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.

Nothin’ On You…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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.

With You Friends…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Defense Of The Genre…

There are plenty of reasons why the Fargo Force were able to reach the USHL Playoffs.

One of them was the Force’s defense, which statistically ranks as one of the Top 3 defenses in the entire league. It also happens to be arguably the best in the entire Western Conference.

Conference-wise, the Force had the lowest goals allowed total in the West. In the league, they were third. Throw in a penalty kill which ranked third in the league and it is easy to see why the Force could be an attractive choice to make when it comes to picking a Western Conference champion.

So how does a defense like this work? We asked the boys on the blueline to either define their role on the team or what makes this one of the USHL’s best defenses. Here’s what they had to say:

On what makes this one of the league’s best defenses:

“First thing is we don’t spend a lot of time playing with the puck. If we play with it turns into a turnover. Secondly, gap control. Thirdly, just pressure to the corners. Just the defensive zone always keeping the guy in front. I’d say those are three things we do well,” – Dominic Racobaldo

“What makes it works is everyone knows all the defenses in our system. We have certain players who compliment each other pretty well. We’ll back up each other and we can read each other pretty well,”  – Justin Wade (Notre Dame)

“Honestly, we do the little things right. We are not flashy. We are not looking to get points every single night. We’re a grinder, defensive team. We get in our defensive zone. We contribute in the offensive zone. Contributing in the offensive zone helps us in the defensive zone,” – David Mead

“Coach has us paired up with the right guy. You can take me and Wade. He’s a really physical guy and I am not the most physical guy. I am skilled guy and he’s more of a physical guy and we even each other out a lot. That goes all the way down. T-Bone plays really well with Rocco. One’s a small guy and the other is a big guy. Cooper and Fleming. Both are littler guys but they can wheel around,” – Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth)

 

On what your role is on this defense:

“My role is to bring energy every night. I’d describe myself as a puck-moving defenseman. My role is to make good plays, make good breakouts and regroup when its over. That’s my role as a defenseman,” – Taylor Fleming

“I think my role is kind of getting the puck out and blocking shots. Doing the grinding stuff. If I get a chance to jump up into the play, then I will but its mainly knowing where to be at all times.” – Taylor Richart

“Just more of bringing my ‘A’ game everyday. If things are not going well, I just want to simplify it a bit. Just throwing my points in here and there to help out the team and knowing that the guys can trust me. That I can be a safety valve. I want to be out there the last minute-and-a half whether we are up a goal or down a goal. I want to be the rock,” – Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha)

Hollywood…

Apparently the camera is a big fan of Force forward Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State) when you look at the last year.

You’ve seen his face advertising Force apparel with fellow cover boy Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota). His face has even popped up throughout area television on a commercial proclaiming its “Hockey Night in Fargo.”

Now his face is in a documentary. Brodzinski and his family were part of a film called, “Eat Sleep Hockey” chronicling the rivalry between Blaine and Centennial, one of the biggest in Minnesota.

“Its our family and Trey Hughes’ family and Trey and I have been really good friends for a long time,” Brodzinski said. “We’ve always played with each other and against each other. We played Triple A hockey together. Then the Blaine-Centennial rivalry is so big it doesn’t matter who you are.”

The film, which debuted about a month ago, looks at last season when Brodzinski was a senior at Blaine and Hughes was at Centennial. It also takes a look at both families and how much hockey has impacted their lives.

Take Brodzinski’s family. His father, Mike, played at St. Cloud State setting multiple program scoring records along with playing for Herb Brooks. He went on to play for the Peoria Rivermen in the St. Louis Blues’ system.

Then there’s Grandma Brodzinski who shows up to nearly every Force game and every Blaine game wearing her Blaine sweatshirt with her grandsons’ numbers on it.

Lastly, there are Brodzinski’s siblings. Mikey Brodzinski (Minnesota) led Blaine in scoring this past season as a defenseman and is currently weighing his options to play next season at Blaine or play with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

Brodzinski also has two younger brothers who compete against Hughes’ siblings meaning the two families’ involvement with the rivalry will continue.

