Keep You With Me…

Whether its the casual fan, the die-hard or someone in between, there’s a fair number of people peering through NHL Draft guides hoping their favorite team can get the next big thing or big find.

Of course you’ll see players from the three Major Junior leagues. You’ll see college players along with players from the USHL. Yet what you cannot help but notice (if you are a USHL fan) is how three former USHL players left the league and are now set to be taken in the Top 60 picks.

We jokingly call it, “The All our-lives-got-better-once-we-left-the-USHL Team”

TSN’s hockey chief Bob McKenzie released his Top 60 rankings and on it were former USHLers Henrik Samuelsson, Daniil Zharkov and Brady Vail. Despite not making the list former USHLer Logan Nelson has also come on as of late to be what might be a third-round pick, a significant jump for someone who was undrafted last year.

Here’s a look at all four players and the circumstances that led them to where they are at:

Henrik Samuelsson, forward (ranked 36th by McKenzie): He spent last season in the NTDP’s program and if he would have stayed, probably would have added to what was a talented U-18 this season. Instead, he returned to his father’s (former Penguins star, Ulf) native Sweden where he played pro hockey. He did fine in the Modo system’s U-16 and U-18 teams before having limited success (two points in 15 games) playing against grown men. He went to the Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) where he re-discovered his touch scoring 23 points in 28 games along with having a torrid playoff stretch where he had 14 points in 17 games.

Daniil Zharkov, forward (ranked 47th by McKenzie): Zharkov’s tale is appearing to be a recurring theme with players of his ilk. The theme being: How did a guy like this struggle in the USHL going into somewhat obscurity only to shine in a league like the OHL, which might be the best proving ground for any NHL prospect? He played 36 games in 2010-11 with the Tri-City Storm and did have 11 points to his credit. But he then leaves and goes to the Belleville Bulls putting up 36 points in 50 games. Maybe if he had stayed, perhaps he’d still be a potential second-round pick. We’ll never know.

Brady Vail, forward (ranked 60th by McKenzie): With this one, we are going to give some serious credit to Chris Peters at the United States of Hockey. Peters (as he often does in our phone conversations) pointed out how one of the things hurting the USHL is allowing 15-year-olds to come into the league only to leave and develop somewhere else. Ergo Brady Vail. Vail played 48 games scoring eight points in his lone season in Waterloo. His first season in Windsor wasn’t so hot either playing 61 games and scoring 10 points. This most recent season is where Vail really started to show promise. He put up 52 points in 68 games and in the process did something which Peters said made his value go up. He pointed out how Vail played against the top lines in the league meaning he had to go up against some of the top players in the OHL. Oh and by the way, the OHL is set to have three players (two forward and one defenseman) go in the Top 10 this year.

Logan Nelson, forward: Let’s go ahead and ask the most obvious question when it comes to Nelson. How in the hell does he score 62 points in the WHL a league which has four defensemen set to go in the Top 10 yet he only scores nine points in the USHL? Nelson’s transformation could be chalked up to just a player simply developing over a year. But it is still remarkable how he was able to make the jump from the USHL to the WHL and have success. At the time, Nelson’s decision to play for the Victoria Royals was a bit of a weird one given how there were times he did look invisible. Looking back, however, it appears it could have been the best decision he ever made. It appears he could go in the third or fourth round and that’s a serious jump up from last year when every team passed on him in the draft. Des Moines fans probably don’t want to read the following so the best suggestion is to look away. But imagine if this guy stays. Imagine if he could translate his WHL success onto a USHL platform? That probably would have been the difference between making the playoffs and missing out for a fifth-straight season and having what might have been one of the most embarrassing seasons in team history.

That Heat…

Just a few minutes ago, I was going through some old notes when I noticed something which happened a year ago today.

What happened was Jason Herter leaving the Fargo Force for Minnesota-Duluth to become an assistant. Herter’s departure opened the door for John Marks, who led the Force to a second-round playoff appearance.

