Escapee…

In John Marks’ mind, none of this makes any sense.

The Fargo Force head coach said Saturday he was surprised defenseman and now-former team captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) only went in the fifth round of the NHL Draft of Saturday.

“It couldn’t have been something off-ice,” Marks said.

Cooper was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks with the 127th pick in the draft, one spot below teammate and forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) was taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Marks said he was happy the Force had three players – Cooper, Toninato and Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan) – were all drafted tying a franchise record of three players taken in the draft. Hargrove was taken in the seventh round by the Boston Bruins.

Still, it left Marks wondering why teams didn’t take Cooper in the earlier rounds.

“He’s a 4.0 student, did really well from school, did really well away from school too,” Marks said. “He has everything you’d want in a kid.”

Cooper said Saturday he was projected to go anywhere from the third to the seventh round. He said going in the fifth round met that projection.

Though Cooper did fall within those parameters, going in the fifth round did raise some eyebrows considering Chicago Steel defenseman Jaccob Slavin (Colorado College) was taken towards the end of the fourth round by the Carolina Hurricanes.

By comparison, Cooper was a bit more well-known than Slavin coming to the draft.

Cooper’s name might have carried more notoriety given he has been talked about since he came into the league at 15. He also had been talked about as one of three USHL players to watch last April for the 2012 NHL Draft by NHL Central Scouting.

Yet Cooper’s offensive production wasn’t what some were considering. Cooper’s second season with the Force resulted in a 33-point season largely predicated on his ability to lead the rush, buzz the net and use a booming hit when needed to free the puck and create chances at the other end.

This past season saw a different version of Cooper. He was more of a stay-at-home defenseman. Cooper did get points, scoring 24, but those rushes which became synonymous with his game were not frequent. Cooper was still a second-team selection to the all-USHL team.

But choosing Slavin might not be all that surprising considering he had better numbers than Cooper.

Slavin was a integral part of the revival that was the Chicago Steel’s season. The Steel won nine games in the 2010-11 season and bounced back this season to contend for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference before falling short.

At 6-2 and 170 pounds, he put up 30 (three goals, 27 assists) in 60 games for the Steel this season.

Marks was then quick to point out he believes Cooper could make the NHL, it just might not be as a defenseman.

“I could see him making the move to forward,” said Marks, who spent nine NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. “That’s what I did. I was an All-American at defense my last two years of college and when I got to the Blackhawks they moved me to forward. Something like that could definitely happen.”

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.

Fancy Footwork…

For now, at least, it appears there could be some familiar names who have a shot at representing Team USA at one of the world’s most premier tournaments.

Recently former Fargo Force captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and former teammate and current Western Michigan star Garrett Haar were invited to Team USA’s evaluation camp in August at Lake Placid, N.Y.

The list, which features more than 40 players, was released by USA Hockey this morning.

Cooper was part of a roster which featured a numerous amount of USHL based players while Haar was just one of quite a few players already playing college hockey to make the list.

What’s on the line for both Cooper and Haar is a chance at playing in the IIHF U-20 World Championships, which by all purposes is the largest and most premier amateur tournament in the world.

It also ranks as one of the more important tournaments in all of world hockey on any level.

The tournament has seen current NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews make their mark and really announce themselves to a hockey world who may not have followed their previous hockey accomplishments.

Cooper, 18, just finished his third and final year with the Force having led the team to a second-round playoff appearance. He also stands a strong chance at being taken on Saturday at the NHL Draft.

Force coach John Marks, a former No. 1 selection back in the 1960s, recently told NHL.com he expects Cooper could go in the third round. Projections have called for Cooper to go anywhere between the second and fourth rounds

Cooper was invited to Team USA’s camp last season where he was among the youngest players to receive an invite. Though he was one of the first players to be cut, he described it as a good experience which prepared him for any future possible chances he’d have with the national team.

Haar, 18, just finished his first season at Western Michigan, where he helped the program win a conference title and have one of the best seasons in school history

It was this time a year ago when Haar started to gain more visibility. Following his first season in Fargo, Haar impressed in the playoffs and was taken by the Capitals in the seventh round of last season’s draft making him the only Force player to be taken.

Haar went into the Capitals evaluation camp where he was declared to by the “surprise of the camp” by general manager George McPhee. Haar was set to return to Fargo after decommitting from Northeastern, a day after he was drafted.

Weeks before the Force’s pre-season camp, he was offered a scholarship by Western Michigan.

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.

Boom Boom…

If the franchise records were not enough for Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), he received a little something extra on Tuesday.

