This isn’t like Fargo. This isn’t the USHL. This is the season that almost didn’t happen.
Yet this is the experience Garrett Haar wanted.
Haar, 18, finds himself barely a year removed from the Force playing in the NCAA Hockey Tournament where he and Western Michigan will face North Dakota on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
“It is awesome being here and I cannot say better things about Western Michigan,” Haar said. “I am 100 percent happy about the decision I made and I am glad that I have three more years left after this.”
His first-ever college postseason comes eight months after he played a summer-long game of chicken between playing in college or staying in the USHL for another season. This all came with a summer that started off with Haar being drafted by the Washington Capitals in the seventh round and weeks later being declared “the surprise of camp” by general manager George McPhee.
The Huntington Beach, Calif. native chose Western Michigan and its has turned out to be a move which is working out. Haar scored seven points playing in 33 games this season helping the Broncos win the CCHA title and answered whatever questions there may have been coming into the season.
Haar said he and his teammates heard people pondering aloud in regards to Western Michigan being able to replicate last season’s successful campaign after head coach Jeff Blashill left to become an assisant with the Detroit Red Wings.
In a sense, Haar was one of those doubters. He was offered a spot at WMU but initially declined because the program didn’t have a head coach in place yet he changed his mind when it hired former NHL coach Andy Murray.
Hiring Murray helped Haar change his mind and in turn, change some opinions regarding Western Michigan.
“I mean from the beginning of the season, this was our goal,” Haar said about making the NCAA Tournament. “People didn’t have expectations for us and they were pumping up other teams. We were off in the shadows and we were happy with that. I knew we’d be here.”
Haar emphasizes the environment around the program is one of the reasons why this season has generated success.
He said Lawson Arena has been packed this season and it has the kind of atmosphere where fans are right on top of the ice giving the Broncos a bit of a home ice advantage.
Speaking of, it appears the Bronco student body has a large part in that.
“Cool thing about college hockey is the fans but also your classmates,” Haar said. “Having 1,500 of your classmates cheer you on is awesome.”
Another facet of the environment, Haar said, is assistant coach Pat Ferschweiler.
Ferschweiler, who works primarly with the defensemen, had Haar in midget hockey with the Russel Stover’s program based in Overland Park, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City.
Haar, at first, was a bit sheepish about giving Ferschweiler praise in the fear of potentially disrespecting other coaches he’s had. But when he was made aware of what former Force captain and current teammate, Luke Witkowski, said about Ferschweiler, he let out his opinion.
“He’s the smartest coach I’ve ever worked with,” Haar said. “All the way down to the details. I am excited to work with him. He’s not only helped me but he’s helped our defense, which I think is one of the best in college hockey.”