And of course a year to the day, the Indiana Ice hire a new head coach, Ron Gay.

Pretty interesting given what’s gone on in the last year with USHL coaches. Let’s use May 22, 2011 as a starting date. Since then, 12 of the league’s franchises have replaced their head coaches.

No joke. Here’s the proof of what every team has done with its coaching situation.

In the Eastern Conference:

-Green Bay Gamblers: The Gamblers replaced Eric Rud, who left for his alma mater, Colorado College with Denver assistant Derek Lalonde. Lalonde, in his debut season, leads the team to one of the USHL’s greatest ever seasons and a Clark Cup title.

-Indiana Ice: Technically, they’ve gone through three coaches and four coaching changes in the last year. Charlie Skjodt was the team’s head coach when the season ended before he returned to the front office. The Ice hired Yale assistant Kyle Wallack, who was fired shortly before the playoffs. Skjodt returned to the bench and then the team hired Gay.

-Dubuque Fighting Saints: Former Maine great Jim Montgomery remains the team’s head coach. But here’s where it’s really interesting. He just finished his second season and he’s already the third most-tenured coach in the league. Interpret that one however you want.

-Youngstown Phantoms: Curtis Carr left the team late in the summer to become an assistant at Merrimack. Days later the team promoted assistant Anthony Noreen, who led the Phantoms to fourth in Eastern Conference.

-Cedar Rapids RoughRiders: Here’s the second team which hasn’t made a coaching change. It may never look that way either as Carlson has been there for 12 seasons and has a partial stake in the team’s ownership. Carlson, a former Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick, has won everything imaginable from the Clark Cup to the Anderson Cup to the USHL’s Coach of the Year during his time in Cedar Rapids. He also led this year’s team to the playoffs, something he’s done every year he has been in the league.

-NTDP: USA Hockey lost Ron Rolston last season to the Rochester Americans (AHL), which is an affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. It resulted in the team hiring Don Granato. The NTDP also lost Kurt Kleinendorst and replaced him with Danton Cole. The program made the USHL Playoffs for a second straight season.

-Chicago Steel: The 2010-11 season wasn’t kind to the Steel, as the franchise suffered through a 9-43-8 season, easily one the worst in any realm of junior hockey in the last few years. It’s what led to the dismissal of Jon Waibel and the promotion of Scott McConnell. McConnell was made the team’s full-time head coach last summer. In his first full season, he led the Steel to a 25-31-4 mark and were just three points out of the playoffs.

-Muskegon Lumberjacks: Former Wisconsin assistant Kevin Patrick was among the 2011-12 season’s first coaching casualties. The team hired former NHL toughman Jim McKenzie, who had no previous junior experience. McKenzie and the Lumberjacks, despite improvement, still finished last in the Eastern Conference.

 

In the Western Conference:

-Lincoln Stars: Another weird case of the fluidity of this league. Stars coach Chad Johnson just finished his second year and he’s No. 4 in the league among tenured coaches.

-Omaha Lancers: Omaha got the trend going early in the 2011-12 season when it fired longtime USHL coach Bliss Littler. He was replaced by Mike Aikens, who led the team to a second-place finish during the regular season. Aikens signed an extension during the season.

-Waterloo Black Hawks: Behind Carlson, P.K. O’Handley is No. 2 when it comes to tenured coaches. He just finished this 10th season with the Black Hawks leading them to a Clark Cup Finals appearance. Like Carlson, O’Handley has won virtually every trophy a coach could win and when it comes to wins, ranks in the Top 10 all time.

-Fargo Force: Hiring Marks gave the Force their fourth coach in as many seasons. Marks, who is the sixth-most tenured coach in the league, already said he will stay this season and looks forward to a second year in Fargo.

-Sioux City Musketeers: Larson is technically the man who started the trend. He was hired May 22 by the Musketeers. He was at Minnesota-Duluth as an assistant. His departure resulted in the Bulldogs hiring Herter and the Force hiring Marks.

