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.”

Most Wanted…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Check back later for more details.

Freedom Bridge…

Weddings. Workouts. Whatever.

That’s an apt description of what life is like for the Fargo Force players eligible for the NHL Draft, which starts tonight. The Force could have eight players who could be taken in the draft.

If they were to be chosen, they would be selected on Saturday, which is the second day of the draft.

Forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) said Friday he was actually getting ready for his brother’s wedding, which is later today and extends into tomorrow with another family function.

“It is a big day for him and his future wife,” Farley said. “I haven’t looked at the draft.”

Farley said he’s spent the last few weeks staying busy. He recently graduated from Fargo South and went to Duluth for a campus orientation before returning to Illinois for his brother’s wedding.

He and his family will be at their lake house on Saturday so cell phone reception might not be the best. Either way, his brother will use his smartphone to check out the draft to see if Farley has been drafted.

Down the road from Farley in Illinois is defenseman Justin Wade (Notre Dame), who said he’ll be spending the day watching his little sister.

“It is going to be a normal day for me,” he said. “If I get a call it’ll be cool or I will look online. I am not going to do anything special.”

Wade, like Farley, recently graduated from Fargo South and has been trying to enjoy his summer.

Wade, who will return to the Force next season, said he’s just used the summer to workout and catch up with friends he hasn’t seen due to splitting time between Fargo and his home in Aurora, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

Defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) actually spend Friday morning working out instead of thinking about where he could be taken in the draft.

“Yeah, I gotta be in Omaha in the next few weeks and I want to be there in shape,” Cooper said. “I am more worried about what (UNO coach Dean) Blais is going to think than NHL scouts. Come on, it’s Blais. He’s Blais.”

Cooper pointed out how Blais worked as a coach and how he’d need to be at his best when he arrived into camp.

“Well, that’s the thing about him,” Cooper said. “He talks to you and he’s a great guy. Put it this way. He’s (Force coach John) Marks. That’s what I am excited about. He’s like Marks but a little bit more intense, all the time. Marks is fun.”

Forward Jay Dickman along with Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) are both in Pittsburgh for the draft.

For Dickman, it is his second year as an eligible player while Toninato, the god son of NHL Hall of Famer Brett Hull, is in his first year of eligiblity.

Toninato, who lives in Duluth, said his family was not impacted by flooding which has crippled the region. He and his family left Duluth and reached Pittsburgh on Thursday where they took in the Twins-Pirates game.

“You know what, I am definitely excited,” he said. “I have talked to quite a bit of teams and it is unbelievable.”

Both Dickman and Toninato will play with the Force next season.

All Around The World…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guns Are Drawn…

It’s a little slow this time of year and with it comes a chance to catch up with a few people.

Here’s Part I of an interview I did with Force defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), who is undergoing what might be one of the most important months of his life.

Cooper was at the NHL Combine in Toronto where he was poked and prodded for the upcoming NHL Draft, which is next Friday in Pittsburgh, Pa. Here’s what Cooper had to say about his time at the combine.

 

Q: What was the NHL Combine like in terms of the interviews and the physical workouts?

Cooper: You know the interviews were a little nerve-racking. Not like talking to scouts one-on-one. Tampa had two guys. Boston and New Jersey had 10 guys in there. You have to keep going. One question can screw you up. I didn’t have any weird questions. I had some relax conversations. Chicago was the most relaxed interview and it was a nice surprise from the other ones. I am a big question mark and I know teams don’t want to waste time with silly questions. They were pretty straight forward. It was nerve-racking because you don’t want to say anything stupid and show nervousness. I texted (Force assistant Byron Pool) and he said,  ‘Just be confident. That’s one of your biggest assets.’ That’s reassured me.”

Q: How did you think you did during the physical portion of the combine?

Cooper: Pretty good. I think I surprised guys for how big I am. Held my own for bench and push ups and I knew I wasn’t going to win the wingspan (Cooper is 5-9). Phil worked me and (forward Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth)) twice a week but it was not to stay in shape. We were missing key components and we did workouts to get you get ready for testing. Not the way you want to work out to get ready for the season. Did some bike, sit ups, bench explosive stuff with. Iafallo has Buffalo’s camp to go to. I was confident going into push ups and bench. I was disappointed in bench. You don’t want to say take it easy on bench or take it easy on push ups. You want to do good on push-ups. I did good. I thought I had 11 but I had 10 and that was disappointing. Results were on line and I looked through them and they don’t show unless you make Top 10. I was in Top 10 for push-pull. I was in the Top 10 for push per pound for my size. I was in Top 10 for the vertical with pause at the bottom. I did OK in the chest throw. That’s an awkward one and it helps if you have long arms. Bike, I was surprised I held my own. This is all at 9 a.m. if that. It started at 8:30 and you are there at 7:30 for medical testing. Subway’s steak, eggs and bacon doesn’t do you too much. The bikes are all of what they were hyped to be, they sucked.

