Synthetica…

Days later, we’re all still looking back at what happened during the weekend’s NHL Draft trying to process it all.

Last night I was on The Pipeline Show back in Edmonton and we were doing the same thing. A point I made on radio is a point I will make right here. If you’re looking for the end-all, be-all moment for the USHL in the NHL Draft, it is a toss up between Dubuque’s Michael Matheson (Boston College) and Saint-to-be Mark Jankowski (Providence).

Part of it is that they went in the first round. The rest of it is they are Canadians who came/are coming to America and went in the first round.

Crazy as that may sound, it may be the optimal item we can take away from the USHL’s draft results.

The last year has seen the American model come under scrutiny with a massive amount of high-end players bolting to the Major Junior system for one reason or another. To say that practice will stop would be indeed foolish.

But is it foolish to think the USHL model could be a growing option in Canada?

Matheson took a chance on coming to the United States and it turned out to be a good one as he did go in the first round. It can be debated that it was Matheson who got himself into being a first-round pick instead of the USHL. Then again, can’t it be argued as a whole it is all about the kid, not the system, that can be the difference between being a first-rounder or not?

Having Matheson come through the USHL and still end up as a first-round selection was probably the best news the league received all year. Then for Jankowski to say he is coming to Dubuque only helps strengthen the league’s case for not being what Skip Prince said.

“We don’t want to be a fallback school,” Prince said last week.

Take a look around the web or a newspaper and it seems like the USHL is getting its due from large and small media outlets.

People are noticing and the following is a point that has been previously made: If you are a Canadian kid, why wouldn’t you consider the USHL given what happened this season?

Lincoln’s Kevin Roy (Brown) practically had one of the greatest individual seasons in league history and all of junior hockey this year scoring 108 points, winning a Western Conference regular season title, reaching the Western Conference finals, taking the league’s Forward of the Year Award, Player of the Year Award (maybe should have been Rookie of the Year too) and he managed to get taken in the fourth round by the Anaheim Ducks.

Roy did come into the league with talk given his impressive collection of YouTube videos but nonetheless, he still had questions to answer thus that is why he wasn’t drafted in 2011.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to the player and the route he feels is the best for his development.

Its just that the biggest difference from last year is, if you are a Canadian, you might have one more option that might be worth taking a look at.

Survival Of The Fittest…

A lot has changed since the last time the Force were at home.

They went to Lincoln and split the series at 1 with the Western Conference’s regular season champions. Now the Force find themselves two wins away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four seasons.

With Game 3 starting at 7:05 p.m. tonight, here are some keys to look for:

ON OFFENSE:

STARS: Let’s forget about Kevin Roy (Brown), who led the league with 104 points this season and already has two in this series. Instead, focus on Stars captain Brent Tate (Bowling Green) who in essence is everything this series is about. Tate is a physical forward who doesn’t mind getting into it either with his mouth or his body. He likes playing mindgames and at the same time can put up points. He scored 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 45 games this season and had two assists last game. Think about Force forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) and how he has a knack for putting up points and getting into a guy’s head. That’s what Tate can do and he’ll probably be doing it quite a bit over the next two games. Also, be wary of what he can do on the power play as he had 14 assists on the one-man advantage this year.

FORCE: Pick anyone between Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota), Farley or Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan). It has been made extremely clear to all three, especially Hargrove, they need to pick things up in order for this team to go far. There are elements about playing Lincoln which suits aspects of all three players’ game. Chyzyk’s ability to transition defense into offense can come in handy against a team featuring one of the more potent lineups in the league. Farley, if he can also score, could do double damage drawing penalties against Lincoln which was the most penalized team in the league this season. Finally, Hargrove has the skill and the size to take anything Lincoln can give and vice-versa.

 

ON DEFENSE:

STARS: Through two games Stars’ captain Dax Lauwers has stayed out of the penalty box and he’ll need to do that tonight to increase his team’s chances of winning. Lauwers, who is 6-3 and 220 pounds, with his size alone can blanket the Force’s forwards which are considerably smaller. If Lauwers can blanket forwards, make life in the corners difficult and keep a clear crease for goaltender Charles Williams, it would certainly make life a lot easier for the Stars and more challenging for the Force.

