Be Alright…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Around The World…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vitamins…

Today is the first day college coaches are able to call players born in 1996 and to no surprise, Mason Morelli has received quite a bit of interest.

Fargo Force assistant and director of player personnel Jesse Davis said this afternoon numerous college coaches asked for Morelli’s phone number so they could gauge his interest.

“It’s all across the board,” Davis said about the geographic range of schools interested in Morelli. “We had a lot of schools at our camp and from all different areas and we also had close to 50 college coaches at our tryouts. There have been WCHA schools, guys from out East and everyone else trying to get a hand in there to see where he is leaning. Is he Ivy League? Will he come out east? Will he play in the Big Ten? That’s why today is big for the college level and now they’ve seen his talent level and they want to see if they can get him in school.”

Davis declined to name specific schools when he was asked if the University of North Dakota did enquirer about Morelli. He said “it wasn’t a hidden secret” there is interest in Morelli.

Morelli will feature in the team’s plans next year having made what was certainly one of the biggest jumps of any player prior to the USHL Futures Draft a few months ago.

The Minot, N.D. native was on the Force’s radar and the team appeared to be set to take him without what could have been much opposition. It is until Morelli messed up those plans by scoring a hat trick in the opening game at the futures combine.

It resulted in his stock increasing and on draft day, the Force traded up to No. 3 to get him.

At 16 years old, he played both high school and junior hockey last season further showing he could be able to handle the demands that come with junior hockey.

Morelli has previously said he would like to play at UND given his grandfather, Reg, scored the game-winning goal in the team’s 1959 title season over Michigan State in the national championship game. His father also played at UND.

Davis said Morelli is one of the many 1996-born Force players colleges have called about today.

One thing Davis has reminded his players is that for now, it is interest and there should be no rush to make a decision.

“We tell them it is not a sprint right now,” he said. “That it is more of a marathon and you have to finish high school and take your time with it.”

Davis cited current forward Dave Gust (Ohio State) as an example.

Gust exploded onto the scene last season following a mid-year call up and his 30-point season resulted in the Force having a No. 1 line which helped them reach the second round of the playoffs.

Gust was a commodity throughout the season but took his time and committed to Ohio State just a few weeks ago.

“We’ve told our kids to do their homework,” he said. “And if they could get some visits in, that’s even better. It is their choice, not anyone else’s.”

Nothin’ On You…

Turns out the chat between Miami (Ohio) and Taylor Richart turned out to be a good one after all.

Richart committed to Miami on Friday and will be at the school for the fall bringing his tenure with the Force to an end after one season, which was certainly successful.

He was only one of two players to play all of the team’s 60 games last season and put up an offensive punch every now and again by scoring 16 points. Richart burst onto the scene picking up the league’s defenseman of the week award to open the season.

Richart might not have put up the numbers as he did finish outside the Top 25 among defensemen in points. Yet what he did do was give the Force a defenseman comfortable enough to play in every scenario.

The 5-9, 160 pound Richart was part of a power play and a penalty kill which finished in the Top 5 last season helping the Force overcome a torrid start to end the season in fourth heading into the playoffs.

Richart to Miami started to really generate momentum after the Force’s tryout camp, which was held last week here in the Minneapolis area. Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis addressed the rumors Richart committed right after camp stating both Richart and Miami were seen talking to each other in the lobby of the rink where the camp was held.

His departure now means the Force have lost two players for next season who could have come back. Forward Jonny Brodzinski, who played at Blaine (MN-HS) with Richart, said weeks ago he will play next season at St. Cloud State.

Richart’s departure also means the Force’s defense will have a bit of a different look. He becomes the third defenseman to leave the team meaning Justin Wade (Notre Dame), will be the team’s only Top 4 returning defenseman.

It appears, at least for now, Wade will be joined by fellow returners Neal Goff, Taylor Fleming and Dominic Racobaldo. Defenseman David Mead’s future with the team is in flux after he was one of four Force players selected in the NAHL Draft.

