A.I.M. Fire…

Force forward Pavel Zykov only had two points in 20 games this season but there’s a reason why the team’s coaching staff is so high on him.

As it would appear, so is Metallurg in the KHL. Zykov was drafted by Metallurg a few days ago in the KHL Amateur Draft. He was a second round selection by the program famous for producing Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

Though the 6-1, 175-pound Zykov is still listed as being part of the CSKA Moscow at the time he was drafted, it appears he was actually the highest and potentially only USHL-based player to be taken in the draft.

For those not familar with the KHL, it is the premier professional league in Russia. It is a league which has become a fertile and at times, challenging ground for NHL teams to take what is considered to be the top talent in the nation.

There are 26 teams spread across seven nations which compete in the league which has gone through quite a few transformations before making the KHL name and brand concrete back in 2008.

It isn’t a complete surprise for KHL teams to draft USHL-based players as Dubuque’s Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) was drafted last season.

As for Zykov, getting drafted certainly adds to his profile of being what Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis called, “a high-end talent” when the team first acquired him. Davis watched Zykov at a showcase during the season and spoke with his adviser.

It led to both sides entering discussions and Zykov making his way to Fargo where he was the second Russian-born player on the team. Though Zykov’s grasp of English improved, he was typically one of the more quiet players yet well-received players on the team.

Zykov used most to the season to adjust to the league and living in the United States for the first time. He appeared to have a better understanding as he scored his only two points in the Force’s last three games in the regular season.

Davis said via text message the Force will work towards getting Zykov to return next season to team which could feature 15 incumbents and a legitimate shot to capture the Western Conference.

If Zykov does return to the team, it gives the Force another potential “high-end” player on a team which is expected to have quite a few in fellow returners Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth), Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) and Dave Gust (Ohio State).

Yet if Zkyov were to opt for the KHL, he’d be the second player to leave who was expected to return for next season. Forward Jonny Brodzinski’s status had been on the fence until it was determined he was going to be at St. Cloud State next season.

Furthermore, if Zykov were to play in the KHL it would mean he’d become a professional player forgoing his college eligiblity. Davis said when the team first acquired Zykov, that college was an option.

Down By The Ohio…

Fargo Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis said today forward Dave Gust has committed to Ohio State.

Gust, 18, was a mid-season call up for the Force and turned out to be one of the reasons why they finished fourth in the Western Conference. Gust in 43 games, scored 30 points ranking fifth on the team in scoring.

He combined with forwards Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) and Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth) to become a potent line for the Force during the regular season combining for 20 percent or 90 of the team’s 455 points.

But it was in the playoffs where the group really made its mark accounting for 40 percent of the Force’s points.

The line, known as “The High School Musical”, led the Force in points during the entire postseason. They combined for 12 points with Gust getting three of them off two goals and an assist.

Gust had said during the team’s first-round playoff series he’d be committing to a school before the end of the summer. He apparently didn’t waste any time by choosing Ohio State.

Committing to Ohio State gives the school a class that has depth but has also enjoyed success in midget, prep and junior hockey. Ohio State now has 13 commits and seven, including Gust, are forwards, according to Chris Heisenberg.

Those forwards include Zach Stepan, who scored scored 65 points playing at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN-HS) among others. Stepan told NHL.com’s Mike Morreale on Wednesday he would play next season with the Waterloo Black Hawks. Stepan is the cousin of New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan.

Ohio State’s recruiting class also consists of Green Bay forwards Matthew Weis and Nick Schilkey plus NTDP goaltender Collin Olson. The Force said in a release, Gust would go to Ohio State in 2014.

What Ohio State will be getting in Gust is a 5-9, 170-pound forward who used a combination of speed, scoring and playmaking prowess to establish himself during a game.

It was those qualities which prompted the Force’s coaching staff to call up Gust on a permanent basis. Gust, who started the season on the team’s affiliates list, had been playing midget hockey back in his native Chicago.

Teaming up with Guertler and Iafallo gave the line more speed and three players who were able to work well with each other, on or away from the puck. Some of Gust’s performances drew comparison to Force forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth), who before a foot injury was on pace to shatter several franchise scoring records.

Having all three return for next season gives the Force, what will likely be the team’s No. 1 line. With all three having college commitments and a year of experience, there’s a strong possibility the line could buoy the Force which have up to 16 players returning for next season.

