Fancy Footwork…

For now, at least, it appears there could be some familiar names who have a shot at representing Team USA at one of the world’s most premier tournaments.

Recently former Fargo Force captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and former teammate and current Western Michigan star Garrett Haar were invited to Team USA’s evaluation camp in August at Lake Placid, N.Y.

The list, which features more than 40 players, was released by USA Hockey this morning.

Cooper was part of a roster which featured a numerous amount of USHL based players while Haar was just one of quite a few players already playing college hockey to make the list.

What’s on the line for both Cooper and Haar is a chance at playing in the IIHF U-20 World Championships, which by all purposes is the largest and most premier amateur tournament in the world.

It also ranks as one of the more important tournaments in all of world hockey on any level.

The tournament has seen current NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews make their mark and really announce themselves to a hockey world who may not have followed their previous hockey accomplishments.

Cooper, 18, just finished his third and final year with the Force having led the team to a second-round playoff appearance. He also stands a strong chance at being taken on Saturday at the NHL Draft.

Force coach John Marks, a former No. 1 selection back in the 1960s, recently told NHL.com he expects Cooper could go in the third round. Projections have called for Cooper to go anywhere between the second and fourth rounds

Cooper was invited to Team USA’s camp last season where he was among the youngest players to receive an invite. Though he was one of the first players to be cut, he described it as a good experience which prepared him for any future possible chances he’d have with the national team.

Haar, 18, just finished his first season at Western Michigan, where he helped the program win a conference title and have one of the best seasons in school history

It was this time a year ago when Haar started to gain more visibility. Following his first season in Fargo, Haar impressed in the playoffs and was taken by the Capitals in the seventh round of last season’s draft making him the only Force player to be taken.

Haar went into the Capitals evaluation camp where he was declared to by the “surprise of the camp” by general manager George McPhee. Haar was set to return to Fargo after decommitting from Northeastern, a day after he was drafted.

Weeks before the Force’s pre-season camp, he was offered a scholarship by Western Michigan.

Vitamins…

Today is the first day college coaches are able to call players born in 1996 and to no surprise, Mason Morelli has received quite a bit of interest.

Fargo Force assistant and director of player personnel Jesse Davis said this afternoon numerous college coaches asked for Morelli’s phone number so they could gauge his interest.

“It’s all across the board,” Davis said about the geographic range of schools interested in Morelli. “We had a lot of schools at our camp and from all different areas and we also had close to 50 college coaches at our tryouts. There have been WCHA schools, guys from out East and everyone else trying to get a hand in there to see where he is leaning. Is he Ivy League? Will he come out east? Will he play in the Big Ten? That’s why today is big for the college level and now they’ve seen his talent level and they want to see if they can get him in school.”

Davis declined to name specific schools when he was asked if the University of North Dakota did enquirer about Morelli. He said “it wasn’t a hidden secret” there is interest in Morelli.

Morelli will feature in the team’s plans next year having made what was certainly one of the biggest jumps of any player prior to the USHL Futures Draft a few months ago.

The Minot, N.D. native was on the Force’s radar and the team appeared to be set to take him without what could have been much opposition. It is until Morelli messed up those plans by scoring a hat trick in the opening game at the futures combine.

It resulted in his stock increasing and on draft day, the Force traded up to No. 3 to get him.

At 16 years old, he played both high school and junior hockey last season further showing he could be able to handle the demands that come with junior hockey.

Morelli has previously said he would like to play at UND given his grandfather, Reg, scored the game-winning goal in the team’s 1959 title season over Michigan State in the national championship game. His father also played at UND.

Davis said Morelli is one of the many 1996-born Force players colleges have called about today.

One thing Davis has reminded his players is that for now, it is interest and there should be no rush to make a decision.

“We tell them it is not a sprint right now,” he said. “That it is more of a marathon and you have to finish high school and take your time with it.”

Davis cited current forward Dave Gust (Ohio State) as an example.