-Tri-City Storm: The team replaced Drew Schoneck with Josh Hauge during the middle of the year. Hauge led the Storm to a first-round appearance where they lost to eventual Western Conference champs, Waterloo. Even with an early exit, Tri-City returns all but six players and has what could be considered the strongest affiliates list in the USHL.

-Des Moines Buccaneers: Turmoil more or less blanketed the Bucs this season. Off-ice issues coupled with losing is what led to Regg Simon being fired. He was replaced in the off-season by Gamblers assistant Jon Rogger.

-Sioux Falls Stampede: Maybe no team has undergone more changes in the off-season than the Stampede. They fired longtime head coach Kevin Hartzell and in the span of a week, hired former North Dakota assistant Cary Eades. Eades oversaw the team’s Entry Draft and heads into next season with at least 15 returning players from the 2011-12 team.

A Little Deeper…

Now that the playoffs are close, it officially closes the books on the USHL’s regular season.

It now means six teams have to use to the rest of spring and summer to think about what could have been. The rest of the league can still decide its fate but there’s no doubting there will be another four teams who will soon join the ranks of those not playing.

But here’s something we can all agree upon. This season showed us quite a bit and with that, here’s what we learned from each team this season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

-Green Bay Gamblers: That if Derek Lalonde and that front office is really good at dominating the USHL on and off the ice, we’d sure hate to make them mad in a game of ‘Risk’ and/or ‘Battleship’.

-Indiana Ice: That Daniil Tarasov really DID score 88 points and it won’t be remembered because of what some guy in Lincoln did this year.

-Dubuque Fighting Saints: Two projected first-round picks in Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and Michael Matheson (Boston College) help. Talent and depth have certainly defined the defending Clark Cup Champs. So did winning the Cowbell Cup. That also helped.

-Youngstown Phantoms: They proved you can recruit to Youngstown and furthermore, you can win there. It also showed a continual theme. Returning experienced players gives you a chance at winning. Youngstown certainly has shown that to be true with how it has been good all long. And its also showed that this Austin Cangelosi (Boston College) might be something special.

-Cedar Rapids RoughRiders: That even without experience or even the best players for his system, Mark Carlson might have had one of his best seasons as a head coach.

-Team USA: They’ve shown this nation’s best hockey talent keeps improving.

-Chicago Steel: They will be next year’s Youngstown. They have a coach in place who wants to work and a ton of returning talent. Next year will be the year in Chicago.

-Muskegon Lumberjacks: Year 1 brought playoffs. Year 2 brought dread. What Year 3 will bring is anyone’s guess.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

-Lincoln Stars: They’ve shown us that between Kevin Roy (Brown) and Ralf Freiburgs (Bowling Green), it might be a good idea for the USHL to open up that import rule to a few more players.

-Omaha Lancers: That if you make the right moves and draft smart, you can rebuild and reload in one season.

-Waterloo Black Hawks: We saw this on a message board, so there’s a chance it could be wrong. The post said Taylor Cammarata (Minnesota) was the first 16-year-old in league history to score 60 or more points in a season. If that’s true, what he does next year could be scary. If its not true, what he could do next year could be scary.

-Fargo Force: Losing 13 of your first 15 is no need for people to panic about a coach and blaming it on the fact he’s 64 years old. Its proof things really can turn around if given a chance. Oh and as for that coach he feels its, “letting people know Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) is the best goaltender in the USHL.”

-Sioux City Musketeers: You don’t need a superstar, first-round projected defenseman to go far. That you can parlay that into getting more pieces, fighting in a tough division and then coming out with equally or even maybe a better chance at going far in the playoffs.

-Tri-City Storm: That if its possible, clone Adam Wilcox (Minnesota) for next season and pair him with the incoming talent to make them the deadliest force imaginable.

-Des Moines Buccaneers: You can’t go home again as Regg Simon learned the hard way. Oh and toilets are the new pink slip.

-Sioux Falls Stampede: Remember what your team did to them this year. Because next year, it’s not happening. They’ll be more experienced and with Charlie Lindgren in net, it won’t be easy.

