals draft pick. There’s also Miami’s Jimmy Mullin, a fellow Tampa Bay draft pick.

And then there’s Lee’s perpetual and almost perennial former teammate, Nick Oliver, who is at St. Cloud State and was drafted by the Nashville Predators.

Now ask Lee about his time with Oliver and its clear it meant something.

“We’ve played together since we were in sixth grade,” Lee said of Oliver, who is now his former high school, junior and college teammate. “To have a close friend play with you for so long. It really is something special.”

Maybe Lee’s voice was getting shot from the interviews he did on Thursday.

But you could hear his voice become a little shaky when he was talking about Oliver and just how much it meant to have a friend always there with him.

Perhaps realizing it won’t ever be like that again could be a reason why his voice did sound a little shaky.

Its like lyricist Rakim once said, “I like the way it went down and all of that. In fact, it means a lot because you can’t bring it back. Remember that.”

Something says Lee certainly will remember where he’s been in order to know where he’s going.

The Lonely Toilet…

Maybe we now know the reason why Regg Simon was “happy” to get fired from the Des Moines Buccaneers on Tuesday.

After all, someone did put a toilet in the man’s parking spot the day before he was fired.

Simon, who recently started a Twitter account, tweeted on Monday a photo of a toilet in his parking space under the title of “How Fitting!”

Yep. That’s a toilet. That’s a parking lot. That’s a toilet with a Green Bay Packers sticker in a parking lot.

The Packers sticker is more than likely aimed at the possibility Simon is a Minnesota Vikings fan. He is from Elk River, Minn. which is about 30 or so miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Having a toilet in his parking space is the latest detail in what has certainly been a crazy tale.

Simon told the Des Moines Register on Tuesday in regards to his dismissal, “This is one of the happiest days of my life, and I am glad it happened now rather than later.”

We’ve seen some crazy stuff this season in the USHL.

As of 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, the craziest news appeared to be when Sioux City Musketeers assistant John Grahame signed a contract with the New York Islanders to come out of retirement.

Coaches in the USHL just don’t come out of retirement to go play in the NHL. Then again, they don’t come to work on Monday morning to find toilets in their parking spots either.

Simon, 36, spent nine years with the organization. That’s basically one-fourth of his life. He spent two years as a player and the following seven years either as a head coach or as an assistant. His first stint as head coach saw him win a USHL title back in 2006, when he was coaching players such as Islanders winger Kyle Okposo.

Lately, however, a championship seems like a long time ago. Des Moines is on the verge of missing the playoffs for a fifth-straight season. The team has also lost seven games in a row heading into the weekend.

Firing a “happy” Simon, a toilet in his parking space and possibly missing the playoffs are just the latest problems in Des Moines.

The Bucs also had two players recently charged for allegedly assaulting a Fargo Force player and his 79-year-old grandfather in the stands. Force defenseman Neal Goff admitted to police that, during a March 10th game, he used a racial epithet against Des Moines’ forward Trent Thomas-Samuels, who is black.

Goff, a day later, sat in the stands with his family and, after the game, was immediately assaulted. Police issued arrest warrants last week for Bucs players Tanner Karty and Kevin Irwin (Ohio State) in connection with the assault. Both players were charged with assault.

The team’s struggles have prompted fans to take to various message boards, with most of them speaking out against Simon.

Though no recent comments have been made, there was some talk from Bucs fans about the team firing Simon.

One comment following the team’s 2-1 loss to Sioux Falls on March 18 said, “It’s time some major moves are made in the organization. From coaching all the way to ownership. Buc’s (sic) fans deserve much better and quite frankly are fed up and pissed.”

At least now, those fans have a toilet to vent their frustrations with.

Movin’ On Up…

At least the USHL can now say it has sent someone directly to the NHL.

This probably just wasn’t what they had in mind. Sioux City Musketeers assistant John Grahame signed a contract late Wednesday night with the New York Islanders and will spend the rest of the season with the team.

It’s an interesting situation given that Grahame retired from the NHL and was in his first season with the Musketeers. He’ll go to an Islanders team obviously hurting for goaltending as the NHL season winds down.