Assuming the Force only return four defensemen, the team does have its options. Tender signee Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan) will be on the roster next year as league rules require the Force to dress him in a specific amount of games.

Though the Force do have plenty of options. Entry draft pick Charles Hemstrom appears to be one of the players the Force will rely upon to fill that void. Hemstrom spent last season in the NAHL and was a plus-19 in 38 games last season. Davis hinted weeks ago Hemstrom will make the team  when he said Hemstrom fit the one of the needs the Force would have for the 2012-13 season.

Another option could be another entry draft pick Victor Bjorkung (Maine), who is also weighing offers to turn professional in his native Sweden.

This also means there’s a stronger chance both Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota) and Dante Suffredini among others could be included in the team’s plans for next season.

Pelnik, who at 6-4 and 185 pounds, might have been the team’s most vaunted prospect for the entire year. He committed to North Dakota at 15 becoming the first person from North Carolina to do so.

It was expected for Pelnik to play for the Force last season but he spent the season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN-HS) to further his development.

Suffredini, however, spent last season at Detroit Honeybaked playing midgets.

A.I.M. Fire…

Force forward Pavel Zykov only had two points in 20 games this season but there’s a reason why the team’s coaching staff is so high on him.

As it would appear, so is Metallurg in the KHL. Zykov was drafted by Metallurg a few days ago in the KHL Amateur Draft. He was a second round selection by the program famous for producing Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

Though the 6-1, 175-pound Zykov is still listed as being part of the CSKA Moscow at the time he was drafted, it appears he was actually the highest and potentially only USHL-based player to be taken in the draft.

For those not familar with the KHL, it is the premier professional league in Russia. It is a league which has become a fertile and at times, challenging ground for NHL teams to take what is considered to be the top talent in the nation.

There are 26 teams spread across seven nations which compete in the league which has gone through quite a few transformations before making the KHL name and brand concrete back in 2008.

It isn’t a complete surprise for KHL teams to draft USHL-based players as Dubuque’s Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) was drafted last season.

As for Zykov, getting drafted certainly adds to his profile of being what Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis called, “a high-end talent” when the team first acquired him. Davis watched Zykov at a showcase during the season and spoke with his adviser.

It led to both sides entering discussions and Zykov making his way to Fargo where he was the second Russian-born player on the team. Though Zykov’s grasp of English improved, he was typically one of the more quiet players yet well-received players on the team.

Zykov used most to the season to adjust to the league and living in the United States for the first time. He appeared to have a better understanding as he scored his only two points in the Force’s last three games in the regular season.

Davis said via text message the Force will work towards getting Zykov to return next season to team which could feature 15 incumbents and a legitimate shot to capture the Western Conference.

If Zykov does return to the team, it gives the Force another potential “high-end” player on a team which is expected to have quite a few in fellow returners Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth), Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) and Dave Gust (Ohio State).

Yet if Zkyov were to opt for the KHL, he’d be the second player to leave who was expected to return for next season. Forward Jonny Brodzinski’s status had been on the fence until it was determined he was going to be at St. Cloud State next season.

Furthermore, if Zykov were to play in the KHL it would mean he’d become a professional player forgoing his college eligiblity. Davis said when the team first acquired Zykov, that college was an option.

Posse…

Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis said yesterday the team had three priorities heading into the USHL Entry Draft and goaltending was the No. 1.

The team selected Fresno (NAHL) goaltender Tomas Sholl (Bowling Green) with its first pick in the second round. Davis said Sholl was the closest thing available to outgoing goaltender Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), who was named the USHL’s Co-Goaltender of the Year this week.

Davis said the team’s remaining priorities were getting more defensemen and adding toughness, which became important following the Force’s second-round elimination against the extremely physical Lincoln Stars.