 

Q: You got to Toronto for the combine on Friday, did the combine on Saturday and graduated from Fargo North on Sunday. How did it all work?

Cooper: I was back by 7 p.m. (on Saturday) and I missed rehearsal but doing National Honor Society last year, I knew the routine. It was a big huge relief after the whole testing and I felt like crap. The big joke was not biking for another month/year. It was a different kind of thing. I like to keep hockey and school separate and then you have a train wreck with both, school drops and then hockey drops.  I am pretty good at handling and keeping them separate. Graduation wasn’t stressful. Just walk across, smile and listen to the speakers. It was nice because (Force forward Nate Arentz)’ billets put on a graduation party and got to say hi to them and Nate’s family. And there were a couple other grad parties. It was a semi-busy day.

 

Q: You were named the USHL’s Scholar Athlete of the Year. Were you surprised you win the award or did you expect it?

Cooper: I don’t follow awards really. I read about it and I thought I should have got it last year. Its nice to get recognition for hard work and dealing with three years of high school, three years of junior hockey, three different coaches and the longest bus trips other than maybe Tri-City or Youngstown.

Work Hard Play Hard…

It’s becoming clear the Force’s roster plans are getting murky.

The last week has seen the Force’s roster, which was set to return up to 16 players, undergo potential changes which could give the team a bit of a different and younger look for next season.

It appears the Force could lose up to five players from the 2011-12 team heading into next year.

Forward Pavel Zykov was drafted in the second round of the KHL Amateur Draft less than a week ago by Metallurg, the program which produced Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin. Zykov was also one of four Force players drafted in last week’s NAHL Draft.

Defenseman David Mead along with forwards Nick Stoskopf and Stanislav Dzakhov were also taken in the NAHL Draft.

The Force already lost forward Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State) to college after he’d been teetering back and forth between school and staying another year with the team.

“We’re in a situation where we can only have four (1992-born) players on our roster for next season,” said Force director of player personnel Jesse Davis. “We have some guys who are on the fence for next year.”

Davis said its a situation which is up in the air right now and final plans will not be determined until later.

Whether or not those players will return becomes even more of a question considering none of them were at the Force’s tryout camp, which was held in the Minneapolis area over the weekend.

Davis said last week in a text message Zykov was back in Russia making it unlikely he would fly back for the team’s camp regardless.

As for Dzakhov, Mead and Stoskopf, not being at camp isn’t exactly damning. Last season, defenseman Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), was not at the team’s camp as he was back home in Alaska.

Twelve players expected to return for next season’s team were present at the camp.

The only notable absentee from Sunday’s all-star game was forward Nate Arentz, who was a senior this year at Fargo South which held its graduation ceremonies on Sunday.

If the departures were to occur, it means there are five potential openings the Force have and plenty of options to choose from.

Affiliates list forwards Brendan Harms (Bemidji State), Zach Doerring and Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) are just a few of the forwards the team could rely upon to fill the gap next year. Davis also said following the USHL Draft, incoming forwards Matt Pohlkamp (Bowling Green) and Futures picks Mason Morelli and Michael Booth are expected to make the team next season.

That’s not including if the Force find favor in a forward who they didn’t draft similar to the way they did with Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota), who came out of nowhere to become one of the team’s best players.

Defensively, the Force would return five defensemen and will already have Butrus Ghafari (Western Michigan) coming into the fold. Similar to their forwards, the Force have a number of options off the affiliates list such as Charlie Pelnik (North Dakota), Dante Suffredini or any one of the players they took in the Entry Draft.

Davis said he was pleased with how the camp went as they saw some promising performances from their Futures Draft players.

It also appeared to be a good camp for defenseman Taylor Richart, who spoke with Miami (Ohio), Davis said. Davis acknowledged the rumors of Richart accepting a scholarship with the school, but said that isn’t true.

Richart, who played at Blaine (MN-HS) with Brodzinski, only played one season with the Force after coming over from Aberdeen (NAHL). He put up 16 points for the Force and was one of two players to play in all 60 games during the regular season.

Miami recently lost NTDP defenseman Patrick Sieloff, who opted to play next season with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League.

“He hasn’t accepted anything from them,” Davis said. “I think what it was, was people saw him talking with Miami in the lobby.”

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).

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.

Posse…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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