All Around The World…

Fargo Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis said defenseman Victor Bjorkung (Maine) will play with the team next season.

Bjorkung, 19, was a late-round selection last month in the USHL Entry Draft.

“We just offered him last week and he’s coming for sure,” Davis said. “He had to work on getting his visa and stuff like that. He got everything in place and booked his plane tickets and he’s coming to play in our league. The rumors that he was looking at other options are pretty much all done.”

Bjorkung has spent three of his last four seasons playing with the Djurgarden program in his native Sweden. He also spent a season with Malmo. He played 42 games last season scoring 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists) for the U-20 team. In the 2010-11 season, he split time between Djugarden’s U-18 Elite Team, the program’s U-18 Allsvenskan and one game in the Super Elite league.

Between the three leagues, he scored 27 points in 38 games. Altogether, he played in 120 games scoring 77 points during his time in Sweden.

Davis previously said leading up to the draft the team hadn’t heard about Bjorkung but kept hearing his name come up from various parties.

Those same parties told Davis that Bjorkung had accepted a scholarship to play at Maine but was also weighing options to play professionally back in Sweden. It is why the Force took him in the later rounds and it’s what Davis called taking a pick on a player whose still sorting over their future.

“He’s all set to come over and we spoke with his father,” Davis said. “Now they’re just trying to figure out what to bring over. I just told them to pack some warm clothes.”

Bjorkung has been described as a, “high-end, skilled defenseman” at the time the Force took him in the draft. The plan would be for Bjorkung to play on the power play, which was one of the best in the entire USHL last season.

Getting the 6-foot, 174-pound Bjorkung could also help make up for the losses the Force’s blueline have suffered this off-season. The Force were already losing Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) and potential second-round selection Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) to college for next season.

Shortly after training camp, the team lost Taylor Richart who accepted a scholarship from Miami (Ohio), where he will be playing next season.

It leaves the Force with at least four defensemen expected to return from last year’s team in Justin Wade (Notre Dame), Dominic Racobaldo, Neal Goff and Taylor Fleming. Defenseman David Mead’s future is still up in the air with the team which could leave another opening on the blueline.

The returning four defenseman plus Bjorkung and tender signee Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan) give the Force at least six justified defensemen before heading into their pre-season camp which will begin in August.

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.

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.”

With You Friends…

Fargo Force chief scout Jesse Davis told the team’s website on Sunday defensemen  Dominic Racobaldo and Taylor Richart will be back next year.

The Force had a story on their blog looking at the college options of players such as forward Dave Gust, Racobaldo and Richart. Gust, who will be back next season, told Slightly Chilled during the playoffs he’d hope to have a decision made by the summer.

Having Racobaldo and Richart return adds to what could be an experienced defense which could have a hard time allowing any new faces to break into the frame.

Racobaldo was part of an early season trade with Omaha and his addition gave the Force a physical edge which it showed against Lincoln in the second round of the USHL Playoffs.

Richart, who played at Blaine (MN-HS) with Force forward Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State), gave the Force a consistent top-4 defenseman with offensive upside. His 16 points were third among the team’s defensemen.

The Force, barring any changes, will lose two defenseman in captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth).

It appears next year’s defense could feature Richart, Racobaldo, Justin Wade (Notre Dame), Neal Goff, David Mead and Taylor Fleming among its returning players practically giving the Force six defensemen to roll with.

Those six defensemen, assuming that’s what the Force have by the time training camp starts, would give the team one of the most experienced and potentially promising blue lines in the USHL next season.

Wade developed into the stay-at-home, shutdown defenseman many had expected this season and still can continue his development. Fleming and Goff, both first-year players, developed throughout the year with Goff being extremely vital in the playoffs in a forward-defenseman hybrid role. Racobaldo and Mead added a physicality the team was lacking earlier in the year while Richart could be a culmination of all those assets.

The Force will also be adding 16-year-old defenseman Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan) to next year’s roster. Ghafari was the team’s first and only tender signing this season. Tender signings, per league rules, prompt teams to dress a player in a specified amount of games meaning Ghafari would feature frequently for the Force.

Ghafari, who is already 5-11 and 185 pounds, will feature in at least half of the team’s games next season.