Gust exploded onto the scene last season following a mid-year call up and his 30-point season resulted in the Force having a No. 1 line which helped them reach the second round of the playoffs.

Gust was a commodity throughout the season but took his time and committed to Ohio State just a few weeks ago.

“We’ve told our kids to do their homework,” he said. “And if they could get some visits in, that’s even better. It is their choice, not anyone else’s.”

Guns Are Drawn, Part II…

Tuesday was Part I of our interview with now-former Force captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha).

Cooper talked about the NHL Combine, the interviews he had with specific teams and how he managed to get it all done so he could return to Fargo for his high school graduation a day later.

In Part II, Cooper discusses the way the season went and what exactly went wrong in the Force’s playoff run which ended in the second round to the Lincoln Stars.

 

Q: Looking back, how would you describe the season?

Cooper: It was a good run. I was sitting with the coaches when they were chatting and Marksy said Lincoln was a worse match-up for us and Waterloo was a worse match up for Lincoln. We came together and played well and you cannot beat a team like Lincoln with a line-and-a half. That’s playoff hockey but look who showed up.The Guertler-Iafallo-Gust Line did really well and and surprisingly the Arentz-Brodzinski-Goff line did well. Then Zane, you knew he was going to show up. With the defense, myself, Wade, T-Bone, Willie, Roc all played hard and put in a lot of minutes. Fleming, who is a Swiss Army knife, did everything. We put him up at forward and then he went back to defense. We just didn’t have enough firepower. Lincoln has huge meatstick defensemen and they have a good goalie, two good lines who could put the puck in the net and there was not enough team toughness where as Waterloo, three lines, a good defensemen and on home ice can beat anyone wide. The guys who showed up held there own.

 

Q: What is your favorite memory from this past season?

A: I think we had a lot of laughs. Maybe (Cooper’s favorite moment was) just the life of the team when were on a nine-game winning streak, Coach was happy, we were happy and were just coming together and it was finally going well for us. Just the atmosphere. We had short, quick practices and everyone was having fun. Just seeing everyone together and no one was getting mad or fighting with each other and as a team, we were just happy and having fun playing hockey. Its what makes you want to play the sport. Going through rough patches and then having a winning streak. It was a relief off everyone’s shoulders and we were playing the way Marks, Byron and Jesse wanted us to play.

 

Q: Finally, what else have you been up to lately? Plus, where will you be during the NHL Draft and do you have anything special planned?

A: I went down to visit Omaha a couple weeks ago. It was whenever Nickelback was at the Fargodome. I got classes organized and visited the medical center and got everything down with my major, what route and I am still putting some pieces together. I think I’ll be in Fargo when draft is going on. I’ve thought about playing golf while it’s going on. I’ve told a few people I was probably going to have my phone off during the draft but my adviser told me it wasn’t a good idea in case a team wanted to call me and say they were drafting me.

Guns Are Drawn…

It’s a little slow this time of year and with it comes a chance to catch up with a few people.

Here’s Part I of an interview I did with Force defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), who is undergoing what might be one of the most important months of his life.

Cooper was at the NHL Combine in Toronto where he was poked and prodded for the upcoming NHL Draft, which is next Friday in Pittsburgh, Pa. Here’s what Cooper had to say about his time at the combine.

 

Q: What was the NHL Combine like in terms of the interviews and the physical workouts?

Cooper: You know the interviews were a little nerve-racking. Not like talking to scouts one-on-one. Tampa had two guys. Boston and New Jersey had 10 guys in there. You have to keep going. One question can screw you up. I didn’t have any weird questions. I had some relax conversations. Chicago was the most relaxed interview and it was a nice surprise from the other ones. I am a big question mark and I know teams don’t want to waste time with silly questions. They were pretty straight forward. It was nerve-racking because you don’t want to say anything stupid and show nervousness. I texted (Force assistant Byron Pool) and he said,  ‘Just be confident. That’s one of your biggest assets.’ That’s reassured me.”

Q: How did you think you did during the physical portion of the combine?