“It’s a big rivalry,” Brodinzski said. “And its why I think (director Damian Kussian) was interested in our family.”

Brodzinski said the week of the Blaine-Centennial game cameras were around the family and at the rink capturing what every minute is like in the days leading up to the game.

The film took place in what was Brodzinski’s senior year when he led the Bengals to the Minnesota state hockey tournament along with being named a Mr. Hockey finalist.

And that, of course, turned into what was certainly a movie-like scenario. Brodzinski signed a free-agent contract with the Force meaning he had to play 10 games with the Force to be protected for the USHL Entry Draft and not risk playing somewhere else.

Brodzinski, minutes after his high school career ended, drove with his family through blizzard-like conditions to Fargo to play in the first of 10 games with the club.

Life’s slowed down a little bit as Brodzinski isn’t driving through blizzards to play hockey.

Though he has played numerous roles for the Force, which enter this weekend playoff-bound but look to finish in third place. Brodzinski has scored 21 points in 56 games for the Force this season.

Brodzinski said he and his family were more than pleased with the documentary but as far as he’s concerned, his acting days are over.

“Yeah, not so much,” he said when asked about if he plans to be on camera again. “(The organization) likes to put me in that kind of stuff because they think I have a nice camera face.”

Even better than current Force defenseman, former Blaine teammate and close friend Taylor Richart?

“Ha,” he said. “For sure.”

Control…

On a night where Lincoln Stars forward Kevin Roy (Brown) got his 50th goal, Sioux Falls goaltender Charlie Lindgren did his best to show the USHL is still a defensive-minded league.

Lindgren made an astounding 37 saves – including 13 in the third period alone – helping his team to a 3-2 shootout win over the Fargo Force on Friday at Scheels Arena.

“It’s hard to explain,” Lindgren said of his game-altering, third-period performance. “(Bryn) Chyzyk and (Austin) Farley started going and you could tell they were playing good and you have to battle back and keep your team in it. Our team their job too by keeping us in it.”

Lindgren had been stopping shots all night but it was nothing compared to what he faced in the third. Force coach John Marks paired Chyzyk (North Dakota) and Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) in the third after they played on separate lines to open the game.

The duo worked early and often scoring both Force goals tying it at 2 with about 12 or so minutes left in the frame.

It appeared the goals were about to mark the Force’s turnaround but it really just set up a bigger platform for Lindgren.

Lindgren had a two-minute stretch where he was constantly having to fight off screens in front of net just to get a clean look at a puck. He managed to get those clear views making saves that most in Scheels Arena wished they  hadn’t seen.

He had four saves which really embodied how strong his performance was:

No 1: Defenseman Taylor Richart had a shot from the point that Lindgren just gobbled up. Richart’s shot was, at that time, the best scoring chance the Force had against Lindgren who was gaining momentum.

No. 2: Forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) was between the blueline and the right faceoff circle when he spotted a trailing Farley. Farley took the puck making a move to force a favorable angle for a goal only to have Lindgren stop him by shifting left to right to use his leg for the save.

No. 3: This was easily Lindgren’s modus operandi. Toninato had a point blank chance at net. Lindgren was down and Toninato lifted the puck with the thought Lindgren couldn’t reach it. He was wrong. Lindgren, from his stomach, lifted his right arm catching the puck out of mid-air leaving Toninato visibly frustrated. Toninato said, “Puck just chipped to me and I tried getting it upstairs. He’s the lefty goalie. If he wasn’t a lefty, I don’t think he would have had it.

No. 4: Jordan Nelson became Lindgren’s latest highlight reel when he got alone and tried to make a deke. While Nelson was midway through his move, Lindgren dove and poked the puck away from him ending a chance for a Force goal.

All these saves happened within a six-minute span which saw the Force go from holding momentum to barely holding on to any edge once overtime arrived.