Grahame’s signing actually comes at a pretty interesting time given its a parallel with the other big story in the USHL right now.

Des Moines fired head coach Regg Simon on Tuesday as Simon spent nine years with the team. His first two years were as a player.

Grahame came up with Sioux City playing two seasons with the club before going to Lake Superior State for three seasons. He was drafted in 1994 by the Boston Bruins playing three seasons in the AHL before playing in the NHL.

He had stints with Carolina and Tampa Bay before playing in the KHL and spending a few seasons in the AHL with Lake Erie, which is the affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.

Grahame’s career numbers are listed at 97-86-18 with a 2.79 goals against average.

Grahame’s first season in Sioux City has actually been a successful one as of late. The Musketeers overcame early season struggles and are now fifth in the Western Conference standings with a 24-28-1 seven games left.

The Colorado native’s biggest impact has been with goaltender Matt Skoff (Penn State), who is actually second in the USHL in shutouts with five this season. Skoff is 21-21-1 with a 2.89 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

Oh Happy Day…

Even with the playoffs in the balance, it appears the Des Moines Buccaneers’ ownership still didn’t have faith in head coach Regg Simon, who was fired on Tuesday.

Simon’s firing was first reported by the Des Moines Register. Simon’s dismissal makes him the fourth USHL coach to be fired by a team this season and the first since January when Muskegon fired former Wisconsin assistant Kevin Patrick.

“This is one of the happiest days of my life, and I am glad it happened now rather than later,” Simon told the Des Moines Register.

Simon’s firing comes days after two of his players – Tanner Karty and Kevin Irwin (Ohio State) – had arrest warrants issued for assaulting Force defenseman Neal Goff and his 79-year-old grandfather, Gerald Pipes, on March 11.

Goff, 18, admitted to Urbandale, Iowa police he used a racial epithet towards Buccaneers forward Trent Thomas-Samuels, who is black, during a March 10 game. Goff, the following game, sat in the stands with his family where they were assaulted allegedly by members of the Buccaneers.

Karty and Irwin were listed as scratches the day of the incident. Both players were charged with assault.

Simon told the Des Moines Register team owner Gil Pelded did not give him a reason for why he was being fired other than to say he was “making a change.” He declined to tell the Register why he was “happy” to be fired other than to say he and previous coach Mike Guentzel, “chose to come here because we know what Des Moines was can what Des Moines can be” in regards to being a hockey town.

Guentzel is now an assistant at the University of Minnesota.

Simon, who recently turned 36, had a relationship unlike any other coach in the league with an organization. He played two seasons for the Buccaneers from 1994 to 1996 before playing five seasons at Alaska-Anchorage where he was a captain in his senior season.

He broke into the USHL as an assistant with the Tri-City Storm in 2002 becoming an assistant in Des Moines the following season. Simon then became head coach and general manger to start the 2004-05 season. He was head coach for four seasons winning a championship in 2006 along with coaching players such as New York Islanders star Kyle Okposo before being replaced and returning to Alaska-Anchorage as an assistant in 2008.

Simon, a native of Elk River, Minn., returned to Des Moines in 2010 and was on the verge of missing the playoffs for the second straight season.

Des Moines, which sit in seventh place in the Western Conference, are on the verge of missing the playoffs for a fifth straight season. Des Moines is 20-29-4 with 44 points and is four points out of the sixth and final playoff spot with seven games left.

Simon and the Buccaneers had lost seven in a row including two consecutive losses to the Force in Fargo this past weekend.

“I know we see Sioux City twice head to head and all we can worry about is ourselves,” Simon said following last Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Fargo, the last game he had in charge of the team. “If we’re looking for scoreboard help, then that’s the wrong mentality to take.”

Firing Simon is the latest chapter in what could be considered a catastrophic season for the Buccaneers.

Des Moines finished four points out of the playoffs last season entering this season with the hopes of making the playoffs in what was a Western Conference filled with teams that appeared to be on equal footing.

