Freedom Bridge…

Weddings. Workouts. Whatever.

That’s an apt description of what life is like for the Fargo Force players eligible for the NHL Draft, which starts tonight. The Force could have eight players who could be taken in the draft.

If they were to be chosen, they would be selected on Saturday, which is the second day of the draft.

Forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) said Friday he was actually getting ready for his brother’s wedding, which is later today and extends into tomorrow with another family function.

“It is a big day for him and his future wife,” Farley said. “I haven’t looked at the draft.”

Farley said he’s spent the last few weeks staying busy. He recently graduated from Fargo South and went to Duluth for a campus orientation before returning to Illinois for his brother’s wedding.

He and his family will be at their lake house on Saturday so cell phone reception might not be the best. Either way, his brother will use his smartphone to check out the draft to see if Farley has been drafted.

Down the road from Farley in Illinois is defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame), who said he’ll be spending the day watching his little sister.

“It is going to be a normal day for me,” he said. “If I get a call it’ll be cool or I will look online. I am not going to do anything special.”

Wade, like Farley, recently graduated from Fargo South and has been trying to enjoy his summer.

Wade, who will return to the Force next season, said he’s just used the summer to workout and catch up with friends he hasn’t seen due to splitting time between Fargo and his home in Aurora, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

Defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) actually spend Friday morning working out instead of thinking about where he could be taken in the draft.

“Yeah, I gotta be in Omaha in the next few weeks and I want to be there in shape,” Cooper said. “I am more worried about what (UNO coach Dean) Blais is going to think than NHL scouts. Come on, it’s Blais. He’s Blais.”

Cooper pointed out how Blais worked as a coach and how he’d need to be at his best when he arrived into camp.

“Well, that’s the thing about him,” Cooper said. “He talks to you and he’s a great guy. Put it this way. He’s (Force coach John) Marks. That’s what I am excited about. He’s like Marks but a little bit more intense, all the time. Marks is fun.”

Forward Jay Dickman along with Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) are both in Pittsburgh for the draft.

For Dickman, it is his second year as an eligible player while Toninato, the god son of NHL Hall of Famer Brett Hull, is in his first year of eligiblity.

Toninato, who lives in Duluth, said his family was not impacted by flooding which has crippled the region. He and his family left Duluth and reached Pittsburgh on Thursday where they took in the Twins-Pirates game.

“You know what, I am definitely excited,” he said. “I have talked to quite a bit of teams and it is unbelievable.”

Both Dickman and Toninato will play with the Force next season.

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.

 

Even Flow…

Surely by now you’ve heard the Force’s first-round pick in last night’s Futures Draft is Minot’s Mason Morelli.

You’ve also heard by now Morelli’s family has extremely strong ties to North Dakota and the Force. His grandfather, Reg, scored the game-winning goal for UND in the 1958 NCAA title game over Michigan State. Reg Morelli, according to The Forum’s archives, was also involved in the construction of Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Morelli’s father, Matt, played at North Dakota in the late 1980s. He was a teammate of former Force coach and Minnesota-Duluth assistant Jason Herter. Matt Morelli was also recruited by current Force coach John Marks and former Force coach/current Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais.

Going to North Dakota, Morelli said, would achieve a goal he’s had all his life.

“That’s been my goal since I laced up the skates,” Morelli said. “My dad told me stories about going to UND and that’s my goal since I was as young as I can remember. That would be awesome to play there and I am trying to take it one step at a time towards getting there.

The 16-year-old Morelli was described as Force chief scout Jesse Davis as a tough, hard-nosed winger with skill. Davis said Morelli has the best shot of the team’s five Futures Draft picks of making next year’s team.

Morelli’s career has taken some interesting turns as of late. In a matter of months he went from a high school player to a member of Minot’s NAHL team to now being the potential future face of a franchise which has actively recruited homestate talent the last few seasons.

It could be a big jump but Morelli said that was never his initial intention. He went to the USHL Combine last week and was competing with 250 kids for a spot in last night’s draft. His plan was to keep it simple.

“I didn’t know what to expect because most kids there I had never heard of or talked to,” Morelli said. “I came into camp not expecting much but I wanted to do well.”

Morelli surpassed expectations scoring a hat trick in his first game parlaying his performance into his draft stock soaring, multiple teams showing interest and the Force trading up from No. 7 to No. 3 in strengthening the hopes of getting him.

Matt Morelli texted his son on Tuesday afternoon while he was in school to let him know the Force traded up to No. 3. Morelli said he hoped that was because the Force would be drafting him.