Lindgren made four saves in the extra frame but continued his solid night in the shootout.

Fargo’s Dave Gust made the deke to get the angle on Lindgren but the puck rolled off his stick, not even resulting in a shot. Farley was next when he flew in on net and had Lindgren beat only to have his shot sky over the crossbar.

The miss set up Sioux Falls’ Sam Rothstein who buried his chance on the other end leaving Lindgren with the chance to decide the game.

And as luck would have it, the Force’s final shooter was Lindgren’s childhood friend Nate Arentz.

“I knew they were going to send him out there,” Lindgren said.

Arentz coasted in on net only to approach Lindgren, lose control of the puck and not even get a shot off.

Lindgren, like that, dodged three bullets in a shootout after practically being a bulletproof vest in the third period.

The shootout was almost like the Force’s night against Lindgren: Just when they thought they had a shot, they actually just lost control instead.

Blue Train…

Because gearing up for a playoff run isn’t enough.

Tuning up for the playoffs has been a focal point at Fargo Force practices lately. Practices have also been used as a bit of a tryout camp for players the Force either have on their affiliates list or they are looking at drafting in the upcoming USHL drafts.

“We’ve had guys who’ve been are on Spring Break at school and they’ll fly or drive out for a few days,” said Force assistant and chief scout Jesse Davis.

Quite a few players have practiced with the Force with the most notable being former Duluth East forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) and former St. Thomas Academy defenseman Eric Schurhamer (Maine). Both Toninato and Schurhamer were finalists for the state’s Mr. Hockey award.

Toninato, who is on the Force’s affiliate list, has already played a few games with the team and will play again this weekend, Davis said.

As for Schurhamer, he’s in a bit of a different situation. He’s a two-time Minnesota state champion with a college commitment who just doesn’t have a place to play junior hockey for next season.

“I just want to find a home where I can play and find coaches that will develop me so I can go on to the next level,” said Schurhamer, who also played high school hockey with Force defenseman Taylor Fleming. “I just want to out there and prove myself too.”

Schurhamer admitted playing against stronger and faster competition is certainly a change compared to what he’s used to seeing.

He’s not the only one. Many of the players the Force have had at practice have played high school hockey or midget hockey, which usually doesn’t feature the size and speed seen in junior hockey.

“Going into it people you know are a committed kid,” Schurhamer said. “It could put you up in the ranks a little bit higher above other kids. You are still really driven to get to the next level and for me, it’s like having a target on my back so I strive to be better in tryouts.”

Schurhamer said he had a tryout with the Chicago Steel but his only other USHL tryout, for now, has been with the Force.

He added he’d like to play in Fargo given how close it is to where his family lives in the Twin Cities.

Something says he might not be the only one. The team’s practice on Thursday featured quite a few players from Minnesota including Blaine forward Tyler Cline and Totino-Grace’s Kai Barber.

If Cline were to come to Fargo, he’d be the latest extension in what has become a mini-pipeline between the Force and the Bengals. Current Force players Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State) and Taylor Richart played at Blaine where Richart’s dad is an assistant coach. Cline, a sophomore, scored 33 points in 25 games for Blaine last season.

As for Barber, he was a member of a Totino-Grace team which fell to Schurhamer and St. Thomas Academy by a goal in the section finals.The 5-10, 195-pound Barber played varsity as a sophomore last season with five points in 22 games.

Should Barber get drafted and come to the team, he’d add to a list that could have some famous family members.

Barber, Davis said, is the nephew of former NFL running back and Minnesota star Marion Barber. Barber did play football at Totino-Grace this season rushing 32 times for 162 yards in two touchdowns over six regular season games while catching 13 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown.

Then there is Toninato – the godson of NHL Hall of Famer Brett Hull, who played hockey with Toninato’s father at Minnesota-Duluth.

“We’re happy with the guys we’ve had here at camp,” Davis said. “In practice when we run our power play and penalty kill, our guys know what to expect against each other. These guys don’t so it’s good to have that this late in the year.”