Most Wanted…

Once again, the Fargo Force found a way to make an off-season interesting.

This time it had nothing to do with another coach leaving. The Force tied a franchise record as it had three players taken in the NHL Entry Draft on Saturday.

Forward Dom Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) was taken 126th overall in the fifth round and with the very next pick the Anaheim Ducks took defenseman and captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha). Forward Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan) was taken 205th overall by the Boston Bruins.

Toninato played with the Force towards the end of the season after playing most of the year with Duluth East (MN-HS), which reached the Minnesota state tournament. Toninato was one of the state’s best players and became the first Minnesota high school hockey player outside of Shattuck-St. Mary’s to be taken in the draft.

He scored 61 points while playing for Duluth East and with the Force had one point in four games with the team. Toninato, who the Force drafted in 2011, will be with the team next season.

As for Cooper, he ends his three-year career by getting drafted by a Ducks franchise which appears to have promising defensemen in its stock.

Cooper, who is 5-10 and 180 pounds, played 50-plus in all three seasons and this year played 55 games scoring 25 points.

He marshaled a defense, which ranked among the best in the USHL and he also captained Team USA to a third-place finish at the World Junior “A” Challenge in British Columbia.

As for Hargrove, the 6-2, 210-pounder was a mix of an offensive threat who could provide punishing hits. He played on the team’s first line, which at times was one of the more dominant first lines in the USHL.

Hargrove going to the Bruins means he’ll be at the team’s camp with former Force teammate and close friend, Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), who was drafted by the team in 2010.

 

Check back later for more details.

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.

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.”

So Appalled…

We’re six days away from the USHL Entry Draft and we decided to take a look back at what happened with the Force last year.

The Entry Draft is a funny thing and the Force are proof. Some teams like Omaha used the Entry Draft to practically build this year’s team which finished second in the Western Conference during the regular season.

As for the Force, of the 15 players they drafted last year eight – or more than half – are no longer affiliated with the team. That means either their rights were traded or released by the Force.

Here’s a look at the familiar, not-so-familiar and now infamous names the Force selected last year.

-At No. 9 the Force take Jordan Nelson: Nelson came in with some hype given he was North Dakota’s Mr. Hockey as a senior while playing at Williston. He came to the Force from Alexandria (NAHL) this season and finished with 18 points in 53 games. Nelson really came into his own around the midway point of the season performing solidly in a third-and at times, fourth-line role. An injury about two-thirds into the season, hindered him for the rest of the campaign. It was a setback for Nelson, who will return to the team next season where he could be one of the team’s most relied upon players.

-At No. 24 the Force take Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth): It can be debated Iafallo might have been the best selection the Force made. Iafallo was a highly-coveted player the Force snapped up early in the second round. It turned out to be a move which paid off as he teamed up with Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) and Dave Gust, another Entry Draft pick, to become what was this team’s best line during the postseason. Iafallo had 32 points making him the Force’s fourth-leading scorer in the regular season. The trio – known as The High School Musical – will all return next season as it looks to be not only the Force’s primary line but possibly, one of the most formidable in the entire USHL.

-At No. 35 the Force take Zach Urban: Urban was a defenseman former Force coach Jason Herter was really high on. So was Penticton (BCHL) and that’s where Urban ended up. He was part of the Penticton team which has destroyed virtually every Canadian Tier I record and his rights are no longer owned by the Force.

-At No. 53 the Force take Max McHugh: He was with the Force for about five minutes during camp and it didn’t pan out for either side.

-At No. 65 the Force take Brady Riesgraf (Bemidji State): Another defenseman with a lot of promise given his highlight reel moves from his time at Holy Family. He played three games with the Force and became the odd man out on the defense. Riesgraf was traded to the NAHL and his rights are no longer owned by the Force.

-At No. 80 the Force take Brendan Harms (Bemidji State): Harms came to prominence in the MJHL and continued to do so this year with the Portage Terriers. He overcame a shoulder injury to score 57 points in 42 games and then lit up opponents in the playoffs by scoring 20 points in 15 games. Harms will play in Fargo next season before going to college.

-At No. 84 the Force take Zach Pochiro: Pochiro was at camp but his time with the Force didn’t last long. In fact, his most notable contribution to the team came when he was a punching bag for Brian Cooper during pre-season camp. He, like quite a few others on this post, are no longer on affiliated with the Force.