Gothberg was named the USHL’s co-Goaltender of the Year with Green Bay’s Ryan McKay (Miami (Ohio)), becoming the second player in Fargo Force history to win the award. Former Force star Mike Lee, who recently signed a pro contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, was the first back in the 2008-09 season.

Gothberg, a Boston Bruins draft pick, enjoyed what might have been the best individual season in the Force’s four-year history. Gothberg went 26-16-4 with a 2.22 goals against average, a .921 save percentage and seven shutouts.

Gothberg was second in wins, second in GAA, first in save percentage and first in shutouts.

Add in the fact he set seven franchise records: most wins in a season, most wins in a career, lowest GAA in a season, lowest GAA in a career, most shutouts in a season, most shutouts in a career and highest save percentage in a season.

Winning the goaltender award caps what was a transitional year for Gothberg in many ways.

Gothberg came to the Force last season from Thief River Falls (MN-HS), where he won Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s best senior goaltender in addition to being drafted by the Force.

His first season had mixed results. As a backup, he won 14 games and actually set the franchise records for lowest GAA in a season and a career with a 2.23 GAA.

Despite the numbers, Gothberg was still susceptible to giving up soft goals and going through the complications that come with being a first-year player in the USHL.

Gothberg, while developing as a rookie, was also going through personal strife as his grandmother was suffering through illnesses, which later claimed her life over the summer.

Losing his grandmother, one of his biggest supporters, made Gothberg take a different approach to his life and his future as a hockey player. He abandoned old practices, such as playing video games, to do yoga in the hopes of getting flexible.

The tragedy also turned Gothberg into a leader on a team with several faces new to the USHL. Gothberg, who has been called the team’s “backbone” on several occasions, never showed visible frustration even when the Force lost 13 of its first 15 games to start the season.

When things began to turn around for the Force, Gothberg was at the center of it just like when he helped the team win nine games in a row. The winning streak was the longest in the USHL this season.

Gothberg helped the Force climb back into the Western Conference picture and finish fourth in the regular season. He helped the Force get back to the playoffs for a fourth straight season as they reached the second round.

His playoff performance was one of the better, having gone 3-3 with a  1.78 GAA and a .942 save percentage.

With his Force career over, he will enter North Dakota this fall, where he comes in as one of the jewels of a recruiting class that has been depleted by players opting for Major Junior.

Hometown Glory…

Add finding a forward for tonight’s USHL Entry Draft plans for the Force as Jonny Brodzinski said this morning he would not return to the team.

Brodzinski, instead, will be playing next season at St. Cloud State. He said in a text message he would be going to college. The 6-0, 185-pound former Blaine (MN-HS) star committed to St. Cloud State shortly after he joined the Force last season.

He becomes the seventh known player to leave the Force due to a college commitment and is the fourth forward to depart.

Brodzinski was used in a multitude of roles during his one-plus year tenure with the Force.

Under former Force coach Jason Herter, he was used as a winger on the second and third lines putting up five points in 10 games. Under John Marks, Brodzinski became a third-line player who took a more active role in his defensive game.

He scored 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 58 games which tied for third among Force players with most games played this season. Brodzinski was tied with Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth) while Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) and Taylor Richart, Brodzinski’s former high school teammate, played all 60 games.

Brodzinski and his line of Nate Arentz and Neal Goff were one of the Force’s strongest during the postseason playing a hybrid offensive/defense role, which got the team to the second-round for a tightly-contested series against the Lincoln Stars.

Back in February 2011, he came to the Force as a free agent signing as he led Blaine in scoring and to another Minnesota state hockey tournament. Following Blaine’s elimination, he and his family drove through blizzard-like conditions for him to make his Force debut and to get in the 10 games needed to stay protected for the following season.

His senior season and exposure with the Force resulted in Brodzinski being recruited by multiple schools including Bemidji State and Maine, which offered him a scholarship. He was also slated to visit with Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan before he committed to St. Cloud State.

Brodzinski’s father, Mike Sr., set numerous school records at St. Cloud State including most goals in a season.

Going to St. Cloud State adds to what is already a robust pipeline between the school and the Force. Former Force forwards Nick Oliver and Joe Rehkamp – a mid-season addition – played there along with former goaltender Mike Lee. Lee recently signed a contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Brodzinski will also be joined by former Force teammate and Omaha Lancers forward Jimmy Murray next season. It remains to be seen if former Force coach Steve Johnson will be at St. Cloud next season.

Mick Hatten of the St. Cloud Times recently reported Johnson was under strong consideration for an assistant opening at Nebraska-Omaha, another school with a Force pipeline.