Shake It Up…

By now we’re all aware the Indiana Ice fired coach Kyle Wallack on Monday, a week before the USHL playoffs start.

As it stands, it appears Indiana will walk into the postseason with the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. Maybe that gives interim head coach Charlie Skjodt, who coached the team last year, some more time to work with the team.

Coaching turnover has always been considered normal given this is a league used to feed college or in the case of former NTDP coach Ron Rolston, a professional organization.

Eleven of the league’s 16 teams since April 9, 2011 have replaced their coaches due to coaches moving on to another position or because their teams have made firings. The five clubs with no changes are Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Lincoln, Sioux Falls and Waterloo.

Wallack’s dismissal marks the sixth time this season a USHL franchise has fired its coach. Some wonder what affect will this latest move will have on a team which could go far in the post-season.

No one knows but what we do know is how the other moves worked out. Here’s a look back at the team’s that made changes behind the bench and what’s happened so far:

-Omaha Lancers:

Fired: Bliss Littler

Replaced With: Mike Aikens

The Result: Omaha comes into this weekend a point out of first place in the West and are  guaranteed a first-round bye if they win this weekend. It it is a major turnaround compared to how the season started. Omaha had trouble scoring goals relying on a young defense and a rookie goaltender to win games. Thanks to some moves and trades Рactually made by Littler Рthis team appears geared to go the distance in the playoffs.

 

-Tri-City Storm:

Fired: Drew Schoneck

Replaced With: Josh Hauge

The Result: Hauge helped Tri-City make up some ground as they’ve clinched a playoff spot where they will either play Waterloo or Fargo in the first round. Hauge’s wide-open style of hockey has seen the Storm get wins over squads like the Force to name a few. A stronger offensive style accompanied by goaltender Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay/Minnesota) makes this team a likable option to pull off either a first-round upset or at least a first-round heartattack.

 

-Muskegon Lumberjacks

Fired: Kevin Patrick

Replaced With: Jim McKenzie

The Result: Muskegon still suffered through a tough year but did show some signs of a turnaround. It seems like every time they play the Green Bays of the world, they do not look bad by any means. McKenzie’s real test will come this off-season when he tries to build a team through the drafts.

 

-Des Moines Buccaneers

Fired: Regg Simon

Replaced With: Graham Johnson (interim)

The Result: Simon’s firing came not that long ago so its really hard to say long-term what the impact will be. But for now, a 12-game losing streak isn’t exactly a good thing and considering Omaha and Indiana, which play Des Moines this weekend, have something to prove it could be a while before this streak is snapped.

 

-Indiana Ice

Fired: Kyle Wallack

Replaced With: Charlie Skjodt

The Result: At least with Skjodt, you get someone who is familiar with the inner workings of the franchise, the Eastern Conference and the playoffs. What happens in the playoffs remains to be seen.

The Lonely Toilet…

Maybe we now know the reason why Regg Simon was “happy” to get fired from the Des Moines Buccaneers on Tuesday.

After all, someone did put a toilet in the man’s parking spot the day before he was fired.

Simon, who recently started a Twitter account, tweeted on Monday a photo of a toilet in his parking space under the title of “How Fitting!”

Yep. That’s a toilet. That’s a parking lot. That’s a toilet with a Green Bay Packers sticker in a parking lot.

The Packers sticker is more than likely aimed at the possibility Simon is a Minnesota Vikings fan. He is from Elk River, Minn. which is about 30 or so miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Having a toilet in his parking space is the latest detail in what has certainly been a crazy tale.

Simon told the Des Moines Register on Tuesday in regards to his dismissal, “This is one of the happiest days of my life, and I am glad it happened now rather than later.”

We’ve seen some crazy stuff this season in the USHL.

As of 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, the craziest news appeared to be when Sioux City Musketeers assistant John Grahame signed a contract with the New York Islanders to come out of retirement.