Having Ghafari would give the team seven defensemen already and that’s not even including the much-talked about Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota).

Pelnik was the Force’ tenth overall in last season’s Futures Draft and was expected to play for the team this season until it was determined he needed more development before coming to the Force.

Pelnik, who is 6-4 and 185 pounds, spent this season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN-HS) where he played in 44 games and put up 11 points.

Ghafari and Pelnik are two of three defensemen the Force had on its affiliates list this year who could come in and play next season. The other, Dante Suffredini, played 26 games for Detroit Honeybaked this season.

Of course all that could change as the USHL Entry Draft is on May 22.

The Entry Draft allows teams will holes to fill for the upcoming season or the foreseeable future. It appears the Force should have quite a bit to work with at defense for next season but it’s possible the team could still draft more defensemen.

Time Is Running Out…

So we interrupt (OK, for a few minutes) the Force’s playoff run to remind folks about the affiliates list.

Remember those guys? They are the ones set to be the next members of the Force. Some will get to Fargo next year. Some will get to Fargo in a few years and others, such as Corey Ward (Bemidji State), don’t appear to be coming at all.

Here’s a look at how the Force’s future is looking at the present time:

-Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota), defenseman, Shattuck-St. Mary’s: Pelnik’s lone season at Shattuck is over. He featured in 44 games for the private school’s U-16 team scoring 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists). He helped the team to a 28-15-11 record and appears he will be playing for the Force next season on a blueline which could return as low as three or as many as six. The 6-4, 190-pound Pelnik,16, was the Force’s No. 10 pick in last season’s USHL Futures Draft.

-Brendan Harms (Bemidji State), forward, Portage (MJHL): Harms was a monster during the MJHL playoff scoring 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in 21 games helping Portage to its fourth league title since 2005. Harms will now try to lead Portage to a consecutive Anavet Cup, which goes to the winner of a best-of-seven series played between the MJHL and SJHL champions. His playoff campaign adds to what was an already strong regular season with Harms scoring 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists) in a shortened 42-game schedule. He missed part of the season with a shoulder injury but appears to pretty healthy these days. Harms is expected to join the Force next season.

-Brett Heikkila (Northern Michigan), forward, Marquette Electricians (Midget Major): Heikkila’s season ended with Marquette in March but showed improvement compared to last season. He finished with 54 points (26 goals, 28 assists) in 67 games. Heikkila had 24 points in 53 games last year. Heikkila, 17, appears he will be in Fargo next year and beyond as he’s expected to be at Northern Michigan in 2014, according to Chris Heisenberg.

-Johnny Baiocco (Yale), forward, Delbarton Prep (NJ-HS): Baiocco was a big part of helping Delbarton repeat as New Jersey’s private school champions this season. Delbarton went 28-1 as Baiocco scored 54 points (27 goals, 27 assists) re-affirming the school’s dominance in New Jersey. He was also a first-team selection by the Newark Star-Ledger and was a first-team all-state selection to boot. Baiocco, a junior, will spend one more season at Delbarton and will then come to the Force for a year before heading off to Yale.

-Trevor Hamilton (Miami (Ohio), defenseman, NTDP (USHL): Hamilton and the U-17s suffered an expected first-round exit from the USHL Playoffs at the hands of defending Clark Cup champions, the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Hamilton ended his first season at the NTDP scoring eight points in 29 games. He also overcame an injury this season somewhat limiting him in his first season. Hamilton will stick with the NTDP for a second season playing more of an international schedule rather an a USHL-based schedule. Hamilton will join the Force after he has aged out of the NTDP and will spend one year here before heading to Oxford, Ohio.

-Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan), defenseman, Detroit Compuware (Midget Major): Ghafari was actually in town a few weeks ago to take in a weekend so he could get a feeling of what to expect next season. Force trainer Paul Wixo said at a recent practice Ghafari’s hands were massive and he already had strength for a 15-year-old. Ghafari, who is listed at 5-11, 175 pounds, finished his season with 13 points (1 goal, 12 assists) in 28 games. Ghafari was the first – and appears to be only player – the Force have tendered with the new system.

-Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth), forward, Duluth East (MN-HS): Toninato played four games with the Force scoring a goal before the playoffs started. Coach John Marks said he was pleased with how Toninato played and said he was looking forward to him joining the Force next season.

-Cory Ward (Bemidji State), forward, Aberdeen (NAHL): Ward is having one of the better seasons of any player in the NAHL for what is the second year in a row. He finished the regular season with 63 points (35 goals, 28 assists) in 55 games. He also had three points in four playoff games. Ward, however, will go straight to college next season meaning he will not play with the Force next season.

-Zach Doerring, forward, Blake (MN-HS): Doerring was in town for the Force’s last regular season game of the year. He and his dad confirmed that he’s received quite a bit of interest from school in Hockey East such as Northeastern and UMass. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as Doerring brother, Blake, just finished his first season at Vermont. Doerring scored 53 points for Blake this season and his 40 assists were tied for ninth in the state and sixth among players in Class 2. The 6-3, 175-pound Doerring will be in Fargo next season.

-Nick Kulmanovsky, goaltender, Alaska (NAHL): It has been established Reed Peters, this year’s back-up, will be the No. 1 guy heading into next season. Kulmanovsky, though, appears to be one of a few names in the running for the team’s No. 2 goaltender. He went 21-11-3 with a 2.61 GAA and a .906 save percentage. Kulmanovsky spent time with the Force last season appearing during the stretch of games where injuries and international commitments left the team without a No. 1 goaltender.

-T.J. Black, goaltender, Chicago Mission (Midget Major): Black finished as one of the best goaltenders in the High Performance Hockey League this year. He went 8-4 with one shutout, a 2.34 GAA and a .924 save percentage. He finished third in GAA while playing in a two-goaltender system. The 5-8, 165-pound Black was in Fargo a few weeks ago where he did practice with the team. A couple of players described him has being “quick” in net. Black, should he come to the Force next year, would be a junior in high school.

-Dante Suffredini, defenseman, Detroit Honeybaked (Midget Major): Suffredini was part of an immensely-talented Honeybaked team which finished second in the HPHL this season. He played in 26 games scoring eight points (1 goal, 7 assists). Given that the Force will lose at least two defensemen from this year’s team, it could result in Suffredini and potentially Pelnik joining Ghafari on next season’s roster.

-Gage Torrel, forward, Alexandria (NAHL): Torrel had a strong first season with the Blizzard scoring 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 53 games. Torrel left what would have been his senior year in high school to play for the Blizzard which were just recently eliminated by Austin in the NAHL Playoffs.

Gold Dust…

Words can suffice yet sometimes images are more than enough.

Many images have ran through the head of Western Michigan defenseman Luke Witkowski lately. The former Fargo Force captain is days away from facing North Dakota in the opening round of the NCAA Hockey Tournament on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

“That is going to be one of the biggest tests maybe the biggest test we’ve faced since I’ve been at Western Michigan,” said Witkowski, a junior. “We are all looking forward to that.”

Witkowski, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, spent one season in Fargo and it allowed him to get more familiar with everything that comes with North Dakota’s illustrious hockey programs.

Seven national championships and 19 Final Four appearances tend to generate respect.

It has also generated a conversation or two between Witkowski and his billet parents who still live in town.

“One of my billets texted me right when he found out and he will be in St. Paul at the Xcel,” Witkowski said. “He told me we’ll talk about who he is rooting for when the time comes but he’s coming down to St. Paul.”

This is the second time Witkowski has made it to the NCAA Tournament and it is only the sixth time in program history.

Considering what the program was like when Witkowski was a freshman, the Broncos have certainly seen their fair share of changes.

Witkowski remembers a time where filling Lawson Arena, which holds a little more than 3,600 people, wasn’t happening. Then last season came. Western Michigan went 19-13-10 reaching the NCAA tournament enjoying one of the best seasons in program history.

The winning resulted in Witkowski, a native of Holland, Mich., seeing a change among the program and its fanbase.

“We’ve been selling out games for two years now,” he said. “If you walk around with Western gear, you are going to get noticed on campus.”

All of this brings Witkowski back to another sight, a potentially scary one, he had back in Fargo.