Offensive futility marred Des Moines during the middle of the season and began to hinder the team with others such as Sioux City and Tri-City starting to gain momentum in the chase for the final playoff spots.

The team traded for forward Zach Saar (Penn State) who they believed would jump start the offense but has only scored seven points in 25 games since the trade. Des Moines then traded for forward Luke Voltin (North Dakota) who was dismissed for the NTDP for undisclosed reasons.

Voltin, one of the top American-born forwards in his age group, has scored six points in 18 games but after joining the team he took to Twitter expressing his unhappiness by stating he didn’t want to play hockey again.

When the USHL’s Trade Deadline occurred in February, the Buccaneers in many minds gave up quite a bit to acquire defenseman Nick Seeler (Nebraska-Omaha/Minnesota) and goaltender Pheonix Copley (Michigan Tech).

Des Moines mortgaged away its future sending away prospects such as Blaine (MN-HS) defenseman Michael Brodzinski (Minnesota) along with trading away other players who could have made the team better in the future. Brodzinski is the brother of Force forward and St. Cloud State commit, Jonny Brodzinski.

The final blemish on Simon’s season came last week when Irwin and Karty were charged by police.

” It was unfortunate for both sides,” Simon said Saturday night regarding the altercation between the two teams. “I think the talk during the week was we can control what happens on the ice but we cannot control what happens off the ice. Let’s control what happens on the 200 x 85 and worry about what happens next week.”

There’s Nothing…

We interrupt your Tuesday to say we are going to delay our list for Forward of the Year.

Why? While we were going through the list we were looking at Dubuque forward Zemgus Girgensons and got into a whole list of reasons which has made his season so successful and in truth, more demanding than anyone else’s in the entire USHL.

So here it is, the Top 10 reasons why no player can match the expectations laid upon Girgensons.

1. Be a first-round pick because that’s easy. An Eastern Conference scout told NHL.com he predicts you to go No. 26 to the Flyers. Oh and its not like you’re on NHL.com’s Draft Page, but wait…

2. Be the two-way player pundits have hyped you to be because, you know, that’s easy too. Then again, you do have 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 43 games while taking the responsibility of making sure your team has given up 150 goals in 54 games, the third-lowest amount in the entire USHL.

3. Choose between Dubuque/Vermont or go to the Major Junior route or go play in the KHL near your beloved Latvia. Choosing Option No. 1 means you’ve kept your word and you are serious about honoring your father’s wishes of getting an American education. Choosing Option No. 2 means, at least to some, you are serious about your development. Choosing Option No. 3 means you are choosing to show the world that in a league of grown-ass men you are indeed, a grown-ass man.

4. You ended the speculation by saying you plan on going to college and saying you don’t see yourself playing Major Junior at all.

5. Speaking of Latvia, they needed you to play in the U-20 championships. You did that and you were even more impressive than what most thought possible.

6. Speaking of championships, Dubuque needs you to help them repeat as Clark Cup champs. Dubuque is sitting in fourth place in an Eastern Conference which is being dominated by a Green Bay team considered to be one of the best in league history, an Indiana team with maybe the best forward corps and arguably best goaltender in the league and a Youngstown team ready to proverbially punch anyone in the mouth come playoff time. Once again, no big deal.

7. Dubuque picked you as its team captain. You’ve had to serve in that role while fighting off injuries, international duty and you’ve done it as a second-year player in a league where the biggest enemy is turnover. Oh and you’ve done it for a franchise that’s probably not as old as your skates.

8. You are one of the faces of a league trying to show it can compete with Major Junior. Somewhere USHL commissioner Skip Prince is building an altar with your image because of the fact you could get taken in the first round and then go to college living up to the message the USHL often sells kids with.

9. No one else has the pressure of being on a non-NTDP team with TWO potential first-rounders in you and Mike Matheson (Boston College). Everyone kept talking about if these two could make it into the first round. The same Eastern Conference scout we mentioned earlier has Matheson going No 27, after Girgensons, to the Vancouver Canucks.