Coaches in the USHL just don’t come out of retirement to go play in the NHL. Then again, they don’t come to work on Monday morning to find toilets in their parking spots either.

Simon, 36, spent nine years with the organization. That’s basically one-fourth of his life. He spent two years as a player and the following seven years either as a head coach or as an assistant. His first stint as head coach saw him win a USHL title back in 2006, when he was coaching players such as Islanders winger Kyle Okposo.

Lately, however, a championship seems like a long time ago. Des Moines is on the verge of missing the playoffs for a fifth-straight season. The team has also lost seven games in a row heading into the weekend.

Firing a “happy” Simon, a toilet in his parking space and possibly missing the playoffs are just the latest problems in Des Moines.

The Bucs also had two players recently charged for allegedly assaulting a Fargo Force player and his 79-year-old grandfather in the stands. Force defenseman Neal Goff admitted to police that, during a March 10th game, he used a racial epithet against Des Moines’ forward Trent Thomas-Samuels, who is black.

Goff, a day later, sat in the stands with his family and, after the game, was immediately assaulted. Police issued arrest warrants last week for Bucs players Tanner Karty and Kevin Irwin (Ohio State) in connection with the assault. Both players were charged with assault.

The team’s struggles have prompted fans to take to various message boards, with most of them speaking out against Simon.

Though no recent comments have been made, there was some talk from Bucs fans about the team firing Simon.

One comment following the team’s 2-1 loss to Sioux Falls on March 18 said, “It’s time some major moves are made in the organization. From coaching all the way to ownership. Buc’s (sic) fans deserve much better and quite frankly are fed up and pissed.”

At least now, those fans have a toilet to vent their frustrations with.

Movin’ On Up…

At least the USHL can now say it has sent someone directly to the NHL.

This probably just wasn’t what they had in mind. Sioux City Musketeers assistant John Grahame signed a contract late Wednesday night with the New York Islanders and will spend the rest of the season with the team.

It’s an interesting situation given that Grahame retired from the NHL and was in his first season with the Musketeers. He’ll go to an Islanders team obviously hurting for goaltending as the NHL season winds down.

Grahame’s signing actually comes at a pretty interesting time given its a parallel with the other big story in the USHL right now.

Des Moines fired head coach Regg Simon on Tuesday as Simon spent nine years with the team. His first two years were as a player.

Grahame came up with Sioux City playing two seasons with the club before going to Lake Superior State for three seasons. He was drafted in 1994 by the Boston Bruins playing three seasons in the AHL before playing in the NHL.

He had stints with Carolina and Tampa Bay before playing in the KHL and spending a few seasons in the AHL with Lake Erie, which is the affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.

Grahame’s career numbers are listed at 97-86-18 with a 2.79 goals against average.

Grahame’s first season in Sioux City has actually been a successful one as of late. The Musketeers overcame early season struggles and are now fifth in the Western Conference standings with a 24-28-1 seven games left.

The Colorado native’s biggest impact has been with goaltender Matt Skoff (Penn State), who is actually second in the USHL in shutouts with five this season. Skoff is 21-21-1 with a 2.89 GAA and a .907 save percentage.

Time Of Your Life…

Force coach John Marks was in the middle of a thought when he lost track of what he was saying.

Marks, who turned 64 last week, said he was chalking it up to old age as to why he couldn’t remember what he was saying. But then that’s when he talked about his age and his experience to describe his feelings about this season.

“Holy crow I am getting old but you know what’s nice about this year’s situation for me,” Marks said. “This is the best job I’ve had in a long time. There were four or five years where the organizations I were coaching folded because of the economy.”

Marks, who was inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame in January, had coached in six different locales since the 2005-06 season prior to joining the Force last summer.

The Greenville Grrowl, which Marks coached for eight seasons until 2005-06, folded in 2006 because it couldn’t find a new source of financing. It left Marks, who actually won a league title with team, looking for a new job.