-At No. 99 the Force take Dave Gust: Gust was the mid-season call up who really changed things for the Force. He was paired up with Iafallo and Guertler to become a line which gave glimpses of what next season could bring for the Force. Gust, who played in just 43 games, scored 30 points making him the team’s fifth-leading scorer. His play has resulted in him being on the radar of a few colleges. Gust said during the playoffs he hopes to have a college chosen by the end of the summer.

-At No. 189 the Force take Blake Clarke: Clarke was 15 at the time and choosing him raised a lot of eyebrows given THIS year’s Futures Draft would have been the time to take him. Clarke made the team out of camp playing in 13 games only scoring one goal and later went back to his native St. Louis. He was later given his release by the Force. Clarke said he learned a lot during his time in Fargo and it showed as he represented Team USA at the World Youth Olympic Games and a few weeks ago was a first-round selection in the OHL Priority Draft by the Brampton Battalion at 15th overall. He was the highest chosen American in the draft and by all accounts, could very well be a first-or-second round pick in his draft eligible year.

-At No. 204 the Force take Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth): Toninato played this season at Duluth East where he helped them become Minnesota high school hockey’s dominant power in the regular season. Toninato and Duluth East had their title dreams dashed with a first-round loss. He later came to the Force playing in four games and in the process, impressing Force coach John Marks. Toninato will be with the team next season.

-At No. 211 the Force take Anders Franke: Franke came into last off-season as one of the possibilities to back up Zane Gothberg (North Dakota/Boston). Gothberg’s back up was ultimately Reed Peters. Franke played this high school season at Elk River (MN-HS) and his rights are no longer owned by the Force.

-At No. 234 the Force take Trevor Hamilton (Miami (Ohio)): Hamilton was drafted as one of the players who is in the NTDP but because of where he is in school, will have one more year before going off to college. The Force took him and are now a season away from having him on the roster.

-At No. 264 the Force take James McNulty (Army): He was with the Force in camp, long enough to commit to Army but later went back to the SJHL where he played the season before. The last we heard, he and Major Rawls were still going back and forth about him being on the boat in Season 2.

-At No. 279 the Force take Zach Doerring: Doerring spent this season at Blake (MN-HS) where he ranked as one of the state’s best passers finishing in the Top 10 in assists among both classes. At 6-3, 195 pounds, his size also has made him an intriguing prospect as he’s received offers from a few schools in Hockey East where his brother, Blake, plays for Vermont. He will be with the Force next season.

TRADES:

-Don’t forget the trades that happened either and some of them had a big impact on the Force. The Force traded defenseman Brandon Carlson to Lincoln. Carlson helped the Stars reach the playoffs where they advanced to the Western Conference finals. They beat the Force en route to meeting Waterloo.

-The Force also traded forward Joe Rehkamp, who went from being at Waterloo to being at St. Cloud State in one season. Force assistant Byron Pool said earlier in the season, Rehkamp wanted top-line minutes and there was no guarantee he’d get it thus the trade.

-Finally, there’s the much-discussed trade where the Force received the rights of A.J. Reid (Army) from Omaha in a trade for Jimmy Murray (St. Cloud State). Reid, though a popular player with coaches and teammates, never panned out for the Force and went to the NAHL. As for Murray, every time played the Force, he put on a show single-handedly winning two games by himself. He also finished in the Top 3 in assists throughout the entire USHL.

 

Out There On The Ice…

Fargo Force defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) was invited on Thursday to the NHL’s Central Scouting Draft Combine.

Cooper, 18, was one of 13 USHL players invited to the camp which starts at the end of May in Toronto. Eighty-eight North American players (78 skaters, 10 goaltenders) were invited along with 17 European players (14 skaters, three goaltenders) to the combine.

In all, it is considered to be the best collection of players eligible for the NHL Draft.

The combine will run May 28 through June 2 giving NHL teams a chance to meet and speak with potential prospects.

Quite a few NHL teams have spoken with Cooper, who in the last three years has emerged as a possible third-or-fourth round pick in this summer’s draft.

The 5-10, 180-pound defenseman was the Force’s team captain and played a different style than he’s showed in the past. A young defensive corps made Cooper more of a stay-at-home defenseman who wasn’t involved much in the rush like had been in previous seasons.

Cooper finished the season with 24 points (6 goals, 18 assists) in 55 games and a plus-16 rating in 55 games this year. He also represented Team USA at the World Junior “A” Challenge for the second year in a row.

He captained the team to a bronze medal.

