Follow The Leader…

Thunderstorms left USHL commissioner Skip Prince stranded for hours in an airport on Friday until he reached his hotel in Pittsburgh for the NHL Draft.

Prince used every cell phone battery in reach to find out how many players in the USHL had been taken. He was talking about the league’s fruitful exhibition in the first round before talking about the second round, which starts Saturday.

“We have high hopes for those players in the second round,” Prince said. “Like Jordan Schmaltz (North Dakota). He’s a guy-”

That’s when Prince was informed Schmaltz, the Green Bay Gamblers defenseman, had been taken in the first round. Prince was blown away admitting he didn’t know Schmaltz had been taken 25th overall.

Prince chalked it up to only checking to the 23rd pick.

It was in that moment where Prince, like many, was surprised yet pleased with the remarkable night had by the USHL. A record seven USHL players/prospects were taken in the first round. Dubuque had the strongest showing of any non-NTDP team as it had three players/prospects selected.

Forward Zemgus Girgensons (Vermont) and defenseman Mike Matheson (Boston College) were the bread in the Fighting Saints’ draft sandwich. Prospect forward Ryan Jankowski (Providence) was also taken.

It was then reported by The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy that Jankowski, nephew of Montreal Canadiens scout Ryan Jankowski, would play for the Fighting Saints next year. Jankowski will be the second-ever first-round pick to come into the USHL and play a season.

Blake Wheeler was the first when he was drafted by the Green Bay Gamblers in 2004 when he was the fifth overall selection.

NTDP trio Jacob Trouba (Michigan), Brady Skjei (Minnesota) and Stefan Matteau rounded out the seven picks from the USHL to go in the first round. For those wondering, that’s 23 percent or nearly a quarter of the entire first round having ties to a league constantly jockeying against a Major Junior model which is often billed as the faster track to a NHL future.

It is a dominant figure for the QMJHL, which only had one first-round pick this season after having five last season. Werger said this year’s first round surpasses the previous high of four taken in the opening round.

“It is a lot of hard work,” Prince said. “The programs we are talking about needed to be a lot more soundly promoted and delivered to high-end prospects. We think there were others we lost in the last years or so. And hopefully, one of these players taken tonight can show the next 200 or 300 players out there the USHL isn’t the equivalent of the safe school but a power to be reckoned with.”

Prince said repeatedly he hopes what happened Friday is the latest step in showing that the American development model does have its positives.

Depending upon the source, the American development model has had its critics on both sides of the spectrum. Proponents believe the model can compete because it allows players a chance to develop and spend more time in the weight room along with playing against competition which could be anywhere from three to five years older.

Opponents, on the other hand, have said the model should be used for talents who need longer to develop and that the Major Junior model is a more affective plan given its history of producing major stars and the willingness of NHL teams sending their players to junior programs.

“We knew from the beginning of the year this was going to be a strong round for us,” Prince said.

It appeared the USHL could have a strong year as it had a plethora of players listed on NHL Central Scouting’s pre-season watch list with a number which matched that of the OHL, WHL and QMJHL.

Then there was the profile of existing and arriving players.

Girgensons, Schmaltz and Fargo Force defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), a likely late second or early third round pick, were billed as the three players to watch in the latter half of the 2010-11 season by NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee.

The NTDP, a hotbed for first-round picks, were already being considered to have numerous picks given its reputation and the players it already possessed.

Yet the league received a serious jolt when Matheson, a native of Point-Claire, Que., opted against the QMJHL to come to the USHL, a move which was seen as the American model working its way into French Canada.

And of course, came the story of the season when fellow Quebecois Kevin Roy (Brown) chose the Lincoln Stars and went on to have a 108-point season defying the status of the USHL being a defensive-minded league where a 50-point season was considered a success.

Roy is also slated to be taken on Saturday.

“I love what this league stands for,” Prince said. “But like every good Broadway show you need first-and second-rounders who bring sixth-and seventh-rounders in and kids who won’t get drafted but will sign a free agent contract. Today is one of those good days.”

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.

Down By The Ohio…

Fargo Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis said today forward Dave Gust has committed to Ohio State.

Gust, 18, was a mid-season call up for the Force and turned out to be one of the reasons why they finished fourth in the Western Conference. Gust in 43 games, scored 30 points ranking fifth on the team in scoring.

He combined with forwards Gabe Guertler (Minnesota) and Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth) to become a potent line for the Force during the regular season combining for 20 percent or 90 of the team’s 455 points.

But it was in the playoffs where the group really made its mark accounting for 40 percent of the Force’s points.