He got another position the following season with the Fayetteville FireAntz in the SPHL. He led the FireAntz to a league title and resigned to take a job with the Pensacola Ice Pilots, which played in the ECHL. The ECHL, hockey’s Double A equivalent, is considered to be a better league than the SPHL.

Marks coached the Ice Pilots in 2007-08 until the franchise, which at one time had strong crowds and concrete community support, infamously folded following a change in ownership.

He then took over the Augusta Lynx, which folded 18 games into the 72-game ECHL season leaving Marks without a job and salary. Marks resurfaced the following year with the Dayton Gems in the IHL. He was fired after one season and then coached last season in the MJHL with the Winkler Flyers.

“My contract wasn’t honored and I lost a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Marks said of his last few jobs. “They were corporations and it was easy to say the corporations are broke. That’s what’s really nice about my situation here. Great city with good ownership, good fans, great building. I am really having a good time. These kids are fun. They keep you young. I don’t know where to really put that, but I am really grateful.”

Marks guided a team which once lost 13 of its first 15 games only to guide them to a playoff berth this weekend.

The Force have won three straight games and with six games left, are still going for a first place finish in the Western Conference despite an eight-point gap between them and the Omaha Lancers.

As Marks said, there have been plenty of things that have made life easier for him. The Force’s fanbase made history on Saturday surpassing the 100,000 mark in attendance for the second time in franchise history yet it was the earliest the team has surpassed the mark. The team is third in average attendance (3,720 fans) and are second in total attendance.

Winning accompanied with a demanding fanbase has made this season enjoyable for Marks as he showed in a recent commercial he did for the team. Marks is featured at a restaurant sitting at a table over what is a candlelight meal.

He looks into the camera telling fans he’s going to be in it for the long haul and they should be too when it comes to renewing season tickets. Marks even had a line poking fun at the team’s fluid coaching history by saying, “I’m not like the other guys.”

“My wife told me I’ll do anything. A lot of guys say I am not going to do this or that. We are in the entertainment business. I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. My ego is what it is I guess or what have you,” Marks said about the commercial. “When l looked at it and I wish I had done it over again because my eyes kept looking over to the right looking at the cue cards. Other than that, I thought I did pretty good. People that buy the tickets and support the team are our lifeblood. Like they say, its not a job, it’s adventure. I thought it was a great job by our marketing staff. It’s gone viral, oh yeah, it’s gone viral. I’ll still never get an acting job.”

Heart Skipped A Beat…

Certainly there was a lot that went on during the Force’s 2-0 win on Friday over Western Conference rival Des Moines.

Here’s a look back at what you might have missed from last night’s game.

The Playoffs: WIth the win, the Force clinched their fourth playoff spot in as many seasons. Black and Blue sit in fourth place and are out of third by one point. Waterloo sits in third but has played two fewer games than the Force meaning it could take a little assistance to get the No. 3 seed. The Force hold a 13-point lead in the standings over Tri-City for the fourth spot meaning they would get home ice advantage. A Force win coupled with a Storm loss tonight means the Force could lose every game for the rest of the regular season and still be guaranteed home ice in the first round.

Zane Gothberg: Gothberg (North Dakota) did get his second straight shutout which is an accomplishment by itself. But this was his sixth shutout of the season doubling the previous record for blankings in a season by former Roseau star Mike Lee, who is now at St. Cloud State. It adds to what has been really one of the more impressive individual seasons in this team’s history. Gothberg is 23-14-4 record a 2.29 GAA and a .919 save percentage putting him in the Top 5 in just about every goaltending¬†category of relevance this season. Oh and as for the shutout thing, he leads the league in that category too.

Justin Wade: Wade (Notre Dame) had two assists for what was his first-ever multi-point game in the USHL. His game is designed to prevent offense more than generate it but Wade is having a banner year compared to last season when it comes to points. Granted he only has six point (1 goal, 5 assists) but he’s become the team’s No. 1 shutdown defenseman and has a plus-12 rating this season. Though since January, Wade’s rating is a plus-17.