Cooper: Pretty good. I think I surprised guys for how big I am. Held my own for bench and push ups and I knew I wasn’t going to win the wingspan (Cooper is 5-9). Phil worked me and (forward Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth)) twice a week but it was not to stay in shape. We were missing key components and we did workouts to get you get ready for testing. Not the way you want to work out to get ready for the season. Did some bike, sit ups, bench explosive stuff with. Iafallo has Buffalo’s camp to go to. I was confident going into push ups and bench. I was disappointed in bench. You don’t want to say take it easy on bench or take it easy on push ups. You want to do good on push-ups. I did good. I thought I had 11 but I had 10 and that was disappointing. Results were on line and I looked through them and they don’t show unless you make Top 10. I was in Top 10 for push-pull. I was in the Top 10 for push per pound for my size. I was in Top 10 for the vertical with pause at the bottom. I did OK in the chest throw. That’s an awkward one and it helps if you have long arms. Bike, I was surprised I held my own. This is all at 9 a.m. if that. It started at 8:30 and you are there at 7:30 for medical testing. Subway’s steak, eggs and bacon doesn’t do you too much. The bikes are all of what they were hyped to be, they sucked.

 

Q: You got to Toronto for the combine on Friday, did the combine on Saturday and graduated from Fargo North on Sunday. How did it all work?

Cooper: I was back by 7 p.m. (on Saturday) and I missed rehearsal but doing National Honor Society last year, I knew the routine. It was a big huge relief after the whole testing and I felt like crap. The big joke was not biking for another month/year. It was a different kind of thing. I like to keep hockey and school separate and then you have a train wreck with both, school drops and then hockey drops.  I am pretty good at handling and keeping them separate. Graduation wasn’t stressful. Just walk across, smile and listen to the speakers. It was nice because (Force forward Nate Arentz)’ billets put on a graduation party and got to say hi to them and Nate’s family. And there were a couple other grad parties. It was a semi-busy day.

 

Q: You were named the USHL’s Scholar Athlete of the Year. Were you surprised you win the award or did you expect it?

Cooper: I don’t follow awards really. I read about it and I thought I should have got it last year. Its nice to get recognition for hard work and dealing with three years of high school, three years of junior hockey, three different coaches and the longest bus trips other than maybe Tri-City or Youngstown.

Nothin’ On You…

Turns out the chat between Miami (Ohio) and Taylor Richart turned out to be a good one after all.

Richart committed to Miami on Friday and will be at the school for the fall bringing his tenure with the Force to an end after one season, which was certainly successful.

He was only one of two players to play all of the team’s 60 games last season and put up an offensive punch every now and again by scoring 16 points. Richart burst onto the scene picking up the league’s defenseman of the week award to open the season.

Richart might not have put up the numbers as he did finish outside the Top 25 among defensemen in points. Yet what he did do was give the Force a defenseman comfortable enough to play in every scenario.

The 5-9, 160 pound Richart was part of a power play and a penalty kill which finished in the Top 5 last season helping the Force overcome a torrid start to end the season in fourth heading into the playoffs.

Richart to Miami started to really generate momentum after the Force’s tryout camp, which was held last week here in the Minneapolis area. Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis addressed the rumors Richart committed right after camp stating both Richart and Miami were seen talking to each other in the lobby of the rink where the camp was held.

His departure now means the Force have lost two players for next season who could have come back. Forward Jonny Brodzinski, who played at Blaine (MN-HS) with Richart, said weeks ago he will play next season at St. Cloud State.

Richart’s departure also means the Force’s defense will have a bit of a different look. He becomes the third defenseman to leave the team meaning Justin Wade (Notre Dame), will be the team’s only Top 4 returning defenseman.

It appears, at least for now, Wade will be joined by fellow returners Neal Goff, Taylor Fleming and Dominic Racobaldo. Defenseman David Mead’s future with the team is in flux after he was one of four Force players selected in the NAHL Draft.

Assuming the Force only return four defensemen, the team does have its options. Tender signee Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan) will be on the roster next year as league rules require the Force to dress him in a specific amount of games.