The line, known as “The High School Musical”, led the Force in points during the entire postseason. They combined for 12 points with Gust getting three of them off two goals and an assist.

Gust had said during the team’s first-round playoff series he’d be committing to a school before the end of the summer. He apparently didn’t waste any time by choosing Ohio State.

Committing to Ohio State gives the school a class that has depth but has also enjoyed success in midget, prep and junior hockey. Ohio State now has 13 commits and seven, including Gust, are forwards, according to Chris Heisenberg.

Those forwards include Zach Stepan, who scored scored 65 points playing at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN-HS) among others. Stepan told NHL.com’s Mike Morreale on Wednesday he would play next season with the Waterloo Black Hawks. Stepan is the cousin of New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan.

Ohio State’s recruiting class also consists of Green Bay forwards Matthew Weis and Nick Schilkey plus NTDP goaltender Collin Olson. The Force said in a release, Gust would go to Ohio State in 2014.

What Ohio State will be getting in Gust is a 5-9, 170-pound forward who used a combination of speed, scoring and playmaking prowess to establish himself during a game.

It was those qualities which prompted the Force’s coaching staff to call up Gust on a permanent basis. Gust, who started the season on the team’s affiliates list, had been playing midget hockey back in his native Chicago.

Teaming up with Guertler and Iafallo gave the line more speed and three players who were able to work well with each other, on or away from the puck. Some of Gust’s performances drew comparison to Force forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth), who before a foot injury was on pace to shatter several franchise scoring records.

Having all three return for next season gives the Force, what will likely be the team’s No. 1 line. With all three having college commitments and a year of experience, there’s a strong possibility the line could buoy the Force which have up to 16 players returning for next season.

Of the 16 players returning, Gust becomes the fourth with a college commitment joining his linemates and defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame).

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.

Look Up…

Now that things (for now) have appeared to settled down it’s time to unveil the second annual Slightly Chilled awards.

Today’s awards will look at who was the Force’s best forward, best defenseman, best goaltender, most valuable player, rookie of the year, line of the year, most improved player and finally, the player to watch for next season.

Best Forward: Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota): There was a point where Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) was on pace to shatter every single franchise scoring record imaginable until he was injured. It took Farley time for him to get back to where was but while all this was going on, the Force were getting consistency from Chyzyk. Farley might have had 10 more points than Chyzyk, but Chyzyk provided an offensive punch as he was the team’s second-leading scorer and was one of the few players who could turn a penalty kill into a shorthanded goal in a matter of seconds. Chyzyk had offense, defense and was able to provide leadership on a young team. It’s fair to argue he was this team’s most complete forward throughout the regular season. He had moments this year which might not have as glamorous as Farley’s but they were important. There’s the moments where he pressured whoever at the puck at the point on a power play and pickpocketed them for a goal. Or there’s when Chyzyk, while on defense, dove and stuck his stick out to tip the puck out of bounds to kill a team’s momentum. All of those items helped Chyzyk have one of the more meteoric rises in franchise history going from an unknown in training camp to being a face of the franchise who has his bags packed to play at one of the nation’s college hockey powers.

Best Defenseman: Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha): This year’s blueline had a number of players who could have won. Cooper gets the nod because there was progression in his game this year. He didn’t lead the rush like he has done in previous years. He didn’t gun for the big hit as he has done in previous years. But what he did do was become more of a committed defenseman. Cooper was deployed in a role that made him more accountable on both ends but especially the defensive end. The shift in focus is why the penalty kill was the best its ever been in franchise history. The Force were third this year having finished mid-level the last two years and fifth in its first season. Cooper might not have had the flashiest season in terms of his points, but he played a more accountable game.

Best Goaltender: Zane Gothberg (North Dakota): When you set seven or so franchise records – most wins in a season, most wins in a career, lowest goals against average in a season, lowest goals against average in a year, best save percentage in a season, most shutouts in a season and most shutouts in a career – you are probably going to be the clear favorite for goaltender of the year or even more.

Most Valuable Player: Zane Gothberg: There are the reason mentioned above which make the argument. There’s the fact he’s the only player on the Force’s roster you can say was the best at his position of anyone in the entire USHL. There’s the fact that he overcame a rocky first season, personal loss in the summer and yet still remained dedicated to getting better and winning games. Most of all, there’s this. Where would this team have been without him?

