Because gearing up for a playoff run isn’t enough.
Tuning up for the playoffs has been a focal point at Fargo Force practices lately. Practices have also been used as a bit of a tryout camp for players the Force either have on their affiliates list or they are looking at drafting in the upcoming USHL drafts.
“We’ve had guys who’ve been are on Spring Break at school and they’ll fly or drive out for a few days,” said Force assistant and chief scout Jesse Davis.
Quite a few players have practiced with the Force with the most notable being former Duluth East forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) and former St. Thomas Academy defenseman Eric Schurhamer (Maine). Both Toninato and Schurhamer were finalists for the state’s Mr. Hockey award.
Toninato, who is on the Force’s affiliate list, has already played a few games with the team and will play again this weekend, Davis said.
As for Schurhamer, he’s in a bit of a different situation. He’s a two-time Minnesota state champion with a college commitment who just doesn’t have a place to play junior hockey for next season.
“I just want to find a home where I can play and find coaches that will develop me so I can go on to the next level,” said Schurhamer, who also played high school hockey with Force defenseman Taylor Fleming. “I just want to out there and prove myself too.”
Schurhamer admitted playing against stronger and faster competition is certainly a change compared to what he’s used to seeing.
He’s not the only one. Many of the players the Force have had at practice have played high school hockey or midget hockey, which usually doesn’t feature the size and speed seen in junior hockey.
“Going into it people you know are a committed kid,” Schurhamer said. “It could put you up in the ranks a little bit higher above other kids. You are still really driven to get to the next level and for me, it’s like having a target on my back so I strive to be better in tryouts.”
Schurhamer said he had a tryout with the Chicago Steel but his only other USHL tryout, for now, has been with the Force.
He added he’d like to play in Fargo given how close it is to where his family lives in the Twin Cities.
Something says he might not be the only one. The team’s practice on Thursday featured quite a few players from Minnesota including Blaine forward Tyler Cline and Totino-Grace’s Kai Barber.
If Cline were to come to Fargo, he’d be the latest extension in what has become a mini-pipeline between the Force and the Bengals. Current Force players Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State) and Taylor Richart played at Blaine where Richart’s dad is an assistant coach. Cline, a sophomore, scored 33 points in 25 games for Blaine last season.
As for Barber, he was a member of a Totino-Grace team which fell to Schurhamer and St. Thomas Academy by a goal in the section finals.The 5-10, 195-pound Barber played varsity as a sophomore last season with five points in 22 games.
Should Barber get drafted and come to the team, he’d add to a list that could have some famous family members.
Barber, Davis said, is the nephew of former NFL running back and Minnesota star Marion Barber. Barber did play football at Totino-Grace this season rushing 32 times for 162 yards in two touchdowns over six regular season games while catching 13 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown.
Then there is Toninato – the godson of NHL Hall of Famer Brett Hull, who played hockey with Toninato’s father at Minnesota-Duluth.
“We’re happy with the guys we’ve had here at camp,” Davis said. “In practice when we run our power play and penalty kill, our guys know what to expect against each other. These guys don’t so it’s good to have that this late in the year.”