Of the 16 players returning, Gust becomes the fourth with a college commitment joining his linemates and defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame).

That Heat…

Just a few minutes ago, I was going through some old notes when I noticed something which happened a year ago today.

What happened was Jason Herter leaving the Fargo Force for Minnesota-Duluth to become an assistant. Herter’s departure opened the door for John Marks, who led the Force to a second-round playoff appearance.

And of course a year to the day, the Indiana Ice hire a new head coach, Ron Gay.

Pretty interesting given what’s gone on in the last year with USHL coaches. Let’s use May 22, 2011 as a starting date. Since then, 12 of the league’s franchises have replaced their head coaches.

No joke. Here’s the proof of what every team has done with its coaching situation.

In the Eastern Conference:

-Green Bay Gamblers: The Gamblers replaced Eric Rud, who left for his alma mater, Colorado College with Denver assistant Derek Lalonde. Lalonde, in his debut season, leads the team to one of the USHL’s greatest ever seasons and a Clark Cup title.

-Indiana Ice: Technically, they’ve gone through three coaches and four coaching changes in the last year. Charlie Skjodt was the team’s head coach when the season ended before he returned to the front office. The Ice hired Yale assistant Kyle Wallack, who was fired shortly before the playoffs. Skjodt returned to the bench and then the team hired Gay.

-Dubuque Fighting Saints: Former Maine great Jim Montgomery remains the team’s head coach. But here’s where it’s really interesting. He just finished his second season and he’s already the third most-tenured coach in the league. Interpret that one however you want.

-Youngstown Phantoms: Curtis Carr left the team late in the summer to become an assistant at Merrimack. Days later the team promoted assistant Anthony Noreen, who led the Phantoms to fourth in Eastern Conference.

-Cedar Rapids RoughRiders: Here’s the second team which hasn’t made a coaching change. It may never look that way either as Carlson has been there for 12 seasons and has a partial stake in the team’s ownership. Carlson, a former Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick, has won everything imaginable from the Clark Cup to the Anderson Cup to the USHL’s Coach of the Year during his time in Cedar Rapids. He also led this year’s team to the playoffs, something he’s done every year he has been in the league.

-NTDP: USA Hockey lost Ron Rolston last season to the Rochester Americans (AHL), which is an affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. It resulted in the team hiring Don Granato. The NTDP also lost Kurt Kleinendorst and replaced him with Danton Cole. The program made the USHL Playoffs for a second straight season.

-Chicago Steel: The 2010-11 season wasn’t kind to the Steel, as the franchise suffered through a 9-43-8 season, easily one the worst in any realm of junior hockey in the last few years. It’s what led to the dismissal of Jon Waibel and the promotion of Scott McConnell. McConnell was made the team’s full-time head coach last summer. In his first full season, he led the Steel to a 25-31-4 mark and were just three points out of the playoffs.

-Muskegon Lumberjacks: Former Wisconsin assistant Kevin Patrick was among the 2011-12 season’s first coaching casualties. The team hired former NHL toughman Jim McKenzie, who had no previous junior experience. McKenzie and the Lumberjacks, despite improvement, still finished last in the Eastern Conference.

 

In the Western Conference:

-Lincoln Stars: Another weird case of the fluidity of this league. Stars coach Chad Johnson just finished his second year and he’s No. 4 in the league among tenured coaches.

-Omaha Lancers: Omaha got the trend going early in the 2011-12 season when it fired longtime USHL coach Bliss Littler. He was replaced by Mike Aikens, who led the team to a second-place finish during the regular season. Aikens signed an extension during the season.

-Waterloo Black Hawks: Behind Carlson, P.K. O’Handley is No. 2 when it comes to tenured coaches. He just finished this 10th season with the Black Hawks leading them to a Clark Cup Finals appearance. Like Carlson, O’Handley has won virtually every trophy a coach could win and when it comes to wins, ranks in the Top 10 all time.

-Fargo Force: Hiring Marks gave the Force their fourth coach in as many seasons. Marks, who is the sixth-most tenured coach in the league, already said he will stay this season and looks forward to a second year in Fargo.

-Sioux City Musketeers: Larson is technically the man who started the trend. He was hired May 22 by the Musketeers. He was at Minnesota-Duluth as an assistant. His departure resulted in the Bulldogs hiring Herter and the Force hiring Marks.