Rookie of the Year: Gabe Guertler (Minnesota): Rookie of the Year is never easy because there are no clear guidelines for what a “rookie” really is. Technically, Chyzyk and Taylor Richart, who both have junior hockey experience, are rookies in the USHL. Both were candidates for the award. As were High School Musical members Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth) and Dave Gust. Iafallo was the team’s fourth-leading scorer and Gust came into Fargo and added a much needed offensive jolt. But when you think about what or in this case, who, made that line go, it was Guertler. At 5-8, he believes he’s 6-2 because he’ll take a run at any player regardless of size or how long they’ve been in the league. He fights to win face-offs, he can play the pretty brand of hockey the Force have displayed but he can also play an ugly style of game if need be. Guertler went through growing pains yet managed to still contribute in a variety of ways. John Marks in just about every post-game presser we had referenced The Musical by saying, “The Guertler line played well.” Guertler put a stamp on that line in so many ways. And he’s one of the things this franchise has going for it heading into next season.

Line of the Year: The BBC Line of Farley (who has the nickname of Bug)-Chyzyk and Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan): There wasn’t a line who more or less dictated how the Force were going to perform more than this one. When this team struggled to open the season, most of this line struggled. When this team won nine games in a row, they were downright deadly with Farley scoring left and right, Chyzyk scoring and playing in a two-way role while Hargrove got goals and hammered opponents. At their peak, this line was one of the more unique in the league. There might not have been a line where you had finesse, nastiness and ability rolled into one. And as we saw in the playoffs, when this line was not scoring, it made it hard for the Force to win. That’s one of those reasons why there were expectations of this line. When they were on, they were lethal.

Most Improved Player of the Year: Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth): Simply, the guy kicked ass in Fargo. He made the switch from a hybrid defenseman-forward to playing straight defense and doing well. Corrin was one of two players – Richart being the other – to play all 60 games this season. Offensively, he was a power play dynamo with 17 assists and he was either a first or second-pairing choice on the penalty kill to boot. There were players who certain made improvements in the off-season but Corrin showed it in so many ways throughout the season.

Player To Watch For Next Season: Nate Arentz. He’s only 17 as his birthday isn’t until late June so he’ll be 18 next season as a third-year player. Arentz came a hell of a long way from where he was as a first-year player looking to adapt to the USHL. He used his speed on several occasions creating breakaways and odd-man rushes to create scoring chances. Some he buried, some he didn’t. But his finishing did get better throughout the season and showed it by scoring a goal in the Force’s final playoff game against the Lincoln Stars. He’s 6-1 and 185 pounds and has made a tremendous change from looking like the typical first-year player he was when he arrived from Lakeville North (MN-HS). Arentz was also on the two-way line with Neal Goff and Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State) which was the team’s second-best line in the postseason. With two years under his belt, an improved physique, speed, size and two-way ability, Arentz is primed to be next year’s breakout player.

So Appalled…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRADES:

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

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

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

 

Out The Door…

For so long Kevin Hartzell was considered to be an example of the United States Hockey League’s stability among coaches.

Not anymore.

Hartzell was fired by the team on Monday after his seventh season resulted in a season where youth, a lack of scoring and the loss of elite talent resulted in the Stampede faltering and finishing last in both the Western Conference and the USHL.

The former University of Minnesota captain completed his 14th season as a head coach. His career was one of the most successful in the USHL having amassed more than 400 wins while winning two Clark Cup trophies and two Anderson Cup titles as well.

He previously coached the defunct St. Paul Vulcans for six seasons where he won 195 games, according to the Stampede’s website.

Hartzell between his stops in St. Paul and Sioux Falls established himself as one of the league’s best coaches. Coming into the 2011-12 season, he had won 30 or more games in four of his five seasons.

This year wasn’t as kind to Hartzell who led the Stampede to a 17-36-7 mark as he coached one of the league’s most inexperienced teams.

Sioux Falls’ season started rough when brothers Ryan, Connor and Mike Reilly (Minnesota) all left to play for Penticton (BCHL) joining up with Mario Lucia (Notre Dame/Minnesota Wild), a 2010 Stampede Entry Draft Pick, spearheading one of Junior ‘A’s most prolific team.

If the Reillys and Lucia had stayed, it could have very well been the difference between finishing last or making the playoffs in a Western Conference where talent, regardless of experience, paid dividends.

Yet Sioux Falls struggled offensively scoring a league-worst 127 goals while its defense and goaltending gave up 215 goals after establishing itself as one of the better defenses earlier in the year.

Forwards Kyle Rankin (Princeton) and Justin Selman (Michigan) tied for the team lead in points with 34. They finished in a tie for the league’s 59th leading scorer as three players in the league had more goals then the two had points put together.

All of this resulted in the Stampede being a dismal minus-283 on the season while racking up 1,020 penalty minutes, the fifth-most in the USHL.

Whoever replaces Hartzell walks into a team which does have a strong future depending upon how players develop.