Sixteen players are set to return to the Force next season which could put the team in position to contend next season. Here’s a look at the players the Force drafted and as Davis said, there are some who have a strong chance of making next year’s roster.
Tomas Sholl, goaltender (Bowling Green): We’ve seen him in the NAHL and he was a pretty skilled goaltender there. Our tryout camps are going to tell us a lot about our goaltending situation and all of our players. As far as goalies go, he can stop the puck and we have confidence in him. If we decide to go with him and he’s our guy, that’s what its going to be.

Matt Pohlkamp, forward (Bowling Green): He was a guy that we saw last year in the Elite League and in Minnesota high school hockey who we thought was pretty good. A kid that grew year after year as a hockey player and we just kept watching him closely. Came and skated with us at the end of the high school year. He’s committed to Bowling Green and we have a good relationship with those guys there. A little bit of what we are losing in Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State), we are getting back in Matt Pohlkamp. He and Tomas were the two guys we wanted to get and we did.

Charles Hemstrom, defenseman: I have known Charlie for a ling tome. I coached him the past back in Detroit and when you start looking down the list of our needs for a hockey team for next year, Charlie has junior experience. He’s a hard-nosed defenseman and brings a lot of toughness with him and that was something we were lacking looking at roster for next season. I watched Charlie closely this year in the NAHL. Watched him in NAHL Tournament and we decided around that time we’d take him and we did. Big body, hard-nosed, hitter, likes to be a hitter. Defensively sound and not a power play guy but could because of his good shot. Just a solid, solid puck-moving defenseman.

Jared Dedenbach, forward: Jared is another Detroit kid I’ve known a long time and it’s fun seeing these kids when you’ve known them for so long. You’ve seen where they’ve come from and where they are at now. He played in Chicago for the Fury with Dave Gust two years ago. He has good size, skates real well, very very physical and guy we brought in for toughness. He has some good skill and shoots the puck really well. One of few guys who could step in from midget hockey to our league. That’s a big step coming from Triple A to our league. We feel Jared fits the role. Not asking him to come in and score 50 goals but we want him to score, finish checks and he should be tough to play against. We feel he can do that. I don’t know what his potential can be from here.

Teemu Kivihalme, defenseman: He’s a guy we’ve had our eyes on. We had them on him last year for the Futures Draft and kept him on our list. (Force assistant Byron Pool) loves him and was always talking about him this year. We decided that we wanted him to be part of our roster. I don’t think he is going to leave and make our team next year. We took him and when you take guys in the draft and three or four teams are mad at you, that’s when we know we made a good move. He’s still growing. He got a lot bigger this season and growing form a young boy into a man and now he’s just a puck mover. You don’t notice him because he does not make mistakes. By the time he is ready for us, he could have more to him. I can see him getting a Division I scholarship soon.

Mikey Eyssimont, forward : Another guy we were looking to fill on our affiliates list. We had open spot with tendering (defenseman Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan)) and we had an open ’96 (birthyear) spot. He was on our list to draft and saw him two years ago for the first time and was a high-end skilled centerman and was injured for most of this season. As Futures Draft went by, we didn’t see anyone take him. I saw him this spring in a showcase tournament and was one the best players there. His skill translated from last year to this year and he got better and we knew at that point we needed to get him on our affiliate list.

Chase Priske, defenseman (Qunnipiac): He was another guy we had on our list for the Futures Draft. We cannot take everyone and we decided we could get him later and that’s what we did. We have a feeling that (Futures Draft picks) Mason Morelli and Michael Booth will make our club and there will be another open spot. We’ll move him over to the affiliates list. He’s from Florida originally and played at a new prep school program. He’s already committed to a school and it is time for him to grow and getting bigger and stronger.

Aaron Herdt, forward: Aaron is a local talent. He’s been out to skate with us on some practices and was a kid we wanted to keep our hands on. My feeling is his potential is just unknown. Has a really good skillset right now and we didn’t want to miss out on him and was excited just when we would call him and tell him to come to practice. We have a good relationship with Moorhead and felt we had to have him in our program.