Cooper came to the Force as a 15-year-old and in his three-year career put up 70 points (20 goals, 50 assists) while amassing 293 penalty minutes in 161 career games while playing in a Clark Cup Finals as a rookie.

In all, he was a member of three playoff teams. He finished this year’s USHL Playoffs with three points in five games as the Force were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals by the Lincoln Stars.

He’s currently a senior at Fargo South where holds a 3.8 grade point average and is a member of the National Honor Society. After graduation, he’ll go to Nebraska-Omaha and has said he would pursue being a podiatrist if his hockey career does not work out.

Cooper is one of several Force players eligible for this year’s draft.

Defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame) along with forwards Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth), Jay Dickman, Nate Arentz and Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) are all also eligible for the draft.

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

Time Is Running Out…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show Me A Good Time…

Count Force coach John Marks among those impressed with how affiliates list player Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) did in his short stint with the team.

It appears Toninato won’t play Saturday in the regular-season finale against Lincoln with the playoffs starting Monday. Toninato did play last weekend scoring his first USHL goal in a 5-1 win over Sioux Falls.

“It was a flurry out in front, Brodz (Jonny Brodzinski) got a tap on it and it just came to me,” Toninato said about his first goal. “I don’t think there was any pressure. I did feel like I was a little snake-bit the last couple weekends but it is nice to get that first one out the way.”

Toninato played four games with the Force after high school season ended with Duluth East in March.

Toninato was drafted by the Force in last season’s USHL Entry Draft. His senior season resulted in Toninato scoring 73 points in 31 games helping Duluth East to what ended up being a fifth-place finish at the state tournament.

Marks said he was so impressed with Toninato he wishes the forward was available for the playoffs. Toninato is not eligible because he’s not part of the team’s active roster, which was submitted to the league office back in February.

“He was a really good player for us,” Marks said. “We liked what we saw and we’re looking forward to what we could see from him next year.”

Toninato is expected to compete on a team where its forward corps could provide an interesting mix.

Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), Dave Gust and Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth) – known as The High School Musical Line – will all return next season. Former Lakeville North star Nate Arentz is set to return for a third season. It also appears forwards Jordan Nelson, Stanislav Dzakhov, Pavel Zykov and Jay Dickman will also return to the team next season.

The Force, in all, could have a total of nine returning forwards along with three returning defensemen and a returning goaltender in Reed Peters.

He Got Game…

NHL’s Central Scouting released this morning its final rankings of North American skaters, a list which features six Fargo Force players.

There are 29 listed players from the USHL but the number might be higher when adding players like the Force’s Jay Dickman and Indiana’s Boo Nieves (Michigan), who are now playing in the league after playing for their high schools earlier in the year.

Defenseman and team captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), to no surprise, was the highest-rated Force player checking in at 68th overall. The 5-10 Cooper was touted last season by Jack Barzee, now formerly of Central Scouting, as a player to watch in the USHL this season.

Cooper, 18, has scored 23 points in 54 games while leading the Force to what appears to be a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference.

Forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) is listed at 112th overall. Farley exploded this season as he was on a pace to break every team single-season scoring record until suffering a foot injury. The injury left him out for a month. He has scored 10 points in 12 games giving him 58 points in 49 games.

Fellow Bulldog commit Alex Iafallo came in at 133rd overall. Iafallo was drafted nearly a year ago by the team and made the squad out of camp. Iafallo along with linemates, Dave Gust and Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), have formed a partnership that has given the Force a secondary offensive threat to Farley’s line. Iafallo,who has four points in four games, has scored 31 points in 56 games this season. He will play next season in Fargo before going off to college.

Defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame) came in at 144th overall. Wade, in his second season, has been living up to the promise of being a shutdown defenseman. He’s been one of the reasons why the Force are statistically the second-best defense in the entire USHL. Wade’s punishing checks, annoying pokechecks and stay-at-home style has made him one of the league’s best shutdown defenseman. He’s also been able to contribute on offense picking up seven points in 55 games. He’s also a plus-17 on the year. Wade will be back with the team next season before going to Notre Dame.

Five spots after Wade was forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth), who has played the last few weekends with the Force. Toninato played high school hockey at Duluth East this season which went 27-1 heading into the Minnesota state hockey tournament but left with a consolation tournament trophy. Toninato scored his first goal on Saturday in the Force’s 5-1 win over Sioux Falls. Toninato, who wore No. 9, will be with the Force next season.