He had a part-time job at Play It Again Sports, which has become a place of employment for many Force players looking to make a buck or two. Witkowski said at the time he was growing a mustache making him look like, “the biggest pedophile you can imagine.”

What made it worse was driving a white van with no windows. He had to make a delivery for work in the van and got on the highway where he was pulled over for going 70 miles per hour in a 55 MPH zone.

“I get pulled over and the cop knew who I was,” Witkowski said. “I thought he was going to write me a ticket. He didn’t. It was pretty funny.”

Witkowski said Kalamazoo, which is where Western Michigan is located, hasn’t received the kind of attention where cops are willing to let speeding slip by.

Though to listen to the man, it sounds like the program is making strides to establish itself in a state where hockey reigns supreme from Farmington Hills to Calumet.

Western Michigan lost last season’s coach Jeff Blashill to the NHL and replaced him with former NHL head coach Andy Murray. Having coaches with NHL pedigrees coupled with winning has helped Western Michigan pull in better recruits creating pipelines with USHL teams.

The Force, a year ago, had Witkowski as its only link to the program. Now Western Michigan has a few more Force players coming into the system with forward Colton Hargrove going there next season and affiliates list defenseman Butrus Ghafari having already committed there.

It was also enough for former Force defenseman Garrett Haar, a Washington Capitals draft pick, to come there adding to a strong future for the program.

Witkowski is one of at least three players on the Broncos’ roster drafted by an NHL club with the hopes of seeing more guys in the NHL. The program has a few alums such as Columbus Blue Jackets forward Mark Letestu and Carolina Hurricanes winger Patrick Dwyer in the NHL. Boston Bruins defenseman Joe Corvo is another former Bronco in the NHL.

If it were to happen, Witkowski said it will be because of assistant coach Pat Ferschweiler, who has worked exclusively with the team’s defensemen.

“If you ask any of the defensemen who are here now they will tell you that he gets it,” Witkowski said. “He pays great attention to detail. He’s going to make guys like Haar and (incoming recruit and Lincoln Stars 6-5 defenseman Mike) McKee that much better.”

Witkowski said he can see a future where Western Michigan establishes itself as one of the perennial favorites.

Maybe winning a conference title every other year. Making the NCAA Tournament most of the time.

All of this, he said, could help others see what he sees on a daily basis – a program on the rise waiting to shine.

“From freshman year we only had four wins in the CCHA to winning the CCHA this year is a big leap,” he said. “Just staying in the top four of the conference, staying in the hunt for a title and being nationally ranked, these are all great things for our program, our city.”

The Thrill…

Though the Force are in the midst of snagging a high playoff seed, there’s still time to look at the future.

So here’s a look at what’s going on with players on the Force’s affiliate list. The affiliates list is a list of players in the Force’s system. They all play on different teams ranging from high schools to junior hockey teams in other leagues.

The Force, on paper, boast one of the best affiliate lists in the entire USHL given they have eight players already committed to a college.

Here’s a look at how the Force’s future is doing this month.

-Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota), defenseman, Shattuck-St. Mary’s: Pelnik is playing a schedule which should get him ready for next season with the Force. He’s played in 38 games at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN-HS) and has scored 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) this season. The 6-4, 190-pound Pelnik,16, was the Force’s No. 10 pick in last season’s USHL Futures Draft.

-Brendan Harms (Bemidji State), forward, Portage (MJHL): Harms has been on an absolute roll this season after coming back from a shoulder injury. He has scored at least one point in 11 games and during the stretch has 20 points including his last game when he scored four points. Harms, for the season, has scored 54 points (20 goals, 34 assists) in 39 games this season. It is expected he will join the Force next season.

-Brett Heikkila (Northern Michigan), forward, Marquette Electricians (Midget Major): Heikkila continues to improve from last season when he scored 24 points in 53 games last season. The Marquette native has 49 points (24 goals, 25 assists) in 57 games and scored two points (1 goal, 1 assist) in his last game. He also turns 17 on Wednesday too and like Pelink and Harms could be in Fargo next season.