Though the Force do have plenty of options. Entry draft pick Charles Hemstrom appears to be one of the players the Force will rely upon to fill that void. Hemstrom spent last season in the NAHL and was a plus-19 in 38 games last season. Davis hinted weeks ago Hemstrom will make the team  when he said Hemstrom fit the one of the needs the Force would have for the 2012-13 season.

Another option could be another entry draft pick Victor Bjorkung (Maine), who is also weighing offers to turn professional in his native Sweden.

This also means there’s a stronger chance both Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota) and Dante Suffredini among others could be included in the team’s plans for next season.

Pelnik, who at 6-4 and 185 pounds, might have been the team’s most vaunted prospect for the entire year. He committed to North Dakota at 15 becoming the first person from North Carolina to do so.

It was expected for Pelnik to play for the Force last season but he spent the season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN-HS) to further his development.

Suffredini, however, spent last season at Detroit Honeybaked playing midgets.

Brain…

So far the latest not-so-shocking news with the Force is captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) was named the USHL’s Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Cooper, 18, practically held a 4.0 grade point average while he was here in Fargo and finished with a 3.9 GPA. He graduated from Fargo South last weekend as a member of the school’s National Honor Society.

Per a release from the USHL, Cooper won the award based on his grade point average, coursework and overall school participation.

Cooper, the release said, took classes in pre-calculus, psychology, advanced math, physics, English, government and forensics. He was also named of one of South’s “students of the month.”

He pulled this off in one of what was easily one of the more demanding years an individual Force player could have had.

Cooper, who is eligible for the NHL Draft, was heading into his third year with the Force. He was named captain and led a group which featured 13 first-year players and guided them to a fourth-place finish after losing 13 of their first 15 to start the season.

Though he didn’t have the offensive outburst many expected, he scored 24 points (6 goals, 18 assists) in 55 games, tying a career-high in games he’s had with the Force. In the playoffs, he had three points in six games. He also marshaled a defense which ranked third on the penalty kill, a year after it was ranked eighth.

In addition to all that, he represented and captained Team USA at the World Junior “A” Challenge in British Columbia leading the team to a bronze medal.

He recently completed the NHL Combine in Toronto further cementing the chances he will be taken this summer.

Cooper has said in previous interviews his goal, should hockey not work out, is to attend Creighton University and become a doctor.

Winning the award wraps up what has been a trophy-case heavy season for the Force. Cooper and goaltender Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) were named to the all-USHL team last week. Gothberg was a first-team selection while Cooper was a second-team choice.

Gothberg was also named the league’s co-Goaltender of the Year with Green Bay’s Ryan McKay (Miami (Ohio).

Game of Thrones…

In case you haven’t heard, former Force coach Steve Johnson has left St. Cloud State to become an assistant at Nebraska-Omaha.

Johnson’s departure was not a shocker given his ties to UNO coach Dean Blais, who coached Johnson at North Dakota back in the 1980s.

Of course this is just the latest notch in what has become an extremely formidable pipeline involving the Force and Nebraska-Omaha. Think we’re kidding? Just take a look at the following parties.

Dean Blais: He’s the head honcho at UNO and former Force coach. When Blais was the coach here, Johnson was one of his assistants. Once he left the Force, Johnson replaced him here in town. Then of course, as an assistant position opens up at UNO, surprise, surprise, in comes Johnson. That and Blais is still a part-owner of the Force.

Steve Johnson: As mentioned earlier, he was a Force assistant, then Force head coach and now he’s going to work for Blais again. Not only does Johnson have ties to Blais but his family has ties to Nebraska. He was the longtime coach of the Lincoln Stars before coming to the Force. His brother, Chad, is the team’s current head coach and Johnson’s son, Luke (North Dakota), is one of the team’s star forwards.

Johnnie Searfoss: He, to our knowledge, was the first Force player or player with Force ties to play for Blais at Nebraska-Omaha. Searfoss spent two years in Fargo and just completed his sophomore season under Blais.