-Tri-City Storm: The team replaced Drew Schoneck with Josh Hauge during the middle of the year. Hauge led the Storm to a first-round appearance where they lost to eventual Western Conference champs, Waterloo. Even with an early exit, Tri-City returns all but six players and has what could be considered the strongest affiliates list in the USHL.

-Des Moines Buccaneers: Turmoil more or less blanketed the Bucs this season. Off-ice issues coupled with losing is what led to Regg Simon being fired. He was replaced in the off-season by Gamblers assistant Jon Rogger.

-Sioux Falls Stampede: Maybe no team has undergone more changes in the off-season than the Stampede. They fired longtime head coach Kevin Hartzell and in the span of a week, hired former North Dakota assistant Cary Eades. Eades oversaw the team’s Entry Draft and heads into next season with at least 15 returning players from the 2011-12 team.

New World Order…

Moorhead athletic director Don Hulbert said this morning assistant Pete Cullen has been recommended to become the school’s boys hockey coach for next season.

Cullen will go before the school board later this evening and it will be determined if he will take over the program. Hulbert said should Cullen be selected, he’d coach the team for one season before the position would open up again.

“It will be interim for one year in light of the fact that because we really didn’t have a lot of lead time,” Hulbert said. “Primarily, we want to attract the kind of coach that this program deserves and this school district deserves and we’ve had that stance in every activity and we felt this was a viable move.”

Moorhead has been without a hockey coach since longtime coach Dave Morinville retired last month so he could spend time with his wife and three adult daughters.

Under Morinville, Moorhead continued its place as one of the state’s respected programs by constantly playing tougher teams from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and finding a way to reach the state tournament.

The Spuds reached state this season and finished fourth. As a whole, the program has made 14 state tournament appearances and have finished second, a state record seven times. Moorhead has never won a state title.

Cullen, whose uncle, Terry Cullen, coached the program before Morinville, just completed his first year with the team. His cousins are also Minnesota Wild center Matt Cullen and forward Mark Cullen, who plays in the Florida Panthers’ system.

It would be Cullen’s first high school coaching position. He spent seven years as a youth hockey coach in Moorhead, Hulbert said.

Hulbert, who will also be leaving Moorhead at the end of the school year, said he has a “great interest” in seeing Cullen succeed.

“He’s the kind of guy kids really connect with and it says a lot about Pete,” Hulbert said. “He’s the kind of guy that commands respect and shows respect and he’s very congenial and is an open person in terms of interacting with the players.”

If Cullen were to get the position he would be getting a chance to see what he could do as Moorhead loses 12 seniors including goaltender Michael Bitzer, who was drafted by the Lincoln Stars last week.

Among the players returning would be playmaking centerman Thomas Carey along with forward Aaron Herdt, who was also taken in last week’s USHL Entry Draft by the Fargo Force.

Cullen’s top task would be to cultivate Moorhead’s inexperience and turn them into a Section 8AA contender, a section that has been dominated by Moorhead and Roseau for more than a decade.

Stationary Robbery…

With it being the off-season and weekend, here’s a little nugget to take with you.

Remember Zach Pochiro? OK. Probably not. He had a training camp stint with the Force last season after being taken by the team in last season’s USHL Entry Draft. He was drafted again by Lincoln in Tuesday’s USHL Entry Draft but today signed a contract with the Prince George Cougars in the Western Hockey League.

The move kind of came as a surprise as Pochiro put 34 points playing for Wichita Falls (NAHL) this past season.

Signing with a Major Junior team adds to an interesting trend the Force have had with former players. The trend being the Force keep having guys who got little if any playing time but they go Major Junior.

For example:

-Ben Johnson, forward: When Johnson came to the Force, not much was really known about him other than he was from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He had five games with the Force scoring no points and decided to return home. Since then, he went on to become Michigan’s Mr. Hockey and this season finished his first campaign with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League.

-Marek Hrbas, defenseman: Hrbas played 40 games in his first and only season with the Force before heading to the WHL. The promising Czech defenseman had 17 points in 64 games with Edmonton and spent this season with the Kamloops Blazers putting up 25 points in 67 games.