Forward Jay Dickman, who was still listed under St. Paul Johnson, rounded out the Force’s list at 203. Dickman has five points – all assists – in 11 games with the Force but made his name in high school. Dickman scored an impressive 45 goals this season to become Class 2A’s leading goal-scorer. At 6-5, 228 pounds he has been described as a draft dark horse. Ryan Kennedy, of The Hockey News, tweeted that an NHL scout said Dickman was built like an all-state wrestler but had soft hands to go along with his game.

NTDP defenseman Jacob Trouba (Michigan) was the league’s highest rated player nine while Dubuque’s Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) was rated at 18.

Lincoln phenom Kevin Roy (Brown), who has 100 points this season, was rated 78th.

Former Force forward Ben Johnson was rated at No. 52 on the list. Johnson had a short stint with the team playing in five games. He returned to Calumet (MI-HS) where he was Michigan’s Mr. Hockey. Johnson then left high school signing with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL.

Johnson is one of three former Force players to play or intend on playing with a Major Junior team in the last three years. Blake Clarke, who played with the Force earlier in the year, was taken 15th overall by the Brampton Battalion on Saturday in the OHL Priority Draft.

Control…

On a night where Lincoln Stars forward Kevin Roy (Brown) got his 50th goal, Sioux Falls goaltender Charlie Lindgren did his best to show the USHL is still a defensive-minded league.

Lindgren made an astounding 37 saves – including 13 in the third period alone – helping his team to a 3-2 shootout win over the Fargo Force on Friday at Scheels Arena.

“It’s hard to explain,” Lindgren said of his game-altering, third-period performance. “(Bryn) Chyzyk and (Austin) Farley started going and you could tell they were playing good and you have to battle back and keep your team in it. Our team their job too by keeping us in it.”

Lindgren had been stopping shots all night but it was nothing compared to what he faced in the third. Force coach John Marks paired Chyzyk (North Dakota) and Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) in the third after they played on separate lines to open the game.

The duo worked early and often scoring both Force goals tying it at 2 with about 12 or so minutes left in the frame.

It appeared the goals were about to mark the Force’s turnaround but it really just set up a bigger platform for Lindgren.

Lindgren had a two-minute stretch where he was constantly having to fight off screens in front of net just to get a clean look at a puck. He managed to get those clear views making saves that most in Scheels Arena wished they  hadn’t seen.

He had four saves which really embodied how strong his performance was:

No 1: Defenseman Taylor Richart had a shot from the point that Lindgren just gobbled up. Richart’s shot was, at that time, the best scoring chance the Force had against Lindgren who was gaining momentum.

No. 2: Forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) was between the blueline and the right faceoff circle when he spotted a trailing Farley. Farley took the puck making a move to force a favorable angle for a goal only to have Lindgren stop him by shifting left to right to use his leg for the save.

No. 3: This was easily Lindgren’s modus operandi. Toninato had a point blank chance at net. Lindgren was down and Toninato lifted the puck with the thought Lindgren couldn’t reach it. He was wrong. Lindgren, from his stomach, lifted his right arm catching the puck out of mid-air leaving Toninato visibly frustrated. Toninato said, “Puck just chipped to me and I tried getting it upstairs. He’s the lefty goalie. If he wasn’t a lefty, I don’t think he would have had it.

No. 4: Jordan Nelson became Lindgren’s latest highlight reel when he got alone and tried to make a deke. While Nelson was midway through his move, Lindgren dove and poked the puck away from him ending a chance for a Force goal.

All these saves happened within a six-minute span which saw the Force go from holding momentum to barely holding on to any edge once overtime arrived.

Lindgren made four saves in the extra frame but continued his solid night in the shootout.

Fargo’s Dave Gust made the deke to get the angle on Lindgren but the puck rolled off his stick, not even resulting in a shot. Farley was next when he flew in on net and had Lindgren beat only to have his shot sky over the crossbar.

The miss set up Sioux Falls’ Sam Rothstein who buried his chance on the other end leaving Lindgren with the chance to decide the game.

And as luck would have it, the Force’s final shooter was Lindgren’s childhood friend Nate Arentz.

“I knew they were going to send him out there,” Lindgren said.

Arentz coasted in on net only to approach Lindgren, lose control of the puck and not even get a shot off.

Lindgren, like that, dodged three bullets in a shootout after practically being a bulletproof vest in the third period.

The shootout was almost like the Force’s night against Lindgren: Just when they thought they had a shot, they actually just lost control instead.