Ryan Massa: Before Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) turned into a one-man wrecking crew, there was Massa. He was the answer to the post-Mike Lee crisis for the Force in net. He led the Force to a Clark Cup Finals in his first season and in his second season, guided the team to a second-round playoff appearance. Massa just finished his first year at UNO.

Tanner Lane: A former Minnesota high school scoring champ, he was much vaunted upon his Force arrival. Lane never lived up to expectations in Fargo and was traded to Omaha where he flourished. He had more points (32) in his 48 games with Omaha than he did in his 69 games with the Force (22). Lane, a Winnipeg Jets prospect, will be at Nebraska-Omaha next season.

Brian Cooper: Cooper has said on previous occasions how much he respected Johnson and Blais for bringing him into the fold in Fargo. It appears those three will get more time together. Cooper just recently finished his time at the NHL Combine. He’ll more than likely be taken in this year’s NHL Draft before heading off to college.

 

Work Hard Play Hard…

It’s becoming clear the Force’s roster plans are getting murky.

The last week has seen the Force’s roster, which was set to return up to 16 players, undergo potential changes which could give the team a bit of a different and younger look for next season.

It appears the Force could lose up to five players from the 2011-12 team heading into next year.

Forward Pavel Zykov was drafted in the second round of the KHL Amateur Draft less than a week ago by Metallurg, the program which produced Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin. Zykov was also one of four Force players drafted in last week’s NAHL Draft.

Defenseman David Mead along with forwards Nick Stoskopf and Stanislav Dzakhov were also taken in the NAHL Draft.

The Force already lost forward Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State) to college after he’d been teetering back and forth between school and staying another year with the team.

“We’re in a situation where we can only have four (1992-born) players on our roster for next season,” said Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis. “We have some guys who are on the fence for next year.”

Davis said its a situation which is up in the air right now and final plans will not be determined until later.

Whether or not those players will return becomes even more of a question considering none of them were at the Force’s tryout camp, which was held in the Minneapolis area over the weekend.

Davis said last week in a text message Zykov was back in Russia making it unlikely he would fly back for the team’s camp regardless.

As for Dzakhov, Mead and Stoskopf, not being at camp isn’t exactly damning. Last season, defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), was not at the team’s camp as he was back home in Alaska.

Twelve players expected to return for next season’s team were present at the camp.

The only notable absentee from Sunday’s all-star game was forward Nate Arentz, who was a senior this year at Fargo South which held its graduation ceremonies on Sunday.

If the departures were to occur, it means there are five potential openings the Force have and plenty of options to choose from.

Affiliates list forwards Brendan Harms (Bemidji State), Zach Doerring and Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) are just a few of the forwards the team could rely upon to fill the gap next year. Davis also said following the USHL Draft, incoming forwards Matt Pohlkamp (Bowling Green) and Futures picks Mason Morelli and Michael Booth are expected to make the team next season.

That’s not including if the Force find favor in a forward who they didn’t draft similar to the way they did with Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota), who came out of nowhere to become one of the team’s best players.

Defensively, the Force would return five defensemen and will already have Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan) coming into the fold. Similar to their forwards, the Force have a number of options off the affiliates list such as Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota), Dante Suffredini or any one of the players they took in the Entry Draft.

Davis said he was pleased with how the camp went as they saw some promising performances from their Futures Draft players.

It also appeared to be a good camp for defenseman Taylor Richart, who spoke with Miami (Ohio), Davis said. Davis acknowledged the rumors of Richart accepting a scholarship with the school, but said that isn’t true.

Richart, who played at Blaine (MN-HS) with Brodzinski, only played one season with the Force after coming over from Aberdeen (NAHL). He put up 16 points for the Force and was one of two players to play in all 60 games during the regular season.

Miami recently lost NTDP defenseman Patrick Sieloff, who opted to play next season with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League.

“He hasn’t accepted anything from them,” Davis said. “I think what it was, was people saw him talking with Miami in the lobby.”

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).