Brodzinski’s decision comes a day after his younger brother, Michael (Minnesota), had a successful operation to remove a tumor. Brodzinski posted a photo of his brother via Twitter, which showed bandaging around his head.

Michael Brodzinski led Blaine to another state tournament appearance this year and afterward, came to the USHL where he played with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. He played in three games with the Lumberjacks picking up one point.

“He’s doing great,” Brodzinski said in the text about his brother.

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

Keep’N It Real…

Even from the first sentence of the post-game interview, Fargo Force coach John Marks was honest in his assessment.

He said his team’s 3-1 loss to the Lincoln Stars was the result of many things. Marks started off by saying his team had a lack of urgency and it showed in the third period with the Stars outshooting the Force 13-4.

“I’ve seen us play better and I am not taking anything away from Lincoln,” Marks said. “But we are not playing as well as I’ve seen us play.”

The performance put the Force in a 2-1 series hole meaning if the Stars win Game 4 on Friday, the season is over and the Force will have been knocked out of the second round for a consecutive campaign.

Marks, during his post-game interview, talked about “a few players I was down on” referring to the team’s top line of Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota), Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) and Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan).

Coming into Wednesday’s game, the three combined to be the Force’s least productive line with two points through four playoff games with Chyzyk and Farley having the two points. Hargrove, specifically, had been struggling more than anyone as he hadn’t scored a point in his last eight games going back to the regular season.

For Hargrove, who didn’t get a point last night, it now extends his drought to nine games. It is the third time this season where he’s had a point drought of at least seven games. Hargrove finished the game as a minus-2 and had four shots on goal.

Chyzyk recorded a second straight game with a minus-2 rating making him minus-2 for the playoffs as he’s gone pointless in his last four games. It’s the third time Chyzyk has gone without a point in four games this season. Four games without a point is Chyzyk’s longest streak.

Farley, who led the team in scoring in the regular season, was also pointless going a minus-1 and is a minus-4 over the last two games. He does also not have a point in his last three games. It’s the third time this season Farley has had a streak of at least three games without a point. His longest streak of the year was six games.

To their credit, the three did spend time in Lincoln’s zone and had a few moments where it appeared as if they were going to create a scoring chance. The three combined to take nine or 39 percent of the Force’s shots.

So what did Marks have to say about the line’s performance?

“I thought they played harder,” Marks said. “But I don’t think they accomplished anything.”

Seize The Day…

Today’s print story about Fargo Force forward Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan) took a look at his recent drought.

Hargrove has gone eight games (four regular season; four playoff) without picking up a single point. It’s something he’s noticed but it is also something others such as Force coach John Marks have noticed.

Hargrove, a second-year forward, is in his third stretch this season where he’s gone pointless for seven or more games.

“It’s kind of been all year,” Marks said about Hargrove’s struggles. “You play hard, have success and because of the success, you stop doing what gave you success. You wonder why you are not being successful and bottom line is you brought your game down. Then coaches get on players. Some respond, they do good and then they drop off again. Like almost needing one of those things you need on a dog for an invisible fence to keep prodding them. I know it sounds harsh, but we need him to provide.”

Marks was critical, yet honest about Hargrove’s performance. But he did more than just talk about Hargrove. Hargrove’s entire line, which features Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) and Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota), has underperformed in the playoffs.

The BBC Line (Bryn-Bug (Farley’s nickname)-Colton) has scored two points which is a change from the 146 they scored in the regular season. Just to give some more perspective, defenseman and playoff savant Neal Goff has two points by himself.

Farley said this led Marks to give some perspective by telling the trio if they play like this in college next year, they wouldn’t be playing at all. When asked if hearing that scared him Farley said, “Yes, it was huge.”

“We all looked at each other and said we want to change and we want to do it now,” Farley said. “We’re going up against the best player in the league (Kevin Roy) and this would be a good time to turn it around.”

Farley and Hargrove explained why the group has suffered such as massive turnaround compared to beginning of the year.

Farley, before suffering a foot injury, was on pace to score 88 points but still finished with 59 points. Hargrove was serving his dual role of a physical, point-producing forward who could be an enforcer why Chyzyk served as a blend of both while adding a two-way ability to make the line complete.

He said what changed was the line feels that it cannot take the risks like it used to.

“They (Lincoln) knows we are the top line and they are going to have their best forwards and defensemen on us. I feel like we cannot take many chances,” Farley said. “Its different when you are going up against a kid like Kevin Roy’s line. We turned the puck over on Saturday and Kevin Roy goes down for a 2-on-1 and you know he’s going to score, that’s been our big problem. We’ve been turning the puck over trying to make that extra play.”