-Dominic Toninato: Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) made his Force debut last night wearing the No. 9. The former Duluth East star didn’t register a point but he did see ice time in his first game with the team. Toninato will play tonight but it is unclear on if he will play again for the Force this season. He’ll be with the team for sure next year.

-Jay Dickman: Speaking of Minnesota high school players, Dickman keeps showing why it was a good idea to go out and get him. Dickman picked up an assist last night giving him five points in eight games. He was known more as a scorer in high school. He led Class 2A in goals this past season but the Force probably aren’t complaining about the opportunities he’s created in his short term with the team.

You Could Have It All…

Barely two weeks have passed and Dominic Toninato finds life to be pretty boring these days.

This weekend he’ll find out what life will be like next season with the now-former Duluth East star making his debut with the Fargo Force tonight against the Des Moines Buccaneers.

“I am excited to get back to playing,” Toninato said. “I am excited to meet some of the guys and get to know them for next season.”

No one can exactly blame Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) for wanting another crack at the ice considering how his season ended two weeks ago. Toninato and Duluth East entered the Minnesota state boys hockey tournament as the No. 1 seed with a 28-1 record.

The Greyhounds suffered a surprising 2-1 loss to Lakeville South and ended up beating No. 3 seed Eagan in the consolation tournament, which became a graveyard for all top-seeded teams at the state tournament.

Losing in the opening round, he said, was tough but watching other top seeds fall didn’t make it any easier.

“Going into it you knew this was one of the deepest state tournaments,” Toninato said. “All the top seeds went down but the four teams that beat them all deserved to be there.”

Toninato’s individual efforts didn’t go unnoticed. He was a Mr. Hockey finalist because he finished the season scoring 61 points in 25 regular season games.

He was also named to The Associated Press’ second team for boys hockey making him one of two players the Force have to make the team. Forward Jay Dickman, who played at St. Paul Johnson before coming to Fargo, was also a second-team member.

Toninato said earlier in the week his plan was to arrive in Fargo a few days prior to today’s game in the hopes of getting used to the team and the system the Force uses.

“I want to work hard and get better because that is what juniors are for,” said Toninato, whose godfather is NHL legend Brett Hull. “Main thing is to get better and stronger for the next level.”

Unlike Dickman who is on the active roster, Toninato isn’t eligible for the playoffs.

Though he could play in a few more games which is up in the air.

But for now, he’s just focused on trying to get an idea of what next season could bring.

“I know its a great place with a great coaching staff and a great bunch of guys,” Toninato said about Fargo. “They’ve got great fan support, the arena is really nice and the new workout center is unbelievable. It is just a great place.”

SPECIAL REPORT: Iowa police charge two Des Moines players for allegedly assaulting Force’s Goff

Des Moines Buccaneers players Kevin Irwin and Tanner Karty are being charged by police in Urbandale, Iowa, according to a release that was issued by authorities on Thursday afternoon.

Irwin, 18, is being charged with two counts of assault causing injury, a serious misdemeanor. Karty, 17, has been referred to the Polk County Juvenile Court with two counts of assault with intent, an aggravated misdemeanor, according to police.

Police said in the release Irwin, an Ohio State commit, will turn himself in when the team returns from its current two-game road trip in Fargo where it faces the Force on Friday.

Irwin and Karty are charged in connection with the alleged assault of Force defenseman Neal Goff and his 79-year-old grandfather, Gerald Pipes, which happened March 10.

Goff, 18, was sitting with his family in the stands when police said he was allegedly assaulted by players from the Des Moines Buccaneers when the game ended.

The assault, police said last week, stems from when Goff called Des Moines’ Trent Thomas-Samuels, who is black, a racial epithet during a game on March 9. Goff admitted to authorities he called Thomas-Samuels a “monkey.”

Goff, days later, was one of three players indefinetely suspended by the USHL for being involved in a criminal investigation. He was also suspended along with Irwin and Karty.

 

Read more about this story in Friday’s edition of The Forum.