-Johnny Baiocco (Yale), forward, Delbarton Prep (NJ-HS): There’s a lot going on with Baiocoo so let’s start with this. He’s scored at least one point in every game he’s played this season but he’s been one of the most, if not the most, dominant private school player in New Jersey this season. He has 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) this season for Delbarton, which is 21-1 this season and looks to repeat as New Jersey’s Private School Champions. The 5-8, 145-pound Baiocco is a junior at Delbarton and will spend his senior year at the school before joining the Force.

-Trevor Hamilton (Miami (Ohio), forward, NTDP (USHL): Hamilton and the U-17s are getting back to their USHL schedule after playing in a few international competitions such as the Vlad Dzurilla Tournament. It appears Hamilton might be injured as he hasn’t played a USHL game since January. He has played in 18 games and has five points (1 goal, 4 assists) this season. Hamilton will spend next season at the NTDP before coming to Fargo and then heading off to Miami.

-Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan), defenseman, Detroit Compuware (Midget Major): Ghafari recently joined the team after signing a tender last week. It means he’s in the system and will play with the Force next season. The 5-11, 175-pound Ghafari has 13 points (1 goal, 12 assists) in 26 games this season.

-Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth), forward, Duluth East (MN-HS): Toninato is simply having one of the best seasons of any player in Minnesota this season. His Duluth East squad heads into the section playoffs as the No. 1 team in the state and in many minds, the odds-on favorite to walk away with a state title. Toninato hasn’t disappointed by scoring 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) in 25 regular season games. He’ll likely pad those numbers with early round section playoff games usually coming against weaker opponents. Also, he committed to Minnesota-Duluth since the last prospects update making him the fourth player either on the Force’s active roster or in the system with a commit to the school. Toninato will join the Force next season.

-Cory Ward (Bemidji State), forward, Aberdeen (NAHL): Ward is having one of the better seasons of any player in the NAHL for what is the second year in a row. The Las Vegas, Nev. native has racked up 51 points (27 goals, 24 assists) for Aberdeen this season showing last season wasn’t a fluke. Ward scored 57 points (32 goals, 25 assists) in 58 games last season. His 51 points this year are through 45 games. He also played the NAHL’s Top Prospects Game to boot. Force chief scout Jesse Davis said Ward will be at Bemidji State next season and will not join the team.

-Jay Dickman, forward, St. Paul Johnson (MN-HS): Dickman signed with the Force a few days before the USHL Trade Deadline and was added to the active roster. Dickman’s 42 goals were the most of any Class 2A player in Minnesota and was the second-most in the state by any player. At 6-5, 228 pounds he brings a blend of power and goal scoring ability, which the Force will certainly rely upon. Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News tweeted how Dickman could be a darkhorse for the upcoming NHL Draft. He was described by a scout as being built like an all-state wrestler but having soft hands. Dickman and his team come into the Section 4AA playoffs as the No. 7 seed and open against last year’s section champ and No. 2 seed White Bear Lake on Saturday. If St. Paul Johnson loses, it would be mean Dickman could play for the Force next weekend.

-Zach Doerring, forward, Blake (MN-HS): Exclude a 9-0 loss to Class A favorite Breck, and Doerring ended the season on a hot streak. He scored 25 points (5 goals, 20 assists) in his last nine games of the season. Doerring finished tied for the team lead in points with 53 (13 goals, 40 assists) and asserted himself as one of the better playmakers in Minnesota this season. His 40 assists were tied for ninth in the state and sixth among players in Class A. Combine his 6-3, 175 pound-frame with his playmaking prowess and it is easy to see how he has been one of Class A’s better players this season. Doerring, who is draft eligible this season, will join the Force next season. Blake opens the section playoffs this week as the No. 3 seed. Blake is in a section with, yep, you guessed it, Breck.

-Nick Kulmanovsky, goaltender, Alaska (NAHL): Here’s another guy who is certainly in the running to take over the throne next season. Kulmanovsky is establishing himself as one of the stronger goaltenders in the NAHL this season. He’s helped Alaska with a 17-9-1 record, a 2.59 GAA and a .911 save percentage. He is 11th in wins this season and has been one of the reasons Alaska is second in the West Division this season.