-Blake Clarke, forward: Here’s some more message board fodder for Force fans. Clarke was drafted by the team last year and became the youngest player in the league at 15. He spent a few months with the Force playing in 13 games getting one goal. Clarke returned home to St. Louis and in a matter of months represented Team USA at the World Youth Olympic Games and last month was drafted 15th overall by the Brampton Battalion in the OHL Priority Draft. He was the highest American taken and given his current trajectory could very well be a first or second round pick when he becomes draft eligible.

 

Posse…

Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis said yesterday the team had three priorities heading into the USHL Entry Draft and goaltending was the No. 1.

The team selected Fresno (NAHL) goaltender Tomas Sholl (Bowling Green) with its first pick in the second round. Davis said Sholl was the closest thing available to outgoing goaltender Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), who was named the USHL’s Co-Goaltender of the Year this week.

Davis said the team’s remaining priorities were getting more defensemen and adding toughness, which became important following the Force’s second-round elimination against the extremely physical Lincoln Stars.

Sixteen players are set to return to the Force next season which could put the team in position to contend next season. Here’s a look at the players the Force drafted and as Davis said, there are some who have a strong chance of making next year’s roster.
Tomas Sholl, goaltender (Bowling Green): We’ve seen him in the NAHL and he was a pretty skilled goaltender there. Our tryout camps are going to tell us a lot about our goaltending situation and all of our players. As far as goalies go, he can stop the puck and we have confidence in him. If we decide to go with him and he’s our guy, that’s what its going to be.

Matt Pohlkamp, forward (Bowling Green): He was a guy that we saw last year in the Elite League and in Minnesota high school hockey who we thought was pretty good. A kid that grew year after year as a hockey player and we just kept watching him closely. Came and skated with us at the end of the high school year. He’s committed to Bowling Green and we have a good relationship with those guys there. A little bit of what we are losing in Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State), we are getting back in Matt Pohlkamp. He and Tomas were the two guys we wanted to get and we did.

Charles Hemstrom, defenseman: I have known Charlie for a ling tome. I coached him the past back in Detroit and when you start looking down the list of our needs for a hockey team for next year, Charlie has junior experience. He’s a hard-nosed defenseman and brings a lot of toughness with him and that was something we were lacking looking at roster for next season. I watched Charlie closely this year in the NAHL. Watched him in NAHL Tournament and we decided around that time we’d take him and we did. Big body, hard-nosed, hitter, likes to be a hitter. Defensively sound and not a power play guy but could because of his good shot. Just a solid, solid puck-moving defenseman.

Jared Dedenbach, forward: Jared is another Detroit kid I’ve known a long time and it’s fun seeing these kids when you’ve known them for so long. You’ve seen where they’ve come from and where they are at now. He played in Chicago for the Fury with Dave Gust two years ago. He has good size, skates real well, very very physical and guy we brought in for toughness. He has some good skill and shoots the puck really well. One of few guys who could step in from midget hockey to our league. That’s a big step coming from Triple A to our league. We feel Jared fits the role. Not asking him to come in and score 50 goals but we want him to score, finish checks and he should be tough to play against. We feel he can do that. I don’t know what his potential can be from here.

Teemu Kivihalme, defenseman: He’s a guy we’ve had our eyes on. We had them on him last year for the Futures Draft and kept him on our list. (Force assistant Byron Pool) loves him and was always talking about him this year. We decided that we wanted him to be part of our roster. I don’t think he is going to leave and make our team next year. We took him and when you take guys in the draft and three or four teams are mad at you, that’s when we know we made a good move. He’s still growing. He got a lot bigger this season and growing form a young boy into a man and now he’s just a puck mover. You don’t notice him because he does not make mistakes. By the time he is ready for us, he could have more to him. I can see him getting a Division I scholarship soon.

Mikey Eyssimont, forward : Another guy we were looking to fill on our affiliates list. We had open spot with tendering (defenseman Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan)) and we had an open ’96 (birthyear) spot. He was on our list to draft and saw him two years ago for the first time and was a high-end skilled centerman and was injured for most of this season. As Futures Draft went by, we didn’t see anyone take him. I saw him this spring in a showcase tournament and was one the best players there. His skill translated from last year to this year and he got better and we knew at that point we needed to get him on our affiliate list.

Chase Priske, defenseman (Qunnipiac): He was another guy we had on our list for the Futures Draft. We cannot take everyone and we decided we could get him later and that’s what we did. We have a feeling that (Futures Draft picks) Mason Morelli and Michael Booth will make our club and there will be another open spot. We’ll move him over to the affiliates list. He’s from Florida originally and played at a new prep school program. He’s already committed to a school and it is time for him to grow and getting bigger and stronger.