On Herdt, a Moorhead native, possibly being the first Fargo-Moorhead kid to ever play for the Force: Yeah, that’s a big thing. I know we get criticized on why we don’t take more local kids and (critics) don’t understand what else is out there. He has the potential to make our hockey team one day. We’re excited to sit back and watch what he is going to do. There’s no real set idea on how good he can be. He’s a rink rat.  His grandpa (Moorhead Youth Arena manager Dennis Bushy) runs the rink over there and they gave him a key to the place.

Hudson Friesen, defenseman: That’s one John kind of threw in there. He coached against him. We had him on the board and leading up to the draft, when we started calling different college guys and different people, his name kept coming up form different guys. Guys with no vested interest other than they saw him play. First step is to get him to camp. He was excited when he called him.

Perry Holcombe, defenseman: Perry is another guy we’ve been on for a few years. He’scComing from a remote area (Georgia) where there is not a lot of hockey. That’s why he got out. He moved on to prep school and is just a guy that always made the national camps and had opporuntity to skate with us and practice and did pretty good. Sometimes kids come in a little bit nervous and he fit right in. He felt like was one of the guys when he was here. We were surprised he was still around at that point. When you look at needs we got a goalie and Pohlkamp and some guys we figured could get.

CJ Garcia, defenseman: CJ, I guess, the one player on the Don MIlls team I was looking at and as a result we also ended up drafting (Futures pick Sal Filice). As we moved on to this draft, he was still a guy we had interest in. They (Garcia and his family) are bartering back and forth between the NCAA and OHL route and that’s something a lot of Candaian kids do. CJ was drafted pretty high in that league. He was drafted by Barrie. We worked diligently talking with his adviser and figured we don’t have a 100 percent “No.” The way the USA Hockey and Hockey Canaida rules are, he could not come here next year and figured, let’s draft him and easiest way to convice him that we want him here is to draft him. He’s a high-end player whatever route he goes.

-Victor Bjorkung, defenseman (Maine): He’s a guy we really didn’t know about. Leading up to the draft we were making our phone calls to talk to people and his name came up. He’s a Maine commit and another player kind of similar to CJ with the different options. He has options in Europe to play pro hockey. He also wants a college education and got the scholarship to Maine and is on the fence on what to do. They are brought up one way over there and don’t know about the USHL. Its an education process and we want to show him that we like him. We want to get him over here and go from there. Unsure where he’s going to go and it is not a 100 percent “No” on coming over here. Now we’ve drafted him and kind of go from there. The later rounds is about getting flyer picks. You are sure they can play but not sure of the direction they are going. High-end skilled, power play type guy. Maine was excited we took him and they feel it would help bring him over here. He’s another guy who when we took him, a lot of teams said, “Whoa. That was a good one.”

Brett Boehm, forward (Minnesota-Duluth): We knew a litlte bit about him before he even committed form Duluth. It’s good to get a kid like this in our league. Not just to Fargo but for our league as a whole. That being kids deciding to go to the college route or going to play for soon-to-be former WCHA teams. They are going to play in our area in college so why don’t they play in our league and play for Fargo?

With You Friends…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiptoe…

Get to know the name Andrew Blumer.

Blumer is a sophomore at Fargo South who was apparently being looked at by USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. The NTDP, as its often known, collects what is considered to be the nation’s best talent and cultivates them into NHL hopefuls.

The NTDP sends scouts across the nation to find talent for its selection camp in Ann Arbor, Mich. It is at this camp where 40 to 50 of the nation’s best 15-and/or 16-year-old players, depending on the birthday, work their way onto the team.

Blumer was not invited to the camp this year but having NTDP scouts look at him is a big deal given the state of North Dakota has only produced two players good enough to play at the NTDP.

Minot’s Quinn Fylling, who played at North Dakota, was the first player in state history to play at the NTDP. The most recent is Devils Lake standout and former Force defenseman Keaton Thompson (North Dakota), who just finished his first season at the program.