FORCE: He isn’t talked about much but this is where a player like Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) could come in handy. Corrin has been one of this team’s better performers in the playoffs. He has a team-high plus-5 rating and has provided an offensive depth to a blueline which has put up nine points through four games. Corrin hasn’t registered a shot in this series but fired off six in two games against Sioux City. If Corrin can get points and continue his defense, it’ll go a long way.

 

ON GOALTENDING:

STARS: Williams might have come into this series with the most questions of any player and he’s easily silenced his critics. He’s been right there with Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) in terms of giving his team a chance and stopping shots. Guy took the Force to overtime in Game 1 and survived a one-goal game, a Stars win, in Game 2. It’s clear CW3 is ready for whatever challenge comes his way. How he’ll perform in Game 3 will really decide how this series will go. Eyes might focus on Roy and others, but this series will either be won or lost by Williams.

FORCE: To a degree, the same goes for Gothberg. The Force’s success does hinge on how well he performs. Gothberg has been the league’s best goaltender judging by statistics in the playoffs leading in virtually every category imaginable. What he needs to do is simple. If he can stop shots, and his defense can cut off angles, he’s extremely hard to beat. Having Gothberg gives the Force an edge over so many teams in the league. It’s just one question remains: Will the Force push the Stars to the edge come Friday or will it be the other way around?

Ever True To Brown…

Shortly after the Lincoln Stars captured the Western Conference regular season title, we got a chance to sit down with forward Kevin Roy (Brown).

Roy scored 104 points the regular season making it one of the best individual seasons in the USHL’s history. We asked Roy about his historic season, why he takes a selfless approach towards his team and we asked if he was drafted by an NHL team, would he renege on going to college to play Major Juniors.

Roy and his teammates enter tonight’s Western Conference semifinals tied at 1 against the Fargo Force.

Here’s what Roy had to say about a variety of subjects last time he was in Fargo:

Q: What do you have to say about your regular season and everything you accomplished?

A: I don’t know. I don’t think I really realize it right now. I was just focused on the team and getting first place. Getting the best position for playoffs. I don’t really want to think about it and I want to focus on what’s to come with the playoffs. The playoffs is why you play for the whole year and we want to focus on the playoffs and do something great and special as a team.

 

Q: I get the feeling you really care about your team and your teammates.

A: I think our team is so close. We’re brothers and everyone did their part. We talk about (North Dakota commits) Luke (Johnson) or Paul (Ladue) or Ralfs Freiburgs (Bowling Green). Those guys we don’t really talk about are the ones that block shots, kill penalties and our captains, Dax (Lauwers) and Brent Tate (Bowling Green), are awesome. They’ve been putting the team together. I think the fact we care about each other and the result of our teammates is what makes us that much better and its why we all have success individually but also as a team.

 

Q: Why do you take a “team-first” approach considering what you’ve done individually has been impressive?

A: I’ve been raised that way I guess. Always think about team first and when I play I like to score goals and I want to be the one who scores an important goal. I like to do it not just for me but for the team. If I would have success as an individual, it wouldn’t be special. Some players have a great season but nothing to compete for. They tell themselves they have to get more points for a good season. The season of the Stars really matters. It would be selfish to talk about me first and not realize that without my teammates and coaches these opportunities I’ve had wouldn’t even exist.

 

Q: Finally, we are going to get you to talk about yourself (at this point Roy starts laughing). Let’s say you do get taken in this summer’s NHL Draft, would you continue with your college plans or would you go Major Junior if the club that drafted you suggested you go?

A: I think for everyone that has talked about (the NHL Draft) thinks about it. I don’t think there is any way I would go play Major Junior. I had the chance two years ago and over Christmas (he was being heavily recruited by The QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts over the Christmas Break) and I really wanted to do that, I’d have done it before. For me, the college route is better for me to get stronger and bigger instead of playing 72 games and always being on the road. If I want to develop like a pro and play like a pro, the college game is better for me. I have spent the last three or four years of my life with my brother (his brother, Derick, is a goaltender committed to Brown) to attend a college and I wouldn’t change it to go the Major Junior route.

Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites…

With the second round of the USHL Playoffs comes another revival of a Fargo Force-Lincoln Stars playoff series.

Lincoln has enjoyed its success against Fargo this season going 5-3. But that’s the regular season. When it comes to the postseason the Force are actually undefeated in five playoff games against the Stars.

Will an old habit die hard or is it time for a change when it comes to the series? Let’s find out.

ON OFFENSE:

For the Force: The line which could really make the difference could be that of Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota), Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) and Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan). It was a line which led the team in points during the regular season but was somewhat non-existent to open the first round. That line had two points, which wasn’t a strong showing compared to the six points posted by The High School Musical and the three points by the defensive-minded Minnesota line. PLAYER TO WATCH: We’ll take Chyzyk because his ability to create and destroy on the defensive end could be quite important against one of the USHL’s most potent offenses.

For the Stars: We could go with Mr. You-Know-Who but for now let’s hold off. Lincoln’s strength has been the depth they’ve had at offense this season. The Stars have eight forwards with 20 or more points this season. Altogether the Stars have 10 players with 20 or more points. Offense hasn’t been an issue with this team at any point in the season given the depth they posses. PLAYER TO WATCH: Who else? Kevin Roy (Brown) has done damage against several teams in the league including the Force. He has scored 13 points in seven games this season against the Force. But something to keep in mind is the fact the Force have held Roy pointless on a couple of occasions.

 

ON DEFENSE:

For the Force: Maybe the following statement isn’t a surprise. But defense is where this series will be won or lost for either team. Fargo and Lincoln feature similar defenses in terms of personnel. They each have a do-everything-defenseman (Fargo has Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) while Lincoln has Paul LaDue (North Dakota). They each have that gritty defenseman willing to lay out a hit (Fargo has Justin Wade (Notre Dame) and Lincoln has 6-5, 220-pound freak of nature Mike McKee (Western Michigan) among other similarities. PLAYER TO WATCH: Dominic Racobaldo/Neal Goff. Racobaldo will be important because he has the style of game which should work well in this series. He is a tough, physical defenseman who tries to minimizes his time with the puck. Goff because he will be in that defensive/forward role which could be huge.

For the Stars: People outside of Lincoln may not realize how gifted of a defense this really is and can be in the postseason. They have all the pieces you could need to win games. Its just a matter of they’ll match up against a defense so similar. But this defense’s strongest trait could be what it does on the offensive end. Ladue and Ralfs FreiburgsĀ  (Bowling Green) move the puck really well in that system and it could lead to Lincoln generating offense in its end. Though something to keep an eye on is penalty minutes. Lincoln led the league with 1,424 penalty minutes. Of the five Stars players with the most penalty minutes, three of them are defensemen. It could be a difference maker as Lincoln’s penalty kill ranked 11th in the regular season and the Force featured the fifth-best power play in the league. PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Carlson is certainly an interesting figure. He’s been on both sides of this rivalry and has been in enough playoff runs to know what it takes. Carlson will add a presence on the ice but his experience can help Lincoln away from the ice too.

 

GOALTENDING

For the Force: Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) has been a constant this entire season for the Force. From the rocky start of losing 13 of their first 15 to the nine-game winning streak and beyond, he’s been that constant. That shouldn’t change as Gothberg has looked strong as of late. Whatever challenges he faced against Sioux City, he handled with ease. Gothberg, the leading candidate for the USHL’s Goaltender of the Year, is 2-3 against Lincoln this season. How Gothberg performs will not only shape this season but it will shape how far the Force will go this postseason.

