Quite a few things can be taken away from the Force’s first-round sweep over the Sioux City Musketeers.
There’s no denying that if the Force can continue what they did in the third period of Game 2, this could be a team that could challenge for the Western Conference title.
But before we look ahead, let’s look back. As in, let’s look back at the three Force players who made a big difference in the first-round sweep and what they could do later down the road.
3. Neal Goff, defenseman/forward: As its been written about quite a bit on this blog, there was mystery into who would play alongside Nate Arentz and Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State) on the third line. Goff won the role and certainly sparkled. He used Game 1 to get comfortable in the role giving the Force a defensive-minded, shutdown line which certainly did its job in a 2-1 overtime victory. Goff stepped it up on offense in Game 2 adding a few more shots including one move where he worked his way around the defense to get a shot on net. As the Force started flexing its muscle, he played a little bit more at defense showing his versatility. Force coach John Marks said last night he liked what he’s seen from Goff in this series and that he should be a vital piece to next season’s team.
2. Zane Gothberg, goaltender (North Dakota): Before this goes any further, we’d like to announce the following: Zane Gothberg really is the best goaltender in the USHL and he showed it in this series. Gothberg went 2-0 with a 0.98 goals against average and a .964 save percentage. There just never seemed to be a moment where Gothberg appeared be rattled and/or taxed for that matter. We’ve gone into great detail about his regular season but let’s re-hash it again. He went 26-16-7 with a 2.22 GAA, a .921 save percentage and seven shutouts. All he did was set the franchise records for: Most wins in a career; Most wins in a season; Lowest GAA in a season (a record he held from last year); Lowest GAA in a career; Highest save percentage in a season; Most shutouts in a season and finally, yes, finally Most shutouts in a year. Marks has told us repeatedly the Boston Bruins, which drafted Gothberg, are extremely high on him. Let’s go ahead and open this debate because we really want to see the opinion here. But is it fair to ask: Is Zane Gothberg the best player in franchise history? It looks like he could be.
1. Gabe Guertler, forward (Minnesota): Guertler might have not only been the team’s most consistent forward but he might have been the team’s most consistent player. Guertler had the kind of series where it felt like he tried to generate something every time he was on the ice. His first shift opened with him scoring a goal less than a minute into the game for a 1-0 lead. Guertler and the rest of The Musical went on to generate decent scoring chances that just got stopped by Sioux City’s Matt Skoff (Penn State), a goalie who has won at least 20 games a year over the last three seasons. Guertler didn’t look different in Game 2 creating chances but also getting physical when he needed to picking up four penalty minutes. Like Marks pointed out in a story we did on The Musical in Monday’s Forum, Guertler believes he’s 6-2 but he’s really 5-9. His strongest period of the series came in the third when he set up Dave Gust for two goals. Guertler’s finest feed came when he flew down the right wing, slowed the pace, was left by himself on the wing and then found a trailing Gust for a goal and what was a 5-1 lead. Marks labeled Guertler as one of the best competitors in the league and he’s still only 16 years old. Remember. It was this time about a year ago when the Force drafted Guertler second overall in the USHL Futures Draft. At the time, someone asked us on Twitter if we’d have a Taylor (Cammarata) vs. Gabe scenario at some point in the season. Cammarata (Minnesota) certainly won the regular season battle scoring 69 points in 60 games for the Waterloo Black Hawks, which is unheard of for a 16-year-old. Guertler scored 28 points in 57 games, which isn’t bad either. But with both players having three points and leading their respective teams in the playoffs, it seems like the Taylor vs. Gabe debate could be an interesting post-season topic.