Be Alright…

Despite having the chance to stay in his native Russia, forward Pavel Zykov will return to the Fargo Force next season.

Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis said Zykov, who was taken in the second round of the KHL Amateur Draft earlier this month by Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the program which cultivated NHL star Evgeni Malkin.

“All we’ve heard is that he is still coming back,” Davis said of Zykov. “We haven’t heard anything different.”

The 6-1, 175-pound Zykov was a free agent signee by the Force about midway through the season after being spotted by Davis at a tournament in Chicago. He played 20 games with the Force scoring two points while adjusting to living in the United States for the first time.

Davis said it became apparent Zykov,17, was going to return to the Force given that he left all of his personal belongings in Fargo.

“I think he misses the food here too,” Davis joked. “He liked the American-style food like the fast food and he might be back even quicker and you see him at Hardee’s.”

Getting Zykov’s commitment for a return means the Force will have seven forwards from last season’s playoff team which suffered a consecutive second round exit from the Western Conference playoffs.

Davis said fellow Russian forward Stanislav Dzahkov would return while forward Nick Stoskopf would not be returning. Davis said Stoskopf has accepted a scholarship to play at Division III Wisconsin-Superior for next season.

Stoskopf, who was a high school free agent signee under former coach Jason Herter, played 65 games with the Force scoring 14 points and was a minus-19 including a team low minus-17 this season.

Davis added defenseman David Mead appears as if he is on his way out of the door as he’s trying out with other teams in the league along with being a first-round pick of the Wenatchee Wild in the NAHL.

“If I was a betting man, that’s a spot he’d end up,” Davis said about Mead going to the NAHL. “Bliss Littler is the head coach there and he has a good relationship with him because of their time in Omaha together. Looking up and down their roster, they need a guy like him.”

If Mead leaves, it gives the Force four returning defenseman for next season plus a number of options as the team could draw from its affiliates list, draft picks and potential free agents.

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.

In Defense Of The Genre…

There are plenty of reasons why the Fargo Force were able to reach the USHL Playoffs.

One of them was the Force’s defense, which statistically ranks as one of the Top 3 defenses in the entire league. It also happens to be arguably the best in the entire Western Conference.

Conference-wise, the Force had the lowest goals allowed total in the West. In the league, they were third. Throw in a penalty kill which ranked third in the league and it is easy to see why the Force could be an attractive choice to make when it comes to picking a Western Conference champion.

So how does a defense like this work? We asked the boys on the blueline to either define their role on the team or what makes this one of the USHL’s best defenses. Here’s what they had to say:

On what makes this one of the league’s best defenses:

“First thing is we don’t spend a lot of time playing with the puck. If we play with it turns into a turnover. Secondly, gap control. Thirdly, just pressure to the corners. Just the defensive zone always keeping the guy in front. I’d say those are three things we do well,” – Dominic Racobaldo

“What makes it works is everyone knows all the defenses in our system. We have certain players who compliment each other pretty well. We’ll back up each other and we can read each other pretty well,”  – Justin Wade (Notre Dame)

“Honestly, we do the little things right. We are not flashy. We are not looking to get points every single night. We’re a grinder, defensive team. We get in our defensive zone. We contribute in the offensive zone. Contributing in the offensive zone helps us in the defensive zone,” – David Mead

“Coach has us paired up with the right guy. You can take me and Wade. He’s a really physical guy and I am not the most physical guy. I am skilled guy and he’s more of a physical guy and we even each other out a lot. That goes all the way down. T-Bone plays really well with Rocco. One’s a small guy and the other is a big guy. Cooper and Fleming. Both are littler guys but they can wheel around,” – Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth)

 

On what your role is on this defense:

“My role is to bring energy every night. I’d describe myself as a puck-moving defenseman. My role is to make good plays, make good breakouts and regroup when its over. That’s my role as a defenseman,” – Taylor Fleming

“I think my role is kind of getting the puck out and blocking shots. Doing the grinding stuff. If I get a chance to jump up into the play, then I will but its mainly knowing where to be at all times.” – Taylor Richart

“Just more of bringing my ‘A’ game everyday. If things are not going well, I just want to simplify it a bit. Just throwing my points in here and there to help out the team and knowing that the guys can trust me. That I can be a safety valve. I want to be out there the last minute-and-a half whether we are up a goal or down a goal. I want to be the rock,” – Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha)

Stick of Dynamite…

Whether the Force stay fourth in the Western Conference or move up the standings, they used Friday to prove they are ready for the playoffs to get here.

Black and Blue used an 8-0 victory over Sioux Falls in what was the team’s most domineering win all season given the large cushion. It was the largest margin of victory the Force have had all year. The victory was the team’s fourth in a row, which is the longest active winning streak in the USHL.

It was also a game where some records were set too.

-Zane Gothberg, goaltender, North Dakota: Getting the feeling he might be on to something special? Gothberg’s victory now gives him 39 career victories, the most by a goaltender in the team’s four-year history. He also now has seven shutouts too. In all, Gothberg owns the franchise records for: most shutouts in a season, most shutouts in a career, most wins in a career, lowest goals against average in a season, lowest goals against average in a career, best save percentage in a career and best save percentage in a season. If he gets two more wins, he owns the franchise records for most wins in a season. Oh, he made 30 saves in the victory too. So yeah, he’s done nothing at all this year.