For the Stars: Charles Williams has been the latest to emerge as the No. 1 in what was a two-man system this year. CW3 took over for Jackson Teichroeb down the stretching silencing critics about Lincoln’s woes between the pipes. Williams has been steady in net winning 20 games this season and having a goals against average in the Top 5. He’ll face an offense which has firepower across its three lines but he faces a goalie in Gothberg who will provide a massive challenge. If Williams could get the best of Gothberg in a five-game series, there’s no telling what it will do for his confidence and the Stars’ confidence going forward.

Stardust…

Another USHL Postseason. Another chance for the bitter rivalry between the Lincoln Stars and Fargo Force to continue.

The Force, a day after sweeping Sioux City in a best-of-three series, announced this morning their playoff schedule against the Stars, which won the regular season Western Conference title.

Lincoln will host Game 1 and Game 2. Game 1 will start Friday at 7:05 p.m. and Game 2 will be Saturday at 7:05 p.m.

Game 3 would be played at Scheels Arena on Wednesday and would start at 7:05.

If there would be a need for a Game 4, it would be Friday at Scheels Arena starting at 7:35 p.m. Should the series go the distance, it would return to Lincoln but a date and time have yet to be determined, according to a release issued by the Force.

Lincoln won the season series 5-3 over the Force, the most recent being last Saturday when Lincoln picked up a 2-1 victory to clinch the Western Conference regular season title.

Here’s a little bit of information on the Stars and some players to look for.

LINCOLN STARS (38-18-4, first in the Western Conference):

LEADING SCORER: Kevin Roy (Brown): 54 GOALS; 50 ASSISTS – 104 POINTS. Roy led the USHL in points, goals, assists, plus/minus and other offensive categories. He became the first player to score more than 100 points in a season in nine seasons. Roy’s campaign also ranks statistically as the ninth-best scoring season in the USHL’s 30-plus year history. The 5-10 Roy also took a league-high in shots registering more than 300 and earlier in the year had a five-point game in a 8-3 win over the Force.

TOP DEFENSEMAN: Paul LaDue (North Dakota): 9 GOALS; 25 ASSISTS – 34 POINTS: LaDue was his team’s second-leading scorer among defensemen. Scoring, however, isn’t the only thing he does. LaDue is used in several situations ranging from the penalty kill to the power play. Stars coach Chad Johnson said LaDue is the kind of player who will be on the ice in the last 90 seconds of a game whether the team is up or down a goal. LaDue, who is from Grand Forks, also played high school hockey at Grand Forks Central.

TOP GOALTENDER: Charles Williams: 20-4-3: Lincoln has used a two-goaltender system though it appears Williams could be the guy to handle the responsibilities in net. He comes in winning four of his last five starts. Williams also has four shutouts on the season ranking him in a tie for third in that category. His 2.61 goals against average also ranked fourth in the regular season.

COACH: The Stars are coached by former Force assistant Chad Johnson, who was with the team in the 2009-10 season. Johnson was an assistant to his brother and now St. Cloud State assistant, Steve, which led the team to its second straight Clark Cup Finals. Johnson’s first playoff series as a USHL head coach came last season when the Stars were swept in the first round by the Force. This year, Johnson has taken one of the more offensively gifted squads in the league and led them to a first-place finish in the hopes of leading the team to a Clark Cup Finals appearance.

A Little Deeper…

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

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

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

EASTERN CONFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still The One…

By now you’ve seen, heard or maybe have even fallen victim to the 5-10 force of nature that is Lincoln Stars’ forward Kevin Roy (Brown).

Roy, 18, is having one of the greatest seasons in the USHL’s 30-plus year history. As a rookie he has scored 104 points (54 goals, 50 assists) picking away at the myth the USHL is a defense-first league where forwards have a hard time adapting.

The Lac Beauport, Que., native comes to town tonight for the final regular season game on the Force’s calendar. Roy and Lincoln are assured a first-round bye while the Force have to prepare for a quick turnaround for their first-round playoff series against Sioux City on Monday.