When the Force did draft him, it was a scene of excitement as Morelli’s mother and grandmother started crying.

“it was very special,” Morelli said of the moment. “My father went jumping up and down. My mom and grandma shed a few tears. it was because they are very happy for me and they don’t want me growing up so fast either.”

Morelli said he’s been to a few Force games before and was familiar with Scheels Arena along with other items.

Should Morelli make next year’s team, he will compete for playing on a squad which will be grossly littered with forwards as nine are expected to return. That doesn’t include Dom Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) who played a few games with the Force but was not on the post-season roster.

That number could increase to 10 returning forwards as Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State) recently said he’d like to return next year but it all depends upon what SCSU has planned for him.

Morelli’s plans will likely involve being an impact player whether it be in his first and/or second season with the Force. After all, last year’s first-round Futures pick Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) worked himself into being a second-line forward and the team’s best forward in the playoffs.

If Morelli can achieve all of those goals, the hope is North Dakota will notice too.

“Knowing my dad and grandpa played for the Sioux is great,” Morelli said. “My friends ask me about that all the time. It’s awesome. I look up to my dad and grandpa knowing they played at a high level.”

 

BELOW IS A VIDEO OF MORELLI FROM THE USHL COMBINE

My Love…

Certainly Fargo Force coach John Marks has had his moments this year.

This could easily be the best one of them all. Marks is in the team’s new advertisement for 2012-13 season tickets and in this one, he pulls out all the stops. Marks is sitting at a table with some smooth jazz in the background.

He talks about how the fans’ relationships with the team’s previous coaches have ended prematurely but he insists he’s here for the long haul. It’s actually a pretty good commercial, which could also serve as a Match.com advertisement.

The best line was when Marks said, “I’m not like the other guys, I want to be here for a second year.”

Marks is the team’s fourth head coach in four seasons. He replaced Jason Herter (now at Minnesota-Duluth), who replaced Steve Johnson (now at St. Cloud State), who replaced Dean Blais (now at Nebraska-Omaha).

Now its time for the man…err…coach of your dreams, John Marks.

Bye, Bye, Bye…

The University of Minnesota-Duluth athletic department confirmed Jason Herter will be leaving the Fargo Force to become the next assistant head coach at the school.

Friend of the blog and Minnesota-Duluth beat writer, Kevin Pates, wrote on his blog and later on the News-Tribune’s website that Herter was offered the job and he was one of 45 formal candidates to apply for the position and the search was narrowed down to three.

Now that the 40-year-old Herter is leaving the Force, it means that the team will be looking for its fourth head coach in as many seasons. Dean Blais, the team’s first coach, left to take over the Nebraska-Omaha program, which arguably enjoyed its best season in school history.

Steve Johnson, the team’s second-year coach, took an assistant-coach position at St. Cloud State last September, a little more than a week before pre-season camp started for the Force.

There has been speculation as to who would be considered for the job. A name that has continued to pop up has been Lincoln head coach Chad Johnson. Johnson, a former Force assistant, was rumored as far back as April to take the job.

Johnson said earlier on Monday that he hasn’t discussed leaving Lincoln with his bosses.

It isn’t the first time Johnson’s name has been linked with the job this season. Johnson, who was at the Force’s last home playoff game against Dubuque, told The Forum that he hasn’t been offered the job and he would continue as the Stars’ head coach for the upcoming season.

Another name that has also been mentioned is assistant coach Byron Pool. Pool just finished his first year with the team and prior to that was the head coach of the Bismarck Bobcats (NAHL) where he won the Robertson Cup, the league’s championship.

Herter’s first and only season was one in which he led the Force to a fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs before ultimately losing to the Fighting Saints, which went on to win the Clark Cup Finals.

Herter, a native of Hafford, Sask., was an assistant in the team’s first season, when it achieved an appearance in the Clark Cup Finals. After Blais left, he was not retained and did some scouting for a few USHL teams before being hired by the Force to coach the team in its third season.

Prior to his time with the Force, Herter coached midget hockey with Russell Stovers in Kansas City.

He perhaps is more known in hockey circles for being the eighth overall pick of the Vancouver Canucks back in 1989. At one time, Herter was rated as the No. 1 prospect heading into that year’s draft, which included former Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Mats Sundin.

Herter was drafted by the Canucks out of the University of North Dakota. He never played for the Canucks because he was traded by the team and only played one NHL game that came with the New York Islanders.