10. You’ve been compared to players such as Rod Brind’Amour and Paul Kariya…by your own coach. Dubuque head coach Jim Montgomery said over the summer Girgensons prepares like Brind’Amour and thinks about the game like Kariya. Brind’Amour, after all, was one of the NHL’s most devout athletes when it came to working out. When Brind’Amour was at Michigan State they had to turn the lights out on him to get him to leave the gym because he worked out that much. Oh and as for Kariya, all he did was go on to be one of the most dominant players for an entire decade. That and your coach just happened to play with Kariya to form arguably the greatest college hockey team of all time when Maine went 42-1-2 back in 1993.

11. Going back to the whole Latvia thing, you’re the only player in the USHL who can say, “I am the hope of a nation.” That’s no joke. People have given props to the NTDP’s Seth Jones for being a figure who could help elevate the game. But nowhere has anyone said or at least hinted Jones could be the hope of a nation, at least not yet.

Remember His Name…

Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) is having a good season.

But how good? As in having one of the Force’s all-time, record-breaking good seasons?

It appears that way.

“I know my work ethic is getting there,” Gothberg said. “It’s been good this year, it has been good in past years. Everything is going to translate on the ice away from the rink.”

Gothberg is 24-14-4 with a 2.29 goals against average, a .919 save percentage and six shutouts. Gothberg is third in wins, second in GAA, second in save percentage and leads the league in shutouts.

Keep in mind, he has done this after the Force opened the season losing 13 of its first 15 games.

Gothberg’s managed to work his way into the discussion for the USHL’s Goaltender of the Year award and perhaps even being the Force’s Most Valuable Player.

Though what has also come into question is where does Gothberg stand in terms of the franchise’s all-time greats?

Albeit four seasons, enough time has passed for the comparisons to begin and Gothberg’s numbers do stand against those of Ryan Massa, now at Nebraska-Omaha, and Mike Lee, who is now at St. Cloud State.

“You do come in here with a chip on your shoulder because there is something to prove,” Gothberg said. “There’s Lee, there’s Massa, the guys you named are some of the greats to come through here. It has been an organization that has been known for its goalies.”

Lee, in his lone season, went 26-15-4 with a 2.40 GAA and a .918 save percentage. Massa, who played two seasons in Fargo, won 19 games in each season though last season was his strongest statistical campaign. He had a 2.37 GAA and a .908 save percentage.

The Force have six games left before the playoffs begin. Gothberg is three wins away from having the most wins in a season by a goaltender with 27. If he gets one more win, he’ll have the most wins by a goaltender in a career. He’s currently tied with with Massa for first all-time with 38 wins.

Gothberg, last season, set the franchise record for best GAA in a season with a 2.23 clip in 23 games as Massa’s backup. Yet as a full-time starter he has a 2.29 GAA and barring a massive collapse over the next few weeks will walk away as the franchise’s leader in best GAA in a career at 2.27.

Yet there is something Gothberg hasn’t done.

Lee and Massa led the Force to the Clark Cup Finals with Massa doing it in his first season. Taking the Force to the Clark Cup Finals would add to everything Gothberg has done.

Winning it, however, would further solidify the changes he’s made over the last few seasons.

“We’re just taking things a game at a time,” Gothberg said. “Success is a team sport, hockey is a team sport and you can only do so much without your teammates.”

His teammates have taken notice.

Force captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) said in the team’s 2-0 win over Des Moines on Friday, they gave up a “lot” of odd-man rushes and Gothberg handled every odd-man rush to keep the Force in the game.

The biggest change from last season, Cooper said, has been Gothberg’s side-to-side movement.

“It has been incredibly sick,” Cooper said about Gothberg’s movement. “You see how well he’s doing and you know he’s going to make a big impact at the next level.”

Cooper isn’t the only one who believes that.

Force coach John Marks said he believes Gothberg will be North Dakota’s starting goaltender by Christmas for the next season.

Compliments coupled with how he’s viewed within the organization shows how close the team has become over the season, Gothberg said.

“Our team has meshed and gelled together really well,” Gothberg said. “We get to the rink and joke around but when we get on the ice, we get to business. We do things away from the ice. We go to Qdoba, grab a bite to eat or last week we had a cookout. Everybody has been pulling on the same chain.”