-Bryn Chyzyk, forward, North Dakota: Chyzyk picked up a goal and an assist giving him three points in two games. He, to our knowledge, hasn’t set any franchise records but he is further cementing what’s been one of the better individual seasons in Force history this year. Chyzyk, as its been documented, came in as an unknown and will leave Fargo for North Dakota in a few months time. He has 46 points in 53 games this season. Once again, not a bad season.

-Dave Gust, forward: Gust had his second straight two-goal game in the win for four points in his last two games. His 13 goals and 15 assists in 39 games has given the Force another dimension down the stretch. Gust and the rest of High School Musical are also giving people a glimpse at what could be one of the more potent lines in the USHL for next season. Though if they have it their way, they could prove it during the playoffs too.

-Gabe Guertler, forward, Minnesota: Speaking of the Musical, its ring leader was back at it with his second straight, two-assist game. Guertler, like Gust, now has four points in his last two games. He now has 26 points in 52 games and as a rookie that isn’t too bad. Between the Gophers vying for a national title and the Miami Heat being title favorites, life’s good for the Force’s favorite Floridian.

-Justin Wade, defenseman, Notre Dame: Yep. We know now for sure the End of Days are around the corner. Wade scored again. Guy went 60-plus games without a goal yet he has scored two goals since Feb. 25. Wade went plus-2 giving him his third straight plus-2 performance. No one is complaining about his recent offensive production. But combine his shutdown ability with the fact he could pick up a helper here and there and he’s showing why this Force defense is deceptively good.

-Dominic Racobaldo, defenseman: The Roc knew his role and made others shut their mouths picking up two assists in the win. Roc, believe it or not, has 10 points in the 43 games he’s played with the Force. Looking back at the Racobaldo-Tanner Lane trade, it appears the Force might have gotten the better end of this deal given what Racobaldo has brought to the team. He brings a physical edge. He brings a shutdown capability yet more than anything, he’s another presence on the league’s second best defense.

-The defense: They are the second-best defense in the league. Seriously. That’s no joke people. They’ve given up the least amount of goals in the Western Conference and the second-least in the entire USHL. It might seem a bit improbable given the hideous start to the season where the team lost 13 of 15, but the defense has really helped turn things around this year. With Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and Taylor Richart, they have a nastiness. Between Racobaldo and Wade, they have two physical bodies who don’t mind delivering a punishing hit. Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) and Taylor Fleming also provide some offensive skill. And don’t forget David Mead and Neal Goff too. Mead’s game isn’t too flashy but he has been efficient. Same with Goff, who was really starting to progress prior to his suspension. These guys also have the third-best penalty kill in the entire USHL too. Face it Force fans. Your defensive corps is as good as it gets in the league.

El Burrito de Belén…

When Force forward Bryn Chyzyk said he was going to accept food, he wasn’t joking.

Chyzyk (North Dakota) drafted teammate Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan) on Tuesday for the team’s upcoming skills competition on Sunday. The draft was held after practice and the teams where chosen by Chyzyk and Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth).

Chyzyk chose Hargrove with his second pick and then shipped him to Farley’s team in exchange for Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) and a Qdoba burrito. Yep. You read that right. Hargrove was traded for a burrito.

“You know, me and Farley have some creative minds,” Chyzyk said about the trade. “We tossed it around in our heads and I decided to pull the trigger.”

Don’t worry. Chyzyk will not have to worry about trading a side order of nachos at a later date or anything like that.

He and Farley, who are close friends, actually know what one another order from Qdoba so Chyzyk knows what to expect.

Chyzyk, who was tongue-in-cheek during most of the interview, did joke about explaining to Hargrove why he did trade him.

“We shook his hand and told him we hope for the best,” Chyzyk said. “We told him there were no hard feelings. Now let’s see if he gives me the puck on Friday.”

Trading Hargrove, who is from Texas, for a burrito was only part of the story of the draft. Force spokeswoman Whitney Baumgartner said Corrin showed up to the draft wearing sweat paints but had a suit jacket on treating it as if this was an actual draft.

Baumgartner and Chyzyk both said Corrin showed up stating how he was going to be the No. 1 pick, or at least a first-rounder. Corrin was taken second by Farley before being traded for Hargrove and the burrito.

“Oh, he thought he was going first and that’s because he’s the oldest guy on the team,” Chyzyk said. “He’s starting to lose his hair and he needs a wheelchair. The old guy did look good today.”

He then joked about how he didn’t know if Corrin was worth a burrito but he’ll find out on Sunday.

The first overall pick of the draft belonged to Farley and he selected first-year forward Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth), who has scored 22 points this season and is fourth on the team in points while defenseman Taylor Richart was the draft’s second overall pick.

Chyzyk said he was pleased with how the draft went and said Nate Arentz, who he drafted, could be the skills challenge sleeper to watch.