With this possibly being Roy’s appearance in Fargo, unless this is a potential second or third-round match-up, here’s a statistical look at how dominating his season has been:

GOING FOR GOAL:

-Roy’s 54 goals are the first time a player has scored 50 or more goals in the USHL since the 1993-94 season. Yet when you look inside those 54 goals, here’s what you’ll find. Roy had a “slow start” to the season going pointless in his first three games. After that, he managed to score at least one goal in all but five games this season. Roy’s had 13 multi-goal games and of those games, three of them have seen him score hat tricks.

-Stars coach Chad Johnson said at the USHL Christmas Break that if Roy wanted to show scouts he’s worth a draft pick, he would need to continue playing well in the second half. He’s done just that. Since the season resumed Dec. 28, he has scored 34 goals. If you took Roy’s second-half goals he’d be the league’s third-leading goal scorer.

-Scoring 54 goals also means he takes a lot of shots. Roy leads the USHL with 305 shots on goal. That’s 71 more shots than last year’s league leader in shots and it’s at least the most shots taken by one player since the 2007-08 season. He even had 10 shots in one game where he scored 2 points in a win over Sioux City on Mar. 16. Yes, that means Roy has taken more shots in one season than players such as Jaden Schwartz and Louis Leblanc. Force forwards Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State) and Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), who lead the team in shots, have a combined 314 shots – nine fewer than Roy by himself.

 

A HELPING HAND:

-Roy’s goal-scoring exploits have been talked about in great detail. But people might forget he also leads the league in assists too. He has 42 helpers since the Christmas Break and if just used that total by itself, he’d be fifth in the league in that category too.

-The feeling is if you can contain Roy from scoring then you have a good chance against Lincoln. Actually, the numbers say otherwise. In games where Roy just gets assists, and only assists, the Stars are 6-3-2. So even if he doesn’t score, he can hurt you in other ways.

-Something which does make Roy not so superb – at least compared to others the last few years – is he becomes the sixth player since the 2007-08 season to have 50 or more assists. Former Indiana Ice forward John Kemp has the most with 59 assists which he picked up in the 07-08 season.

 

POINTING OUT THE OBVIOUS

-What could be lost in this season for the Stars is the growth of first-year forward Luke Johnson (North Dakota) and the emergence of forward Jared Hanson. Johnson has scored 54 points and Hansen has 53. Together their 107 points is three more than Roy has by himself. Or you could say Roy has as many goals as Johnson as points. Or Roy has four fewer assists than Johnson has points.

-Giving up a one point against Roy might be considered a reason for some teams to load up some cars and go to Texas Roadhouse to celebrate. But there have been teams who have managed to limit Roy. Take Sioux Falls for example. The last place team in the West can claim that they’re the only team to keep Roy pointless in multiple games this season whereas Tri-City and Fargo haven’t been so lucky. Roy had two five-point games this season with both coming against Tri-City and Fargo. In fact, he had a four-point night on Friday against the Force, which based on goals allowed and the penalty kill ranks in the Top 3 in defense in the USHL.

-The last time Roy didn’t get a point was Feb. 25 against Tri-City. Since then, he’s gone on a reign of terror that General Zod would even be pleased with scoring 31 points in his last 15 games. Lincoln has gone 11-4 in that stretch. He’s also a plus-14 during this stretch and for the season is a plus-44.

-Finally, Roy has 34 games where he has scored two or more points this season. Of those 34 games, here’s the breakdown: He’s had 23 games with two points, five games with three points, four games with four points and two games with five points.

 

CONCLUSION:

What we’ve seen this year from Roy has simply been offensive mastery and dominance at its best.

No player in this league has been able to dominate a game and possibly even a season like Roy has managed to accomplish. When have we seen a season where a player could legitimately walk away as the USHL’s Player of the Year, Forward of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the same season?

Furthermore, there’s still a chance he could add to what might be a growing trophy wall as Lincoln is one of four teams in the Western Conference with a realistic chance of reaching the Clark Cup Finals.

Roy came into the league this season known as a player who could lay claim to having more than a million hits on a YouTube video where he performed some strong moves. But he could walk away with one of the greatest individual campaigns this league has seen all while improving his stock for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

Green Bay might be having a record year setting all sorts of marks when it comes to win totals. Yet when you look at it all, there’s no denying Kevin Roy might have been the biggest story and maybe even the USHL’s biggest attraction.