Aaron Herdt, forward: Aaron is a local talent. He’s been out to skate with us on some practices and was a kid we wanted to keep our hands on. My feeling is his potential is just unknown. Has a really good skillset right now and we didn’t want to miss out on him and was excited just when we would call him and tell him to come to practice. We have a good relationship with Moorhead and felt we had to have him in our program.

On Herdt, a Moorhead native, possibly being the first Fargo-Moorhead kid to ever play for the Force: Yeah, that’s a big thing. I know we get criticized on why we don’t take more local kids and (critics) don’t understand what else is out there. He has the potential to make our hockey team one day. We’re excited to sit back and watch what he is going to do. There’s no real set idea on how good he can be. He’s a rink rat.  His grandpa (Moorhead Youth Arena manager Dennis Bushy) runs the rink over there and they gave him a key to the place.

Hudson Friesen, defenseman: That’s one John kind of threw in there. He coached against him. We had him on the board and leading up to the draft, when we started calling different college guys and different people, his name kept coming up form different guys. Guys with no vested interest other than they saw him play. First step is to get him to camp. He was excited when he called him.

Perry Holcombe, defenseman: Perry is another guy we’ve been on for a few years. He’scComing from a remote area (Georgia) where there is not a lot of hockey. That’s why he got out. He moved on to prep school and is just a guy that always made the national camps and had opporuntity to skate with us and practice and did pretty good. Sometimes kids come in a little bit nervous and he fit right in. He felt like was one of the guys when he was here. We were surprised he was still around at that point. When you look at needs we got a goalie and Pohlkamp and some guys we figured could get.

CJ Garcia, defenseman: CJ, I guess, the one player on the Don MIlls team I was looking at and as a result we also ended up drafting (Futures pick Sal Filice). As we moved on to this draft, he was still a guy we had interest in. They (Garcia and his family) are bartering back and forth between the NCAA and OHL route and that’s something a lot of Candaian kids do. CJ was drafted pretty high in that league. He was drafted by Barrie. We worked diligently talking with his adviser and figured we don’t have a 100 percent “No.” The way the USA Hockey and Hockey Canaida rules are, he could not come here next year and figured, let’s draft him and easiest way to convice him that we want him here is to draft him. He’s a high-end player whatever route he goes.

-Victor Bjorkung, defenseman (Maine): He’s a guy we really didn’t know about. Leading up to the draft we were making our phone calls to talk to people and his name came up. He’s a Maine commit and another player kind of similar to CJ with the different options. He has options in Europe to play pro hockey. He also wants a college education and got the scholarship to Maine and is on the fence on what to do. They are brought up one way over there and don’t know about the USHL. Its an education process and we want to show him that we like him. We want to get him over here and go from there. Unsure where he’s going to go and it is not a 100 percent “No” on coming over here. Now we’ve drafted him and kind of go from there. The later rounds is about getting flyer picks. You are sure they can play but not sure of the direction they are going. High-end skilled, power play type guy. Maine was excited we took him and they feel it would help bring him over here. He’s another guy who when we took him, a lot of teams said, “Whoa. That was a good one.”

Brett Boehm, forward (Minnesota-Duluth): We knew a litlte bit about him before he even committed form Duluth. It’s good to get a kid like this in our league. Not just to Fargo but for our league as a whole. That being kids deciding to go to the college route or going to play for soon-to-be former WCHA teams. They are going to play in our area in college so why don’t they play in our league and play for Fargo?

Where I’m Going…

Last night’s USHL Entry Draft and tonight’s Clark Cup Finals are the only items left before this season comes to an end.

It’s been a season which has seen quite a bit. Some good. Some bad.

Yet what you can’t help but look at is next season. Let’s rephrase that. You can’t help but look at what Sioux Falls will be next season.

Here’s a team which a month ago was finishing one of the worst seasons in franchise history finishing a dismal last in both the USHL and the Western Conference. It led to a myriad of changes including dismissing longtime head coach Kevin Hartzell.

But when you look at what’s happened since the firing, this already looks like a different team.

