Around here having an off-season where the Fargo Force have to hire a new coach is pretty much routine.
So is having to retool the roster in the hopes of another playoff run.
Yet something which hadn’t been seen around here is the saga that was defenseman Garrett Haar. Haar, 18, came to the Force as a bit of an unknown and was really known more for being from California and being committed to Northeastern.
Haar, in the course of a season, went from obscurity to constantly in the limelight after he was drafted by the Washington Capitals, which changed everything and that’s why he’s the Fargo Force Story of the Year.
FROM THE BEGINNING
Haar was drafted by the Force in 2009 out of the Russell Stover system in Kansas City, Mo. and came to the team in 2010 under then-Force coach Jason Herter, who also coached Haar with the midget team. He was also coached by Pat Ferschweiler, who is now an assistant at Western Michigan.
Before coming to Fargo he spent the off-season back home in Huntington Beach, Calif. where he got a chance to work out with NHL stars such as Bobby Ryan, Shawn Horcoff and Sheldon Souray.
They all told Haar the most important thing he could do before coming to Fargo was to “know his role.”
It took time for Haar to adjust to the league but he really came alive in November scoring three points in a 8-3 win over Waterloo, which was known more for being a game with both teams combining for more than 200-plus penalty minutes.
“I felt like that game we came together and my teammates said it was the best game they’ve seen me play,” Haar said earlier this year. “That really helped me gain confidence and turn around my season.”
Haar finished the season with 7 goals and 16 assists in 51 games helping the Force reach their third consecutive playoff appearance. It was in the playoffs where Haar really started to take off.
In the Force’s five playoff games, Haar might have been the team’s most consistent player.
He had three points in the playoffs and gave the Force another offensive-minded, puck-moving defenseman.
Haar had already been on a few NHL watchlists, but his strong playoff performance is what led scouts to say he would be taken by a team in the NHL Draft in June.
“Garrett’s the kind of guy who can make up or jump up into a play,” said then-Force captain and Air Force forward Chad Demers. “He’s got good speed and he’s making things happen. This time of year you need guys to step up and Garrett Haar did that for us.”
SUMMER OF LOVE
Days before the draft, a few NHL teams let Haar know they were interested in him and he could be taken anywhere between the fourth and seventh round.
One of those NHL teams, the Chicago Blackhawks, let Haar know Northeastern coach Greg Cronin resigned from the team to become an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I got a call from the Blackhawks and they asked if I was leaving Northeastern because they told me he was leaving,” said Haar, who had committed to Northeastern in 2010. “I told them I am waiting for my adviser to call me and we’re going to talk about it.”
With one part of his hockey future up in the air, Haar watched Day 2 of the draft wondering when or if his name was going to be called.
It reached a point where he opted to play “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” with his brother instead of watching the draft. Then came the seventh round and a phone call from his adviser.
Haar was the newest member of the Washington Capitals organization.
“When he said that I got selected by the Caps I ran downstairs and yelled, ‘Mom, Dad, I got drafted,’” Haar said about 10 minutes after he was drafted. “To be selected is great and I am really humbled to have this experience.”
A day later, Haar decommitted from Northeastern.
He had a list of five schools he wanted to play college hockey at in the hopes of furthering his development.
Haar got the chance to see where he was at when he went to the Capitals development camp where he stole the show and was dubbed by general manager George McPhee as the “surprise of the camp.”
McPhee was so impressed with Haar he look at trying to get him into college for the 2011-12 season and called Boston College coach Jerry York. Ultimately, there was no room for Haar at Boston College.
He was offered scholarships by Western Michigan and UMass-Lowell but declined the offers at the time.
That’s when Haar decided he was going to return to Fargo for one more season before playing college hockey.
“I wanted to come back and I wanted to do it for my development,” Haar said in late July, about two weeks before the Force began training camp. “It will help me hockey-wise, taking a year off from school and focusing on hockey will be good for me.”
Western Michigan, at the time it offered Haar, was without a coach as Jeff Blashill left the program to become an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings. Weeks after Haar said no, the team hired former Los Angeles Kings coach Andy Murray to take over the program.
Murray and his staff, which included Ferschweiler, invited Haar out to Kalamazoo, Mich. take a campus visit. Haar liked what he saw and then signed his National Letter of Intent to play for the Broncos for the 2011-12 season meaning his time in Fargo was over.
Haar’s decision was met with disappointment by the Force. Instead of telling the team over the phone about his decision, Haar used his Twitter account to inform everyone he was going to Western Michigan.
Force head coach John Marks and assistant Byron Pool were notified by The Forum about Haar’s choice.
“We’re disappointed to hear that he’s leaving us and a little disappointed that we’re the last people to know,” Marks said at the time. “(The Forum) had an article in the paper what was it, a few days ago, about him coming back to Fargo and knowing that he’s not quite ready. He said it himself.”
A day later, Haar talked about why he made the decision to attend Western Michigan while addressing the Twitter situation.
“Obviously, the Force feel let down and there’s nothing I can do anymore,” Haar said. “I talked to (other Force players) and they’re not mad. They still support me on what I am doing and I’m not really sure what to say.”
It can be debated what the Force would look like this season if they had Haar.
They would have had an experienced defenseman capable of changing a game and perhaps it could have helped them avoid a slow start resulting in the team losing 13 out of 15 games at one point.
The Force have picked things up recently having won four of their last six games and sit in sixth place in the USHL’s Western Conference.
Haar, on the other hand, is having a solid year. He has four points in 10 games with the Broncos and has already made an impact. He scored in his opening game and following his performance against Alaska, was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week.
His play has helped Western Michigan climb to No. 8 in the college rankings this season.
“Being comfortable with (Ferschweiler) definitely helped a lot,” Haar told the Kalamazoo Gazette (Mich). “Right after I decommitted, I called him and told him what happened. (Ferschweiler) said, ‘We’d love to get you up to Western.”
The situation with Haar not immediately telling the Force has been used as a teaching tool, said Scheels Arena general manager Jon Kram.
Kram said the team’s staff sat down with the players at the start of the season to show them the importance of what they say and do.
He said this year’s group of players have responded well.
“We use this an example to say this is no one’s fault but how something like this can happen,” Kram said. “People are watching them and more than they think and a decision can impact quite a few people.”