Sioux Falls could return up to 16 players including goaltender Charlie Lindgren and Todd Skirving, who finished fourth on the team in points with 25 last season. The team also made six selections in last week’s USHL Futures Draft taking St. Mary’s Prep forward Cody Milan with the ninth overall selection.

Hartzell becomes the sixth head coach to be fired in the league this year and the most recent since the Indiana Ice fired former Yale assistant Kyle Wallack prior to the start of the Clark Cup Playoffs.

In all, 12 of the USHL’s 16 teams have hired new head coaches in the last season either due to coaches leaving for college jobs or being fired.

Better Man…

A few weeks ago during a Fargo Force game, I was having the usual back-and-forth with NHL scouts.

Those guys are apt for discussing anything hockey-related. Doesn’t matter what the topic is. We were talking about something and out of the blue one of them asked about Waterloo Black Hawks forward Taylor Cammarata (Minnesota).

Specifically, the scout asked when am I going to do the story on how “amazing” the Waterloo forward has been as a rookie this year. I responded that I actually did that story but there’s a story no one knows that really tells it all about Cammarata.

This got him intrigued and with that, here is the story you don’t know about Cammarata.

Anyone who has read this blog since November knows my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I took time away from this thing to go visit her in Florida.

Several people – Force parents, Force officials, officials within the USHL, officials within USHL teams, parents of players in the league and total strangers – were all extremely kind and gracious by saying they were thinking and/or praying for my mother.

When I got back to Fargo practically every kid on the team wanted to know how she was doing and the same goes for the Force’s coaching staff and front office.

But of all the players in the USHL, Taylor Cammarata was the only one who emailed me about it.

Let that sink in for a second.

The NHL scouts that heard this story didn’t let it sink in as they were stunned to hear about this. It generated one of those, “you’re making that up” or “you’ve got to be screwing with me” looks.

Yeah, I write for a living but even I couldn’t make that one up. He really did send an email – most likely between school and practice – to let me know he was hoping my mother was getting better from cancer.

And no, I am not screwing with you.

Here’s a 16-year-old who I’d interviewed only once and he’s emailing me to see how my mother is doing and to let me know that he and his family are praying for her.

Very rarely will you ever read a column on this blog regarding the personal interactions I have with people within this league. As a journalist, I feel the storyteller should never be the story or even involved in the story unless its for something like a column. Even then, make it about the subject.

This is not one of those times.

Cammarata has certainly impressed many with what he’s done this year.

A year ago, he was the No. 1 overall pick in the USHL Futures Draft. Now, he’s a 60-plus point scorer in a league often dominated by older, more experienced players who are considerably taller and bigger.

Yet here he is – all 5-6 and a 146 pounds – and he’s a series away from leading the Black Hawks to the Clark Cup Finals. Pretty impressive then again, this is the same kid who did score 170 points in Midget AA at Shattuck-St. Mary’s and last season scored 139 points for Shattuck’s U-16 Team.

On the ice, there is an expectation with him that he could be one of the better talents to play in the USHL in recent years. And let’s be honest, if he scored 69 points (27 goals, 42 assists) as a rookie, it’s fair to suggest he could have a 100-point season next year.

Off the ice is what makes Cammarata, in this case, different than most of his peers.

Those differences are what will ultimately define Cammarata throughout his young and promising career.

And those differences are what made this the greatest story about Taylor Cammarata you didn’t know.

Until now.

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

Futures…

Tonight marks the USHL Futures Draft where every team in the league will look to get better whether its right away or in the future.

Last year’s Futures Draft watched Waterloo and Fargo strike it rich by selecting Taylor Cammarata and Gabe Guertler (both Minnesota) first and second overall. Both were a big part of their teams reaching the Western Conference playoffs.

And there have been other players such as Muskegon defenseman Michael Brodzinski (Minnesota) who despite not playing a full USHL season, has impressed quite a bit of people with what he did in high school before making the jump.

Omaha holds the No. 1 overall pick followed by Waterloo and now Fargo after it traded up from seventh with Tri-City, which initially held the No. 3 pick.

There’s no guaranteeing who each pick will pan out but here’s a look at a few players who could certainly either have an impact on your team whether it be next season or beyond.

-Shane Gersich, forward: Let’s get this one out of the way. He’s already been one of the most talked about forwards, OK, players that could go in this year’s draft. USHL scouts have said Gersich should go No. 1 today. One scout said in a text, “I think he’s a no brainer.” Gerisch might have been the most impressive freshman in Minnesota high school hockey this year. He scored 60 points (30 goals, 30 assists) in 21 games for Holy Family. At 5-11, 174 pounds, he already has good size for a player at his age level. Feeling is Gersich will be a first-round pick. Assuming he doesn’t go No. 1, he should be selected really high in this year’s draft. He was also played for Team USA at the World Youth Olympic Games this past January. In fact, he was one of three Minnesotans to make the team.