Gothberg, 19, has said on multiple occasions last season was one of the most trying times of his life both on and off the ice. He was playing behind Massa, who is now at Nebraska-Omaha, and it was the first time he had really been the second choice.

His high school coach, Tim Berglund, said at last season’s Minnesota state hockey tournament that dealing with the adversity of playing behind Massa was “good” because Gothberg never had to deal with it before.

Then came everything that happened off the ice. Gothberg lost his grandmother over the summer to various illnesses. He’d often visit her in the hospital during the season and there were times it visibly wore on him.

“It is about maturing as a person and as a player,” Gothberg said. “Biggest thing has been doing work off the ice. Preparing mentally by doing yoga. It’s about keeping your body tuned for the end of the season.”

I Got You…

A lot has changed the last time we looked at the favorites for specific USHL Awards but we’re back one more time before the regular season has come to an end.

There are still the usual faces you’d expect in the Player of the Year race but there are some who have made strides over the last month or so and have earned consideration. Same can be said for other awards as well.

We’ll take a look at the other awards later in the week but for now let’s look at the candidates for Player of the Year.

 

-Player of the Year:

Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln Stars (Brown): With 90 points (47 goals, 43 assists) in 53 games, there’s no doubt he’s having the best individual campaign this year and maybe one of the best in the history of the league. With seven games left, he has to score 10 points to reach the century mark. Given the year Roy’s had it is extremely possible he could pull that off. He’s also helped the Stars to the third best record in the USHL and one point within first place in the Western Conference. Let’s take away what his season has done in context to his team’s performances. Roy is having the kind of year that will go down in USHL record books. It is also the kind of season that could perhaps dissipate a few myths and beliefs about the USHL not being enough of a high-scoring league.

Mike Ambrosia, forward, Youngstown Phantoms (Princeton): Youngstown has had points this year where it has teetered between being a top team in the East or a solid team in the East. The Phantoms are tied for second in the Eastern Conference and barring an epic collapse, will host at least one playoff round. Ambrosia’s role in this has been that of a playmaker. His 44 assists – second in the league – have helped scorers like Austin Cangelosi (Boston College) and J.T. Steinglein (UMass-Lowell) to having solid seasons. What Ambrosia has done in this comeback season cannot be overlooked. It might be easy to forget but Youngstown was fighting for a playoff spot this time last year. Youngstown fell a point short of qualifying but was bringing back 14 players plus most of its coaching staff and has proven what experience can do for a team. Ambrosia, a second-year player, has been an embodiment of how the experience can pay off.

Andy Welinski, defenseman, Green Bay Gambers (Minnesota-Duluth): A historic season for his team, an extremely high plus/minus total (+35), he’s fourth among USHL defensemen in scoring and he’s captaining a team which appears it hasn’t lost focus despite its dominance. That is what Welinski has accomplished this season and don’t think he can’t accomplish more when the season ends. And by that we mean a Clark Cup along with a few individual accolades. The superlatives could continue with Welinski as there’s a real debate among scouts and league pundits regarding if he is the best player in the league right now. He has the tools, the size, the talent and everything else that comes with a dominant player. Or, in truth, a complete player.

Daniil Tarasov, forward, Indiana Ice: Before we get into why he’s on this list, let’s get into why he’s just now getting on the list. Indiana is certainly a Jekyll-Hyde team where one week, it can be the most dominant force on skates. The kind of team that appears to be so balanced it could pose problems for just about anyone in the league. Then there are weeks where they’ll look lost against teams it should be beating. That said, the one constant in all of this has been Tarasov. Tarasov has withstanded inconsistency, younger teammates and the expectations of being a top-flight player to prove last season was not a fluke. His 76 points (41 goals, 35 assists) in 54 games is second in the USHL only to Roy, who is just having the season of a lifetime. Tarasov had 75 points in 57 games playing with high-end teammates in Blake Coleman (now at Miami (Ohio)) and Brian Ferlin (now at Cornell). He’s been that leader on offense this year and has proved he can be the centerpiece of an attack.