-T.J. Black, goaltender, Chicago Mission (Midget Major): Black, despite playing in a two-goalie system, has managed to have a solid season playing in the High Performance Hockey League. He is 8-3-1 with a 2.19 GAA and a .929 save percentage. He’s third in the league in wins, first in GAA and third in save percentage.

-Dante Suffredini, defenseman, Detroit Honeybaked (Midget Major): If the stats are correct, then Suffredini had one interesting weekend. Pointstreak shows he played in three games on Sunday. Maybe that isn’t correct, but he did get an assist in one of those games. He has eight points (1 goal, 7 assists) in 23 games this season. Suffredini could be a player who is on the Force next season.

-Gage Torrel, forward, Alexandria (NAHL): Torrel has been a contributor to the Blizzard in what would have been his senior year in high school. The 5-10, 175-pound Torrel has scored 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists) this season and will come to the Force from the same system which produced current forward Jordan Nelson.

Lift Off…

Scott Monaghan, an official with the National Team Development Program, said Wednesday the program “wasn’t thrilled” with the idea of the USHL introducing its tender system but realizes the objective to strengthen the league as a whole.

The new system allows USHL clubs to acquire what are considered to be the elite 15-year-old players in America a year early in the hopes of recruiting players and keeping them from going the Major Junior route or choosing the NTDP, which is said to be the best program for top American players, as an option.

Fargo became the first franchise to use the system with the team signing defenseman Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan) on Monday. Green Bay, on Wednesday, followed suit by signing forward Brendan Lemieux (North Dakota) for next season.

USHL Commissioner Skip Prince said in late December the system was created to allow USHL clubs to compete with the CHL and the NTDP but the program was not designed to be an, “anti-NTDP effort.”

Monaghan, who is the senior director of operations for the NTDP, said even if a player signs a tender, the option is still there for the player to accept an invite from the NTDP. He said doing that, however, puts the player in a tough choice when it comes to honoring a commitment.

“In the big picture, we want to have the best 22 kids,” Monaghan said. “There are going to be some kids in our program who are going to get passed up by guys we didn’t select and that’s because the (USHL) and its teams are doing a good job in developing players. Overall, we weren’t thrilled about it, but we understand they are doing this to augment player development and the bigger push is trying to salvage kids from going north of the border.”

Monaghan said as the league was creating the tender process, the NTDP was made aware of what was going on.

Even Monaghan said the NTDP is a “different animal” compared to other USHL teams. Though the NTDP does get a chance to select the nation’s top incoming talent, it is hindered by other problems other USHL teams don’t face.

The NTDP cannot make trades and players can only stay in the program for two seasons before aging out whereas players can stick with a regular USHL team until they are 20 or in some cases, 21 years old.

Another thing which makes the NTDP so different is their schedule. Both the U-17 and U-18 teams play a USHL schedule but it is also littered with international competition. Or in the U-18’s case, they face college teams in exhibition games.

“We try to stress to them winning games in the domestic schedule is important,” he said. “But it is never to bypass the concept of developing them whether its putting them in a position to score goals, running the power play or getting everyone an equal amount of ice time.”

Another point he made was whether a player goes to the NTDP or another team in the USHL, the goal should be to educate someone on the options they have.

Monaghan said the NTDP, which interacts with 13 and 14-year-olds, often talks about how if a kid does not get invited to the program they’ll still receive good development playing in the USHL.

The NTDP is now in the final year of its three-year deal with the USHL. Monaghan was asked if the NTDP will be part of the USHL fold for next season.

“That’s a Skip Prince question, but I believe we are going to continue going forward with the league,” he said. “Overall, we are happy with it and it is a good thing for us and a good thing for the league. It has raised visibility for the league and it has drawn scouts. On a Friday night when our U-18s play against USHL teams, they are getting exposed to 30 to 40 college and pro scouts. We might be in a goofy, little community rink but at the end of the day, it is about getting kids exposed and that has been very valuable for the league.”

New Map…

On Monday the Fargo Force made a bit of history tendering Detroit Compuware defenseman Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan) making him the first player acquired under the league’s latest method.

Tendering players is a way for the United States Hockey League and its clubs to compete against Major Junior teams and the National Team Development Program to get what is considered to be the top 15-year-old players in the nation.