“He’s an underrated guy on the team,” said Chyzyk, who actually took Arentz with his third pick. “I feel like he’s going to wipe up in the fastest skater competition just from looking at the things he’s done in practice.”

Though there is one thing to note about the draft.

Defensemen Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and Justin Wade (Notre Dame) were the last two players taken in the draft.

Isn’t it kind of weird that the two guys who could get taken in this summer’s NHL Draft were chosen last?

“It is a little bit of a coincidence I would say,” Chyzyk said. “They are a couple of defensive-minded guys in an offensive game but I am glad we got Cooper in the last round. I think he could win the hardest shot competition.”

Below are a list of the teams:

Team Chyzyk: Chyzyk, Richart, Arentz, Reed Peters, Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State), Taylor Fleming, Nick Stoskopf, David Mead, Pavel Zykov, Cooper.

Team Farley: Farley, Hargrove, Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), Dave Gust, Neal Goff, Jordan Nelson, Dominic Racobaldo, Stanislav Dzakhov, Wade.

Hit That…

Whatever concerns there might have been about the Force were quickly swept away.

The Force jumped out to a 4-0 lead – scoring three goals in the first four minutes of the second period – en route to a 6-2 win on Saturday night at Waterloo meaning the Force are now tied for third place in the Western Conference.

It is quite a change considering Black and Blue got worked like a McRib for in a 4-1 loss on Friday night to Omaha.

As is the case with every away game, here’s a look at the people who made the win happen.

-Zane Gothberg, goaltender (North Dakota): Gothberg bounced back from a not-so-great night to possibly have one his better games all season. Waterloo has one of the most dangerous attacks in the league so to keep them at bay says a lot for any goaltender. Gothberg made 28 saves on the night and has helped contribute to a major stat, which we’ll bring up later. He’s now 18-12-3 with a 2.46 GAA this season.

-Dave Gust, forward: Gust probably had the strongest performance of any player on the Force tonight. He picked up a goal and an assist for his fourth multi-point game of the season. But what’s even bigger is this is his first three-point game of his career. Gust recently went five games without a point and now has four in his last three. In the 29 games he’s played this year, he has 20 points making him the team’s fourth-leading scorer. It can be argued Gust is the reason why the High Musical Line has been on key this season.

-Gabe Guertler, forward (Minnesota): Speaking of the Musical, Guertler returned to the scoresheet for the first time in seven games with two assists. He’s had a really odd year and here’s why. Fans can say what they want about his offensive production but he’s stepped up in other ways. He’s actually been gritty with the way he plays by actually getting in people’s faces. So when you add that edge with his potential to breakout at any time, it makes for a strong combination of items to have in what is still a first-year player who is still just 16 years old and one of the youngest in the league. Because we’ve mentioned two members of The Musical, don’t forget Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth) who also scored a goal.

-Justin Wade, defenseman (Notre Dame): Let’s recap. Fargo’s not flooding this year. The New York Knicks are relevant again and Wade scored a goal. Yes, people, the end of days really are near. Wade picked up his first goal, an empty-netter, in his USHL career snapping a 77-game streak. Since Dec. 1, Wade is actually a plus-14 and for the year is a plus-7 marking what might be one of the better turnarounds of any player on the team this season. Wade has really established himself as one of the league’s better shutdown defenseman this year. Not saying goals will start flowing, but it might be fair to say he’s living up to the potential many had for him.

-The Force’s Defense: Wade scoring was certainly the cherry on top of what was a sweet evening for the blueliners. David Mead opened game with a goal while Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) scored the team’s second goal. Now here’s the stat we were talking about earlier. Just on goals allowed, the Force are the best defense in the Western Conference and are the third-best in the entire USHL. Yep. The Force are in the top five in goals allowed and the penalty kill this season.

Push It…

Think Gabe Guertler is the fastest skater on the Fargo Force or do you believe Brian Cooper has the hardest shot?

We’re about to find out.

The Force announced this morning they will be hosting a skills competition on Sunday, March 4 at 4 p.m. The event is free to the public and will pit Force players against each other to see who is the fastest skater, most accurate shooter, most skilled player among other tests.

Players will be split into two teams, a blue team and a white team, and the team is asking fans to choose captains for both squads via Twitter, Facebook and the Force’s official website. Once captains are selected there will be a mock draft to choose players for each side.

It is the first time the Force in their four-year history will be hosting a skills competition.

Here’s a list of the categories and the players who’ll be participating:

Fastest Skater: Nate Arentz, Alex Iafallo, Taylor Fleming, Neal Goff & Gabe Guertler (Minnesota)

Accuracy: Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State), Jordan Nelson, Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota), Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan) & Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth)

Skills Course: Dave Gust, Stanislav Dzakhov, Pavel Zykov, Taylor Richart & Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth)

Goalie Competition (select shooters to be named later): Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) & Reed Peters

Hardest Shot: Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), Dominic Racobaldo, David Mead, Nick Stoskopf & Justin Wade (Notre Dame)

Breakaway Challenge: Farley, Guertler, Hargrove, Cooper & Chyzyk