Sioux Falls went out and hired former North Dakota associate coach Cary Eades to become the team’s general manager and head coach. Getting Eades already put the Stampede in a position to make the playoffs in some minds.

And then throw in what happened yesterday during the Entry Draft.

Sioux Falls used the first pick to select Victory Honda forward Tony Calderone (Princeton), who dropped 65 points (38 goals, 27 assists) in 40 games. He was part of a blueprint which involved the team investing heavily at forward but getting strong pieces everywhere else like taking NTDP defenseman Gage Ausmus (Denver), who will join the team when he ages out of Ann Arbor.

Yet the biggest moves Eades made might have come before the draft. He traded for Cedar Rapids duo Dennis Kravchenko and Tom Forgione (both Vermont) giving him two players who certainly had their dominant moments last year.

Kravchenko, despite playing in 34 games, put up 21 points providing a much-needed shot in the arm for a RoughRiders team which nearly played themselves out of the playoffs. Forgione had 16 points in 40 games last season. And as we’ve seen, this is a league where second-year players make a significant adjustment.

It adds to what could be a promising situation with the Stampede returning up to 16 players with the biggest one being goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Lindgren, a former prep star in Minnesota, showed flashes of what made him so coveted at draft time a year ago.

Not many teams can boast having double-digit returners and the ones that do, usually make strides. Youngstown, which had 14 returning players to start this season, showed it can be done as it reached the second round of the playoffs.

When you think about it all, it’s almost the perfect storm for a team which was indeed shipwrecked not too long ago.

A new head coach with a track record of recruiting, drafting what might be one of the nation’s top midget players, trading for two experienced forwards, a roster full of returning pieces along with a Futures Draft which saw Sioux Falls take Cody Milan with its first pick makes for a pretty good mix.

It also is going make next season worth watching.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star…

Looks like area hockey fans could see Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer wearing black and blue after all.

It’ll just be the black and blue of the Lincoln Stars. Bitzer was taken by the Stars in the second round of the USHL Entry Draft this afternoon.

The Stars’ drafting Bitzer means the Moorhead star said he will spend next season with the Stars. Bitzer signed a tender with the now-Brookings, S.D. team in the NAHL and played part of the season with the team.

But by getting drafted by Lincoln, it very well means Bitzer could come in and start in the USHL, something not often guaranteed for first-year goaltenders.

Lincoln has been one of the USHL’s perennial powers and finished first in the Western Conference during the regular season. The Stars beat the Force in a best-of-five series en route to making the conference finals, where they lost to Waterloo.

Bitzer’s future has received quite a bit of interest after he had one of the more stellar seasons of any high school player in the United States.

The 5-10 Bitzer went 22-8 with a 1.80 goals against average, a .933 save percentage, seven shutouts and 750 saves.

He was practically flawless in Moorhead’s state tournament run, leading the team to an upset over title-favorite Eagan in a 4-0 win where he stopped more than 30 shots.

Bitzer allowed Moorhead to nearly hang on in the next round before losing to Hill-Murray in overtime, en route to finishing fourth the following day.

The tournament was a coming-out party for Bitzer who in 24 hours won a first-team all tournament selection nod, the Class 2A Herb Brooks Award, the Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s best senior goaltender and was named an Associated Press first-team selection.

Should he go the USHL route, he has a chance to emulate what has been some pretty lofty and successful company.

The Force drafted the 2010 Brimsek Award winner in Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), who this season set several franchise records and was named the USHL’s Co-Goaltender of the Year on Tuesday.

Omaha traded for the 2011 winner in Alex Lyon (Yale), who helped the Lancers finish second in the West during the regular season.

Boom Boom…

If the franchise records were not enough for Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), he received a little something extra on Tuesday.

Gothberg was named the USHL’s co-Goaltender of the Year with Green Bay’s Ryan McKay (Miami (Ohio)), becoming the second player in Fargo Force history to win the award. Former Force star Mike Lee, who recently signed a pro contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, was the first back in the 2008-09 season.

Gothberg, a Boston Bruins draft pick, enjoyed what might have been the best individual season in the Force’s four-year history. Gothberg went 26-16-4 with a 2.22 goals against average, a .921 save percentage and seven shutouts.

Gothberg was second in wins, second in GAA, first in save percentage and first in shutouts.

Add in the fact he set seven franchise records: most wins in a season, most wins in a career, lowest GAA in a season, lowest GAA in a career, most shutouts in a season, most shutouts in a career and highest save percentage in a season.