Are You Awake…

Friday night pretty much solidified what many thought was going to happen with the Force.

Black and Blue lost 4-2 on the road to the Lincoln Stars meaning they will officially finish fourth in the Western Conference after Waterloo pulled off a 3-1 win over Tri-City. Formality, aside, tonight’s game will pretty much serve as a regular season finale with the Force opening the playoffs at home on Monday against the Sioux City Musketeers.

Here’s a look at the pivotal players involved in the Force’s loss.

-Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln (Brown): Come on. Are you really THAT surprised to see Roy’s name here? He scored the game’s opening salvo finishing with two goals and two assists for the eventual 4-2 win. Roy now has 13 points against the Force this season bring his overall total to 104 points on 54 goals and 50 assists. Force fans will get a chance to see Roy in action today.

-Charles Williams, goaltender, Lincoln: Williams’ performance might actually be the one Lincoln’s coaching staff was probably the most pleased with. Scoring hasn’t been a problem at all this year but goaltending, at times, has been. Williams picking up a win in a 29-save performance certainly has to be a relief. He’s now 20-3-4 with four shutouts and a 2.61 goals against average. Not bad numbers by any means. Just a matter of how those numbers could stack up in a playoff race.

-Jonny Brodzinski, forward, Fargo (St. Cloud State): Brodzinski scored a goal giving him 10 goals on the season. Once again, this could be a step in the right direction with playoffs around the corner. Marks has said he’s going with three lines. Two of them will probably be The FCC (Farley-Chyzyk-Colton) Line while the second line will be the High School Musical (Guertler-Gust-Iafallo) making the spots for the third line sparse. Brodzinski’s showing the coaching staff why they should, if they haven’t already, take a look at him for the postseason.

-What does it all mean: This game means different things for both teams. Let’s use Lincoln’s scenario. Tonight really is a must-win game given Lincoln is holding onto first by a point over Omaha and home ice for the whole Western Conference playoffs is up for grabs. Lincoln coach Chad Johnson said Thursday in an interview that his team was playing both games as if there was plenty up for grabs. Friday they proved there is something up for grabs so it’ll be interesting to see how tonight’s game goes. As for the Force, well, maybe this is a game to fine tune some things. No one still knows what Sunday’s plan for the team will be. It could be practice. It could be a day off. It could be just something simple as a team meal. As for Saturday, it could serve as an audition for guys on the fence looking for playoff minutes. That and don’t be too surprised if we see Reed Peters start given that Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) is pretty much going to be glued to a crease in the playoffs.

The Start of Your Ending…

Just in case you needed a reminder, the USHL Playoffs are here.

First-round action kicks off tonight while the second round will start later this week.

Playoff runs are dictated by the best team but having one player could make the difference between your team trying to grow a patchy playoff beard or your team taking an earlier-than-expected team golf trip.

Here’s the list of the 10 players to watch this postseason:

-Nolan LaPorte, forward, Green Bay (Western Michigan): LaPorte was extremely good for the Gamblers when they reached the Clark Cup Finals last year. He scored eight points in 11 games and has continued to prove his postseason performance was not a fluke. LaPorte and the phalanx that is Green Bay have just hammered opponents up front. He’s led the way scoring 70 points (36 goals, 34 assists) this season. Add LaPorte to the list that reads “Embarrassment of Riches” that someone is probably jotting down about the Gamblers.

-Jon Gillies, goaltender, Indiana: Gillies with his large frame (6-5, 215 pounds) and 31 wins this season has been a wall at so many points and it should continue to be that way. Maybe we’re over analyzing here but getting the No. 2 seed could benefit Gillies quite a bit. He’ll get some days off to rest while others have one day off between the end of the regular season and start of the playoffs. Maybe that gives Gillies an edge of what could be some weary forwards and if that’s the case, good luck. Remember. Gillies did lead the league in minutes played and saves. Time off could help him and possibly make him harder to beat.