-Adam Baughman, defenseman: At 6-2, 175 pounds, this will be one of the defensemen to watch in this year’s draft. He played this season for the Chicago Mission in the first-year High Performance Hockey League. Offense didn’t appear to be his forte picking up three points in 22 games. But he was a force in those 22 games as the Mission only lost once and tied twice with him in the lineup for the U-16s. He also represented Team USA at the World Youth Olympic Games.

-Marcel Godbout, defenseman (Michigan State): Like Gersich, Godbout comes in with an extremely high profile. He spent this past season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN-HS), He appears to be the next prospect touted for success of the Shattuck assembly line given what he did for the school’s U-16 team. He scored 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 46 games. At 5-9, 175 pounds, he isn’t the biggest player but the impact he could have on a team would be huge. The Detroit native also played two years for Belle Tire scoring 102 points in 61 career games. He also played at forward in the Youth Olympic Games.

-Nick Magyar, forward (Ohio State): Here is another guy that will probably go really, really high. At 6-2, 185 pounds he was an absolute monster for the Cleveland Barons this season scoring 94 points (42 goals, 52 assists) while committing to college in the process. Magyar, who is from Mentor, Ohio, is another one of these players who impressed USA Hockey enough to make the Youth Olympic Games team.

-Robby Nardella, defenseman: Nardella was actually teammates with Baughman at Chicago Mission, a program which has certainly been fertile for USHL clubs. Nardella, compared to Baughman, is a bit more offenisve-minded having scored 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) in 29 games. His father actually played in the USHL scoring more than 100 career points for the Des Moines Buccaneers.

-Jack Walker, defenseman: Now here’s the other guy who could challenge Gersich for Minnesota’s most impressive freshman. Walker was part of an extremely young Edina team which reach the state tournament and lost in a one-goal thriller to Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the opening round. Walker played in a total of 29 games scoring 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists) while being reliable for the Hornets, which are a favorite to win state next season. Keep this in mind. Walker’s rights are owned by the Victoria Royals in the Western Hockey League where his brother, Ben, plays. It’ll be interesting to see who takes a chance on Walker knowing he might never end up in the USHL.

-Joe Snively, forward: Snively spent this past season at South Kent School (CT-HS), which is certainly a prep hockey power. He won the team’s MVP award having scored an impressive 35 goals in 47 games this year. The most updated roster we’ve seen has him listed at 5-7, 140 pounds. He’s also an attacker for the school’s lacrosse team.

-Liam Pecararo, forward (Maine): Here’s a guy who has already received excitement from quite a few Maine fans awaiting his arrival. He spent this past season at Boston Advantage where he scored 52 points (11 goals, 41 assists) in 40 games while playing for the U-18 team for the second year in a row. Yes, you read that right. He’s played for the U-18 team for two years. He bounced back from a first season where he played 20 games scoring five points before having an impressive season this year.

-Mason Morelli, forward: Morelli from what we’ve heard from scouts and others had his draft stock soar when he attended the USHL Combine. He opened with a hat trick in his first game and from there has certainly captured the attention of quite a few people. Now here’s where it gets rather interesting. Morelli, is 5-11 and a 185 pounds, is from Minot, N.D. and we all know the Force have had a fondness for North Dakota kids. Morelli played this season at Minot (ND-HS) and for the city’s NAHL team. In high school, he scored 40 points (22 goals and 18 assists) in 26 games and then made the transition to score 3 points in 11 games in the NAHL.

-Ryan Norman, forward: Once again, here’s another guy off that Shattuck team who could very well go in the first round. Norman, as a ninth-grader, was second on the sophomore and junior heavy U-16 team and was second in scoring. He scored 33 goals and 28 assists for 61 points. He’s 5-10 and 180 pounds and is only going to get bigger and better. Schools have started to take notice as Wisconsin is allegedly showing interest in him.

-Christian Dvorak, forward: Get to know this name. Get to know it quickly because it appears this kid has quite a bit of potential. He was part of the Chicago Mission U-16s and did quite a bit of damage this year. Dvorak had 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 29 games this season. From his 2006/07 season to his 2010/11 season, Dvorak registered an impressive 172 points (90 goals, 82 assists) in 144 games. He joins Norman as a player apparently on the Badgers’ recruiting radar.