Winning the goaltender award caps what was a transitional year for Gothberg in many ways.

Gothberg came to the Force last season from Thief River Falls (MN-HS), where he won Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s best senior goaltender in addition to being drafted by the Force.

His first season had mixed results. As a backup, he won 14 games and actually set the franchise records for lowest GAA in a season and a career with a 2.23 GAA.

Despite the numbers, Gothberg was still susceptible to giving up soft goals and going through the complications that come with being a first-year player in the USHL.

Gothberg, while developing as a rookie, was also going through personal strife as his grandmother was suffering through illnesses, which later claimed her life over the summer.

Losing his grandmother, one of his biggest supporters, made Gothberg take a different approach to his life and his future as a hockey player. He abandoned old practices, such as playing video games, to do yoga in the hopes of getting flexible.

The tragedy also turned Gothberg into a leader on a team with several faces new to the USHL. Gothberg, who has been called the team’s “backbone” on several occasions, never showed visible frustration even when the Force lost 13 of its first 15 games to start the season.

When things began to turn around for the Force, Gothberg was at the center of it just like when he helped the team win nine games in a row. The winning streak was the longest in the USHL this season.

Gothberg helped the Force climb back into the Western Conference picture and finish fourth in the regular season. He helped the Force get back to the playoffs for a fourth straight season as they reached the second round.

His playoff performance was one of the better, having gone 3-3 with a  1.78 GAA and a .942 save percentage.

With his Force career over, he will enter North Dakota this fall, where he comes in as one of the jewels of a recruiting class that has been depleted by players opting for Major Junior.

Hometown Glory…

Add finding a forward for tonight’s USHL Entry Draft plans for the Force as Jonny Brodzinski said this morning he would not return to the team.

Brodzinski, instead, will be playing next season at St. Cloud State. He said in a text message he would be going to college. The 6-0, 185-pound former Blaine (MN-HS) star committed to St. Cloud State shortly after he joined the Force last season.

He becomes the seventh known player to leave the Force due to a college commitment and is the fourth forward to depart.

Brodzinski was used in a multitude of roles during his one-plus year tenure with the Force.

Under former Force coach Jason Herter, he was used as a winger on the second and third lines putting up five points in 10 games. Under John Marks, Brodzinski became a third-line player who took a more active role in his defensive game.

He scored 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 58 games which tied for third among Force players with most games played this season. Brodzinski was tied with Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth) while Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) and Taylor Richart, Brodzinski’s former high school teammate, played all 60 games.

Brodzinski and his line of Nate Arentz and Neal Goff were one of the Force’s strongest during the postseason playing a hybrid offensive/defense role, which got the team to the second-round for a tightly-contested series against the Lincoln Stars.

Back in February 2011, he came to the Force as a free agent signing as he led Blaine in scoring and to another Minnesota state hockey tournament. Following Blaine’s elimination, he and his family drove through blizzard-like conditions for him to make his Force debut and to get in the 10 games needed to stay protected for the following season.

His senior season and exposure with the Force resulted in Brodzinski being recruited by multiple schools including Bemidji State and Maine, which offered him a scholarship. He was also slated to visit with Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan before he committed to St. Cloud State.

Brodzinski’s father, Mike Sr., set numerous school records at St. Cloud State including most goals in a season.

Going to St. Cloud State adds to what is already a robust pipeline between the school and the Force. Former Force forwards Nick Oliver and Joe Rehkamp – a mid-season addition – played there along with former goaltender Mike Lee. Lee recently signed a contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Brodzinski will also be joined by former Force teammate and Omaha Lancers forward Jimmy Murray next season. It remains to be seen if former Force coach Steve Johnson will be at St. Cloud next season.

Mick Hatten of the St. Cloud Times recently reported Johnson was under strong consideration for an assistant opening at Nebraska-Omaha, another school with a Force pipeline.

Brodzinski’s decision comes a day after his younger brother, Michael (Minnesota), had a successful operation to remove a tumor. Brodzinski posted a photo of his brother via Twitter, which showed bandaging around his head.

Michael Brodzinski led Blaine to another state tournament appearance this year and afterward, came to the USHL where he played with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. He played in three games with the Lumberjacks picking up one point.

“He’s doing great,” Brodzinski said in the text about his brother.