-Matthew Caito, defenseman, Dubuque (Miami (Ohio)): For one, Caito has been on fire lately scoring five points in his last eight games. Caito has been a major part of Dubuque’s defense which ranks third in the USHL in goals allowed and ranks first in the penalty kill. This defense has been consistent all year long and there’s no reason to think that would change. And one more note on Caito. Scoring five points in five games isn’t a fluke. He’s been chipping in on that end too scoring 26 points in 59 games. Between Caito, Michael Matheson (Boston College) and both Downing boys, this defense is nothing nice.

-Mike Ambrosia, forward, Youngstown (Princeton): Youngstown has quite a bit of talent but Ambrosia stands out because of his vision. He finished third in the USHL in assists with 47 helpers. Ambrosia plays on arguably one of the best lines in the league with Austin Cangelosi (Boston College) and J.T. Steinglein (UMass-Lowell) who each had 50 or more points this season. That’s a line that could do some serious damage. If it does, expect Ambrosia to be the one setting it all up.

-Ian Brady, defenseman, Cedar Rapids (Nebraska-Omaha): Brady has already turned things around from last season. He had five points in 46 games last year and finished this season with 25 points. Offense aside, he’s helping Cedar Rapids get hot at the right time having won four of its last five games. That and he’s been solid on the power play with 12 assists on the one-man advantage. This was a young team who earlier in the year struggled on offense and even lost six in a row. But things have turned around as of late. Question is: How will that momentum carry over into the playoffs?

-Bryn Chyzyk, forward, Fargo (North Dakota): Chyzyk might be one of the more complete forwards in the league. When it comes to the penalty kill, he’s one of the reason’s why the Force are No. 2 in the league. Chyzyk, on multiple occasions, has pilfered the puck when it gets to the point on the opposition’s power play turning it into a breakaway chance. Not too many guys can turn defense into offense that quickly. And when he does get on the offensive side, be careful. He has 28 goals this season and has scored five points in his last five games.

-Kevin Roy, forward, Lincoln (Brown): When you score 100 points, score 52 goals, dish out 48 assists and lead the league in points, goals, assists, plus/minus and domination, you’d be on a FBI-like watchlist let alone a USHL Playoff watchlist. Kevin Roy doesn’t just beat people, he destroys them.

-Jimmy Murray, forward, Omaha (St. Cloud State): Take Roy away from this for just one minute. Maybe no forward has impacted a team in the Western Conference this season like Murray has with Omaha. He was told he could be the guy in an offense needing a playmaker and has lived up to it. Murray, who finished second in assists, finds ways to get open and pick apart a defense. But there are times where he can take over a game. Just ask his old mates, the Force. They’ve seen it happen…twice.

-Taylor Cammarata, forward, Waterloo (Minnesota): Anyone wondering if Cammarata, a rookie, would be slowing down doesn’t need to ponder. He’s scored four points in his last two games and appears ready to take on the postseason. Cammarata has lived up to the billing that has come with being the first overall pick in last season’s USHL Futures Draft. Most guys in the Entry Draft either have a bit role or aren’t even playing in the league yet. Then there are some guys like Fargo’s Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), who was No. 2 last season, who have played a whole year and have contributed. Then there’s Cammarata who makes every defense aware of what he can do, how he can do it and how you might not be able to do anything about it. Nabbing 69 points in as a 5-6, 145-pound rookie is pretty special. Cammarata can only enhance his reputation with a solid playoff performance.

-Adam Wilcox, goaltender, Tri-City (Minnesota): There’s debate to whether you could choose Wilcox or Fargo’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) for the USHL Goaltender of the Year. What cannot be debated is how Wilcox isn’t exactly someone you want to face in a short series. Wilcox has the tools needed to steal not just a game but maybe even a series. If a team were to make a mistake leading to a goal, it makes getting past Wilcox an even more daunting task. But he has looked shaky have only grabbed one win in his last five starts. Which Wilcox will show up? The one we’ve seen lately or the one most teams don’t want to see?

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.