He continued playing hockey in the minors then moved to Europe where he finished his professional hockey career before returning to America.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough…

Lost in the Force’ 5-3 win over the Indiana Ice could be the fact that it had what was a respectable night against what some consider the USHL’s most dangerous line.

Blake Coleman (Miami), Brian Ferlin (Cornell) and Daniil Tarasov entered the game as four of the league’s top leading scorers. Coleman leads the league with 85 points but was held to one point. Tarasov had two points, both assists and Ferlin was held pointless.

“With those three guys you pay attention to where ever they are any time they are on the ice,” said Force goalie Ryan Massa, a Nebraska-Omaha commit.

Massa was on guard when the FTC line came in on a 3-on-1 that was made a less challenging because of Brian Cooper.

Cooper, who is also a Nebraska-Omaha commit, managed to position himself in the middle cutting down Ferlin’s view to the net. Furthermore, he had his stick towards Coleman so if a pass was made, it could be disrupted leaving Tarasov with a shot that was shot right at Massa’s chest for an easy save.

“He did a really good job backing me up out there on that,” Massa said of Cooper.

Cooper and defenseman Ian Young, a Colorado College commit, both said after the game that there was a plan in place to shutdown the trio.

Young said one of the things that helped with the defensive assignment was having seen the Ice before. The Force faced the Ice in February and in a 4-1 win managed to contain the line perhaps better than most defenses this season.

“You cannot puck watch with them,” Cooper said. “You have to get low and you have to be in the position.”

Then of course came the moment that defined the Force’s defensive corps when Indiana went on a 5-on-3 in the third for 1:24.

Cooper and Young, who were both on the penalty kill, were part of a group that made it challenging for the Ice to get off a quality shot. There was one sequence where the Ice had to pass six times before getting a shot off illustrating how the Force were closing down on the angles.

“We knew the best thing we could do was to stay in the lanes and make sure they couldn’t get shots off,” Young said. “They are the best line in the league, we know they can score and we knew we had to keep track of them.”

Keeping track of the line is exactly what they were able to do and its why the Force find themselves in a favorable position in regards to getting that No. 2 playoff seed.

Here are some other notes from last night’s game:

-Colten St. Clair, a North Dakota commit, played for the first time in eight games after suffering a leg injury. He had a brace on his knee.

-Tanner Kero, a Michigan Tech commit, also scored and returned to the lineup following a lengthy period where he was out too.

-Ice defenseman Jarrod Rabey, a St. Cloud commit, is a player a few NHL scouts said last night could go in the third round.

-North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol and UNO coach Dean Blais were also at the game. Blais, who coached the Force in their first season, went and spoke with players after the game.

Outshined…

Living here makes one believe that, to a degree, some University of Minnesota hockey fans have a sense of entitlement.

Gopher fans complaining about losing Force defenseman Brian Cooper to Nebraska-Omaha last week proves that point.

The Gophers haven’t been tearing it up the last few years and it’s made fans throw out a variety reasons as to why. Some say fire Don Lucia. Some say it is Lucia’s staff. Some say Minnesota isn’t getting the best talent.

I say, that’s just part of college sports.

Minnesota isn’t the first school that claims to be the “State of …” to have struggles.

There’s no doubt Indiana is the “State of Basketball” and even that place has gone through its problems when it comes to Indiana University basketball. Remember a few years ago when Kelvin Sampson resigned because it was believed he was violating NCAA allegations?

IU went out and hired Tom Crean and people automatically thought the Hoosiers would be back to prominence within two years. IU is better but it is not what it once was. And maybe it may never be.

Gopher hockey isn’t going through anything remotely close to what went on at IU but some fans seem to think that it is the end of the world.

The same holds true for the state of Texas. Do people think the University of Texas has always been good at football? There was a time where UT was the whipping boy in the state because Texas A&M and $MU were getting all the good players.

I’m sure that sounds familiar to Minnesota-Duluth, Bemidji State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State.

Let’s think about this. Minnesota is still a great place to play hockey. So what if it hasn’t won national titles lately? Take North Dakota. UND hasn’t won a title since 2000 and there’s no talk of firing Dave Hakstol or the thought no talented players want to come to North Dakota.

College hockey is a very hard sport to win a national title. Maine, in 1993, was the last school to win a national championship for the first time. That’s proof that winning takes time.

Say what you want about Lucia but guy won back-to-back titles less than a decade ago and that’s only been mirrored by Denver since then. Some Gopher fans want Dean Blais and it is their right. But who is to say Blais will leave UNO? Why would he? He just got Brian Cooper.

All jokes aside, Blais may or may not leave. If he does leave, there’s no guaranteeing it will be for Minnesota.

Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.

Whatever happens with Lucia or the Gopher hockey program, just know this. There are winners and there are losers.

Perhaps Minnesota fans will remember this the next time they’re winning.

Omaha Flash…

Brian Cooper said a month ago when he came to Fargo two years ago, he had quite a bit of respect for Dean Blais, who took a chance on him by drafting him with the Force.

Cooper, in a way, repaid the favor by committing to Nebraska-Omaha late Monday. The 17-year-old’s pledge to UNO puts to rest a recruiting battle, which has made Cooper one of the nation’s most sought-after defensemen. It also does a couple of other things.

No. 1) The Force are now a pipeline for Nebraska-Omaha. UNO already has former Force star Johnnie Searfoss on the roster this year. With Cooper, the team now has three commits from the Force. Goalie Ryan Massa will be in Omaha next year while forward Tanner Lane could stay another year to gain more experience. UNO consistently has scouts at Force games and given the success it is having, it could remain that way for a while.

No. 2) Like we said, Cooper committing is a pretty big deal. Recruiters were after him hard core and it was WCHA schools that had the best chance at getting him. Cooper said he preferred to stay in the Midwest or go further west because he wanted to stay closer to his family in Alaska. It had been speculated that he was between UNO and Minnesota. We detailed a month ago why every school in the WCHA had a chance of getting Cooper. UNO was up there so it isn’t a surprise that he committed.

No. 3) Blais, who coached the Force for one season, has turned Omaha into a legit place to play hockey and a team that can compete in the WCHA. UNO had a strong season last year and is putting together what could be the best year in school history at 18-10-2 while sitting fourth in the WCHA standings. Blais, besides getting Cooper, also got a commitment from Brainerd’s Josh Archibald, a Mr. Hockey candidate on Monday. Last week, the team got Cedar Rapids’ defenseman Ian Brady too. That’s three solid players to added to what has already been an impressive recruiting class.

The Mavericks get a defenseman, that despite being 5-9, does a lot of things well. He’s able to deliver a hit at the right time and rarely, if ever, misses. He can quarterback a power play as  second-year player in the USHL. He’s got the speed to go from blue line to blue line in a matter of seconds and create offensive chances. Cooper is also that type of player that can produce that one big moment or play every game. Finally, he’s a player that is an assistant captain and assuming Colten St. Clair leaves for North Dakota, he could be the team’s captain next year.

About last night…

Apparently enough was enough for the Omaha Lancers and it appears that was the team’s mentality in the 5-2 win over the Force last night.

We spoke to Steve Beideck, who covers the Lancers for the Omaha World-Herald, and he said Fargo has always been a bug-a-boo for the team. He said the frustrations with Fargo started when Dean Blais coached team even up to last year when Steve Johnson took over.

“Last night when they broke the 1-1 tie in the third and go those two goals real quick, they were hustling,” Beideck said. “When Fargo got that goal and cut it to 3-2 you could hear a few people in the crowd go ‘Ohh’ like not again. Omaha bounced back and they were determined.”

Beideck added what made the win even more impressive was beating goalie and Nebraska-Omaha commit Ryan Massa. Beideck said Omaha has had “a hell of a time with Massa” going back to last season so getting a win against him helps generate confidence that Fargo is indeed beatable.

Things have changed over the last few weeks for Omaha. The team suffered a pretty bad loss against the Indiana Ice and after the game did some skating a la Mighty Ducks or Miracle, take your pick. The team responded from that by going on to grabbing wins against teams like Fargo and Sioux City, which might be the league’s best defensive team.

Beideck also said the thing that has always impressed him about the Force was the fact they’re relentless. He said Jason Herter pulled Massa with three minutes left to create a 6-on-4 in the chances of winning.

“You never see coaches really do something like that,” Beideck said.

The Force are traveling today and tomorrow they will play Des Moines and they’ll play Lincoln on Saturday against former Force assistant Chad Johnson. This could be an interesting stretch for the Force with eight of their next ten games on the road.

I want you to want me…

Like we said a few entries ago, Force defenseman Brian Cooper is a pretty sought after college prospect.

We’ll have a feature on him for Monday’s paper about what’s made him so strong this season along with his college plans, which we’re going to share a bit of. Cooper, an Anchorage native, said he wants to play at a WCHA school because he wants to be closer to home.

He wouldn’t say if any one school has an edge, but here’s something to consider. Every WCHA school has ties to the Force and Cooper. So let’s look at who has a chance of winning the Brian Cooper Sweepstakes. The order of the schools is according to where they stand in the WCHA instead of which school has the best chance.