Once a team tenders a player, a number of things happen. Tendering a player means a team must give up its first round selection in the Futures Draft. Each team has two tenders and if both tenders are used, then the team is left without any picks for the Futures Draft.

It also forces teams who do tender a player to play that player to play in half of his team’s games in his first season and he cannot be traded either.

With this being a new process, we sat down with Force assistant and chief scout Jesse Davis, the man who pulled the trigger on the first tender. Davis explains what this is all about.

Q: Do you see this eventually replacing the Futures Draft?

A: Well, I think its in a pilot program this year I guess. You could sit here and try to say and guess how many teams will use it. I think it is a good idea to get players a little bit earlier and in the same regard, players can choose what teams they want to go to. It is in testing mode and we’ll see how it works.

Q: How did the new tender system work with the Force getting Ghafari?

A: We’ve been talking with him for a while and have known him for quite a few years and it came down to other teams interested him that were in our league. He said he rather come to Fargo than any other team in the league. With us knowing other teams were interested we wanted him to sign a tender. We wanted him. We know what he is all about. We don’t have to worry about losing him to Major Junior and felt it was the right time and right fit. I know there were teams ahead of us in the draft and he wanted to play for us.

Q: Do you see the Force using another tender this season?

A: We probably won’t use another tender because one thing is that player has to dress and play for us and (Ghafari) is one of the few (in his age group) who could step in and play. Not saying he is going to be a big huge dominant factor but from what I’ve seen out there, there is not a lot of players who can come in and play next year. Just goes to show how good our league is. We’ll draft those players and put them on affiliates list and work them in as it goes whether it is bringing in them for a few games or waiting until the following season when they are more ready or mature.

Love Me Tender…

What the Fargo Force did Monday could be the first step towards the USHL being able to compete with Major Junior and the National Team Development Program.

Defenseman and Detroit Compuware star Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan) became the first player to sign a tender with a USHL club as the Force added him to the roster. Each team is allowed two tenders to sign 15-year-old players in the hopes of building for the future.

Signing Ghafari to a tender it means the Force will not have a first round pick in the upcoming USHL Futures Draft. If they were to sign another player to a tender, the team would forfeit their second round pick.

Hypothetically speaking, the new tender process could eliminate the need for a Futures Draft assuming every team were to use the league’s newest method.

Force spokeswoman Whitney Baumgartner said Ghafari would not be joining the team until the 2012-13 season.

“I’ve looked at their history and they are always moving players to the next level,” Ghafari said in a phone interview with the Force. “I’ve talked to guys in the USHL and they say that when they go to Fargo, they always have a great atmosphere.”

Force assistant and chief scout Jesse Davis said in the release he expects Ghafari to play three seasons with the team before heading off to Western Michigan. Ghafari, in turn, would be the fourth player in team history to play at Western Michigan.

Per league rules, according to the release, the Force would have to play Ghafari in half of their games next season and will not be able to be traded.

Getting a Michigan-born player isn’t a surprise given how heavily Davis recruits and knows the area because he is from Detroit.

Adding Ghafari for next season could add to a defense which is slated to lose quite a few pieces heading into next season. The Force, for sure, will be losing Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) to college. Defenseman Taylor Richart is undergoing the recruitment process and there’s a chance he could also be gone for next season. There’s also a chance Racobaldo could be gone next year if he makes a college commitment this season.

Assuming Racobaldo stays for another season, it could leave the Force with a defense headlined by a three-year player in Justin Wade (Notre Dame) along with a few more experienced defensemen in Racobaldo and David Mead. Then there’s also Neal Goff, who has been splitting time lately with Mead.

Ghafari with the addition of the 6-4, 185-pound Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota) could add offense to a Force defensive corps which would be known more for providing a shutdown role as opposed to scoring.

If it all works out that way, it also gives the Force a big defense where the average height would be 6-2 and the average weight would at least be around 195 pounds.

Ghafari, who is 6-feet and 175 pounds, has scored 13 points (1 goal, 12 assists) in 24 games with Compuware, which is in its first season in the newly-established High Performance Hockey League.