Adam Wilcox, goaltender, Tri-City Storm (Minnesota): There have been a few goaltenders put in this spot. Youngstown’s Matthew O’Connor (Boston University) was once here. So was Indiana’s Jon Gillies (Northeastern), who could end up back in this spot. There’s even a legitimate argument one can make about Green Bay’s Ryan McKay or Fargo’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota). Yet when you look at Wilcox, you can’t help but realize he could mean more to his team’s playoff chances than anyone else in the league right now. Tri-City is two points clear – or one game – of the sixth and final playoff spot over Des Moines. Wilcox has had his ups and downs since being traded to Tri-City going 15-15 with a 2.89 GAA but we all saw during his time in Green Bay, scoring on him isn’t easy. Wilcox has won three of his last four starts and those have come against Omaha and Fargo, two of the better teams in the Western Conference. Face it. Tri-City’s playoff possibilities hinge on Wilcox. If they get in, there’s a strong chance they could upset someone because if that guy needs to win two games, he can do it. He’s been through a playoff race before albeit under different circumstances with Green Bay last season.

 

VERDICT: It’s tough. Roy is having the best season. Ambrosia is the best example of what his team has stood for. Welinski is the best player on the best team. Tarasov is having one of the best seasons in the league while Wilcox is his team’s best chance at making the playoffs this season.

We will go with Roy, for now, because what he’s doing hasn’t been done in this league in a long time.

 

TOMORROW’S AWARD: Forward of the Year

Can’t Knock The Hustle…

If losing to rival Minnesota on Sunday wasn’t bad, there’s even some more bad news for North Dakota goaltender Aaron Dell.

He might not be starting by Christmas, according to Fargo Force coach John Marks. Marks said after his team’s 4-2 win on Saturday he believes Force goaltender Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) has a legit shot of taking over as the No. 1 next season.

“I predict before Christmas Zane is the starting goalie at UND,” Marks said. “Dell better watch himself. But I also know he could leave too. (North Dakota head coach) Dave Hakstol and (assistant) Carey Eades and the Sioux have a good goalie coming in and he’s going to be one of the better ones they’ve had come in the last few years.”

Marks’ statement came after Gothberg picked up his third consecutive win helping the Force move into third place in the Western Conference. Gothberg is enjoying one of the best season for an individual in the USHL this year.

He is 24-14-4 with a 2.29 GAA, a .919 save percentage and he has a league-high six shutouts. Gothberg’s six shutouts are a franchise record for the most in one season which was three held by former Roseau star Mike Lee, who is now at St. Cloud State.

The Force are riding a three-game winning streak and Gothberg has been in net for all three wins. He recorded two shutouts in those wins adding to the talk that he could be a Goaltender of the Year candidate in the USHL this season.

“Zane Gothberg is a good goalie and I have been around a lot of good goalies,” Marks said. “I’ve had goalies play for me who have gone on to the National Hockey League and he has National Hockey League talent. Boston likes him. They drafted him but didn’t realize that he’s matured, he’s developed the work ethic. He has a the body for it and the mentality for it.”

Marks, who has coached juniors, college and professional teams, has coached former NHL goaltenders such as Dominik Hasek, who is widely considered to be one of the best to ever play in the NHL to Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, who was a second-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers back in 2002.

Gothberg, 19, is in his second season with the Force having committed to North Dakota in 2009.

He came to the Force from Thief River Falls where he won the Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s best senior goaltender in 2010. That summer he was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the sixth round.

Gothberg played as the team’s No. 2 last season behind Ryan Massa, who is now at Nebraska-Omaha. He went 14-8-0 with two shutouts last season but has solidified his role as the team’s No. 1 goaltender.

He will be at North Dakota next season where he is the only goaltender listed on the team’s commitment list, according to Chris Heisenberg. Assuming Dell returns, North Dakota would return two goaltenders and would have two incoming goaltenders in Gothberg and Alabama-Huntsville’s Clarke Saunders who will transfer to the program next season.