1. North Dakota – Cooper already plays instate so what’s traveling another 70 miles north? UND already has a stronghold with the Force. Coach Jason Herter is a former UND defenseman and the Sioux have two of Cooper’s teammates in Zane Gothberg and Colten St. Clair verbally committed to them. Plus, when you think about the WCHA, UND is one of three schools that comes to mind.

2. Denver – Denver has a big market not to mention it might be the best academic program in the WCHA. Cooper said academics was a big deal and this could be a selling point. Plus, former Force teammate Garrett Allen is a Denver commit. The Pioneers also have four senior defensemen and Moorhead native John Lee is a junior this year. Cooper could come in and play right away.

3. Minnesota-Duluth – UMD coach Scott Sandelin was in Fargo a few weeks ago and definitely got a chance to see Cooper while keeping tabs on Force utility man Willie Corrin, who has committed to Duluth. Add Duluth’s new arena and the strong season and it looks like an attractive option for anyone.

4. Nebraska-Omaha – This might be the school, aside from UND and Minnesota, with the strongest chance of luring Cooper. UNO coach Dean Blais was the one who drafted Cooper in the USHL Futures Draft a few years ago so there is a sense of loyalty. UNO already has former Force star Johnnie Searfoss and it is adding Force goalie Ryan Massa next year along with forward and Detroit Lakes native Tanner Lane in 2012. Cooper has said Massa and Lane have been in his ear about coming Omaha with him. Also, it is no secret in college hockey circles that UNO is one of many schools heavily recruiting Cooper.

5. Colorado College – At dinner one night, Massa and Lane sat across from Cooper and Ian Young. Cooper joked, “Is this the Mavs vs. Tigers?” Massa told him it better not be, but it is a possibility. CC is one of the more well-respected programs in the WCHA and in the nation. CC has a commitment from Young and it also has Eamonn McDermott, a former Force defenseman, who is really close with Cooper also.

6. Minnesota – Say what you want about the Gophers and the recent struggles. Minnesota is still a great place to play college hockey and it is probably the most storied program in the WCHA. It is also the second school that has really made a push at trying to get Cooper. In Minnesota, he gets everything. Major school in a major city. Great academics and once things get solved, a team that perennially competes for a national championship. Minnesota has had success recruiting from the Force in the past by getting forward Nate Condon and defenseman Nate Schmidt. Plus, from talking to Cooper, one gets the idea he has a great admiration for Minnesota. You’ll have to read about that on Monday.

7. Wisconsin – What else can you say? It’s Wisconsin. They have Force player and on-loan forward Corbin McGuire as a commit, which could be beneficial in terms of recruiting. That and Wisconsin does have a history of producing solid defensemen along with always competing for WCHA and national title honors.

8. Alaska-Anchorage – Oh boy. This would keep Cooper at home in Anchorage but is that enough? UA-A might have just upset CC on Saturday, but it is not what one would call a major player in the WCHA. Other than it just being home, what can the Seawolves really offer Cooper that can’t be met or surpassed by the other schools in the conference?

9. Bemidji State – They have a new arena and former Force defenseman Jake Areshenko, who is having a pretty decent sophomore season at Bemidji State. Cooper has been around Areshenko and knows what he could be getting in a future d-partner. He has also been around Bemidji commit Christian Folin, who was with the Force before he was shipped to the NAHL earlier this season.

10. St. Cloud State – Yeah, here’s another team that has a really, really strong chance of getting Cooper to commit. St. Cloud has former Force coach Steve Johnson, who left this season to become an assistant. Cooper talked about how fondness for Johnson and how he and his brother, Chad, really have him a chance to make and stay on the team. SCSU also has goalie and former Force star Mike Lee on the team. Then there’s the final factor, Nick Oliver. There are some days where Cooper and Oliver are damn near inseparable at Scheels Arena and Oliver has pushed and pushed for his buddy to join him. Cooper said some interesting things about that too, but you have to read the Monday story for more.

11. Minnesota State – The Mavs haven’t been strong in the WCHA this season but it has been strong in recruiting the Force. The team already has Corey Leivermann, J.P. Burkemper and Matt Leitner, who is not listed on the roster because he is academically ineligible. All three are freshmen this year so it could help in the potential sell to get Cooper.

12. Michigan Tech – Force forward Tanner Kero is playing there in the hopes of lifting up his hometown team, but it does not appear Cooper is going to be heading that direction anytime soon.