“There’s potential there,” said Fargo Force chief scout Jesse Davis about Blumer. “He’s also a baseball player and because of the season hasn’t had the chance to skate with us.”

Davis, who is also an assistant with the Force, spoke Monday about a story in today’s Forum looking at the steps North Dakota high school hockey players go through to get noticed by college and junior coaches.

He was addressing a question he’s commonly asked about why don’t the Force have more Fargo-area players on their roster. While answering the question he mentioned Blumer.

Davis said NTDP scouts were at Scheels Arena during the high school hockey season and scouted him during a game either against West Fargo or state power Grand Forks Red River.

It is conceivable Blumer could be selected in next week’s USHL Futures Draft, which is a draft used to select the premier 15-and/or-16-year old players in the nation.

“He’s a kid guys know about,” Davis said.

The 6-5 Blumer played in 24 games last season and had two assists for the South/Shanley co-op which went 12-12.

Blumer being on the NTDP’s radar, however, does signify the growth which exists among North Dakota’s youth hockey scene. The Force resume its Western Conference semi-final series against the Lincoln Stars which feature Grand Forks’ natives Luke Johnson and Paul Ladue, who are both North Dakota commits. The Force also have former Mr. Hockey winner, Williston’s Jordan Nelson, on its roster.

Minot’s Alex Schoenborn, who was set to play for the Stars next year, opted out of playing in the USHL by signing with the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League a few months ago.

The Winterhawks are a Major Junior team which means Schoenborn forgoes his college eligibility. But the Winterhawks, as of late, have become one of Major Junior’s better franchises having won 40 or more games the last three years and have produced four first-round NHL Draft picks since 2010.

Birthmark…

Here’s something to think about for all you Force fans before your team looks to win Game 2 against Lincoln tonight.

Your most productive line these playoffs weren’t even on the team last year.

Wild, isn’t it? But that’s the way junior hockey works. Kids can be with a team one year and gone the next. A changing landscape is why the USHL Entry and Futures Drafts are so important.

The Force have seen that so far in these playoffs. Alex Iafallo’s (Minnesota-Duluth) game-winning goal in overtime last night gave the Force a 2-1 win over the Stars and a 1-0 series advantage. It also gave the Force their sixth straight postseason win over the Stars.

But also served as reminder of what Iafallo’s line has managed to accomplish this postseason. Iafallo, Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) and Dave Gust – also known as “The High School Musical” – have combined for eight points, the most of any line the Force has in the playoffs.

When the Force were drafting last year they probably didn’t see these three combining – at least this early – to become a potent line.

And that’s the beauty of the drafts. More often than not, it comes down to chances and circumstances.

Let’s go back to last year’s postseason. The Force were doing their best to reach a third straight Clark Cup Final. While all that was going on the team was taking part in the USHL Futures Draft.

The Force were fortunate to get two first-round picks in the USHL Futures Draft and almost unheard of situation. They took Guertler with the No. 2 overall pick.

Weeks later came the Entry Draft where Iafallo was taken in the second round. Then-Force coach Jason Herter said at the time he and Force chief scout Jesse Davis got phone calls and texts from other coaches letting them know they drafted a really good player.

Rounds later is when the team took Gust.

Who knew at the time those three moves would helped the Force reach a position where they are two wins away from a third Western Conference final in four years?

Even if the Force were to lose tonight, it would still put them in a position to potentially close out the series at Scheels Arena. Even if the Force lose the series and get knocked out, there would be some things to build from.

Such as what Guertler, Iafallo and Gust have done. Once the three were put on the same line, they’ve given Force coach John Marks continual reasons to keep playing them. They also have set the bar for next season showing they could anchor the entire forward core.

That alone should have Force fans excited for next year to know they could have a line back together. And not just a line, but a line which could be one of the most formidable in the league.

It all comes back to chance and circumstance.

Drafting these three players have given the Force a chance at making a deep run in the playoffs.

But what they have done, however, appears to be anything but circumstantial.