Heavy Artillery…

We’re a few days away from the Lincoln Stars-Fargo Force series resuming and you’ve probably noticed some familiar names.

That is if you are a University of North Dakota hockey fan.

There are several storylines between the Stars and the Force and one of them happens to be the ties both teams have to North Dakota. Both coaches – the Force’s John Marks and the Stars’ Chad Johnson – played at North Dakota.

Don’t forget the players either. Between the two teams they each have two players committed to North Dakota.

So here they are, the faces – past and future – of North Dakota hockey and the affect they could have in this series.

LINCOLN STARS:

Chad Johnson, head coach: Johnson might have the most local ties of anyone involved in the series. The Grand Forks native played forward at North Dakota where he was a sixth-round selection of the New Jersey Devils back in 1988 NHL Entry Draft. Following his playing career became a coach. His first head coaching job came when he ran the Minot Muskies for a season and then took over the Bismarck Bobcats from 2001 to 2005. Johnson then moved east to Fargo where he was the head coach for the Fargo-Moorhead Jets for three seasons until the Force came to town. He was an assistant with the Force for two seasons until he left to become the head coach of the Stars. Johnson, in his first season, helped the Stars recover from one of the worst seasons in franchise history to reach the playoffs. He’s now two games away from leading the team to the Western Conference Finals.

-Luke Johnson, forward: Luke Johnson is Chad Johnson’s nephew and the son of former Force coach, former North Dakota star and current St. Cloud State assistant, Steve Johnson. Luke Johnson has starred in his first season in Lincoln scoring 55 points (20 goals, 35 assists) in 55 games. The 17-year-old Johnson did this after being a year removed from North Dakota power Grand Forks Central. He scored 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) in 25 games last season. In his time at playing at Grand Forks Red River and Grand Forks Central, Luke Johnson amassed 120 points (47 goals, 73 assists) in 94 games. Johnson’s offensive prowess helped Lincoln win the Western Conference regular season title. He has one more season before heading to North Dakota.

-Paul LaDue, defenseman: Like Luke Johnson, LaDue left home early after an extremely successful junior season at Grand Forks Central. LaDue helped Central to a state title and he was named an all-state selection and was named to the all-tournament team. He put up 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in 27 games that season. He left high school and played last season in Alexandria (NAHL) where he put up 22 points (3 goals, 19 assists) in 56 games. LaDue’s season resulted in him being named an NAHL All-Rookie, second team selection along with getting drafted by the Stars. Since coming to the Stars, he has developed into what could be the team’s best defenseman. LaDue scored 34 points (9 goals, 25 assists) in 56 games this season playing in a variety of roles. LaDue was used everywhere from the last minute of games to power play situations to penalty kill situations and every in between. He is expected to be at North Dakota next season.

 

FARGO FORCE:

-John Marks, head coach: Marks spent three seasons at the University of North Dakota and was taken in the first round of the 1968 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks after his freshman year. Marks went on to have a successful NHL career spanning a decade before he got back into coach. He was an assistant at North Dakota for three seasons. Marks was a head coach in the ECHL for a number of years and this year was inducted into the league’s Hall of Fame. Marks returned to the state last summer to take over the Force becoming the franchise’s fourth coach in as many years. He helped the team overcome a slow start to win nine games in a row and has them two wins away from their third Western Conference Finals appearance in four seasons.

-Bryn Chyzyk, forward: Perhaps no player on the Force’s roster benefited more from this season than Chyzyk. He went from a relative unknown in training camp to becoming the team’s most complete and arguably most popular player. Chyzyk brought a two-way style of hockey to the team constantly pressuring while on the penalty kill and buzzing the net while at even strength or the power play. Chyzyk’s play led to North Dakota offering him a scholarship which he accepted in February. Chyzyk will play next season in Grand Forks resulting in his lone USHL season where he scored 49 points (28 goals, 21 assists) in 57 games.

-Zane Gothberg, goaltender: Here’s the one man who could argue with Chyzyk about having a more beneficial season. Gothberg, a Boston Bruins draft pick, enjoyed one of the best seasons of any player in the USHL this year. He went 26-16-7 with a 2.22 goals against average, a .921 save percentage and seven shutouts. He sent the franchise records for most wins in a season, lowest GAA in a season (a record he actually set last season), most shutouts in a season, most shutouts in a career, most wins in a career and lowest GAA in a career. He’s continued that strong season throughout the playoffs by going 3-1 with a 1.46 GAA and an impressive .947 save percentage. He’s currently tied for the playoff lead in wins, leads the league in GAA, leads the league in save percentage and minutes. Gothberg will join Chyzyk and LaDue next season at North Dakota.