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.

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.

Survival Of The Fittest…

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

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

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

ON OFFENSE:

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

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

 

ON DEFENSE:

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

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

 

ON GOALTENDING:

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

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

Right Back At You…

So last night’s Force-Musketeers game wasn’t exactly the most exciting game in the world.

Force defenseman Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) scored the game-winning goal in overtime giving Black and Blue a 1-0 series lead in a best-of-three campaign. With a win tonight, the Force could close out the series and get a few days rest before heading south to Lincoln for a best of five.

Or it is extremely possibly Sioux City could tie the series at 1, forcing a Game 3 on Wednesday.

Either scenario is possible so let’s take a look at what to watch for in Game 2:

FORCE:

On offense: The High School Musical Line – Gabe Guertler (Minnesota)-Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth)-Dave Gust – was about the sharpest line for either team in Monday’s game. All three were constantly attacking the net looking for a goal. Guertler got one in the first 20 seconds of the game. Look for them to continue that pace but also look for them to get some help too namely in the form of the FCC Line. Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth), Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota) and Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan) had spurts last night where they looked good and at times, didn’t look so hot. Don’t be surprised if those three take a more aggressive approach.

On defense: A one-goal game could very well be in the cards. If so, then its up to the Force’s defense to make sure it keeps the net clear in front of Zane Gothberg (North Dakota). If you’re looking for a player to keep tabs on, look for Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha), who is easily capable of destroying an opponent’s flow and creating an odd-man rush all in the same series.

On goaltending: Gothberg said after last night’s game he expects for there to be close games where offense is at a premium. Fair enough. Gothberg had moments where he didn’t face too much action but when he did, he was ready for it. His lone blemish was a rebound leading to a game-tying goal. Look for him to be more aware on second or even third-chance opportunities.

 

MUSKETEERS:

On offense: Offense hasn’t been kind to the Musketeers this season. They’re actually one of the teams who gave up more goals (189) in the regular season than they scored (181) already putting them in a hole. Facing Gothberg and a defense that ranks in the Top 3 in the league doesn’t help. Finding someone to replace David Goodwin (Penn State), who is out with an injury is key. Kyle Criscuolo (Harvard) has been a pest for the Force to deal with at times and he could be the guy to jumpstart an offense in severe need of goals.

On defense: Other than stopping The Musical, there really isn’t much else this defense could have done last night. Considering the Force will be in attack mode to close out the series, looking for Geoff Ferguson (Dartmouth). Ferguson is one of the better shutdown defensemen in this league and he could be one of the big reasons between a Force win or a Musketeers win.

On goaltending: Skoff was pretty upset with himself following the game last night. His main point was that he should have stopped Corrin’s game winner. But there were positives. He did say his defense did a really good job getting in front of net to block shots with their bodies. Another positive is knowing they can go a while with the Force. If Skoff can do what he did last night, he gives his team a fighting chance. But if he even gives up two goals, then it might be fair to say the Force advance.

 

PREDICTION:

Defense will be a priority but don’t be too shocked if both teams try to ramp it up a notch. After all, the Force are trying to close out a series while the Musketeers are looking to force a Game 3. When at their peak, these are both solid teams but in this case we’ll say Force win 3-1 with an empty-netter.

Carry That Weight…

Scoring the overtime winner certainly made the Force’s Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) a popular man, but he wasn’t the only defenseman showing what he could do on the offensive end.

First-year defenseman Neal Goff anchored a line with Nate Arentz and Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State), giving the Force a shutdown line which certainly did its job in the team’s 2-1 win over Sioux City on Monday.

Goff hopes his line can replicate what it did on Monday in the hopes of closing out the series tonight at 7:05 p.m. The Force hold a 1-0 lead in a best-of-three series.

“I thought our line played really well and our line had some (scoring) chances,” Goff said. “I am getting the hang of forward to where I am totally comfortable up there. The first couple of games its hard to get your grips being a defenseman. I felt I contributed both ways and I plan on doing that in the rest of the playoffs.”

Goff won the “Play with Nate Arentz and Jonny Brodzinski” Sweepstakes after Force coach John Marks said he was going to use Sunday to figure out who’d be the best fit on the line.

Goff actually played with Arentz and Brodzinski on Mar. 31 in a 3-0 loss at Sioux City. Even in the loss, the line did not give up a goal going even in plus/minus ratio.

Marks chose Goff from a list which included forwards Jordan Nelson, Stanislav Dzakhov and Pavel Zykov. Nelson dressed and was on the sparingly-used fourth line while Dzakhov and Zykov watched the game in the stands.

“I was really excited,” Goff said about playing on the team’s third line. “I played with them for a few games prior to tonight and we work well together.”

Goff’s role on the line was to serve in what Brodzinski described as a “high-low” role.

Picture an inverted pyramid where Arentz is on the left, Brodzinski is on the right and Goff is in the center, or in this case, the slot, which is about five to 10 feet in front of the net. The scheme allows Arentz and Brodzinski to work in the corners to dig for the puck.

When they do get the puck it sets up what could be a point-blank opportunity for Goff. But in case it doesn’t, it allows Goff to quickly skate back on defense giving the Force a three-man wall to prevent or at least slow down any odd-man rushes.

“He was like a third defenseman out there,” Brodzinski said. “But he was also a forward at the same time. He was the third guy high as me and Nate just battled in the corners. The goal was to just keep him floating out high so we could feed him the puck.”

The 6-4, 180-pound Goff said he was pleased with his performance but there were some things he’d like to refine coming into tonight’s game.

Goff said offense was the aspect of his game he wanted to improve the most.

He didn’t register any shots on net, according to the stats. He attributed that to having his head down instead of keeping his head up and looking for a spot to expose on Musketeers’ goaltender Matt Skoff (Penn State), who made 36 saves in the loss.

“I think sometimes, I am a little quick to shoot it,” Goff said. “And maybe pick my head up too. Overall, I think we played pretty well and we just have to keep rolling.”

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)

Stick of Dynamite…

Whether the Force stay fourth in the Western Conference or move up the standings, they used Friday to prove they are ready for the playoffs to get here.

Black and Blue used an 8-0 victory over Sioux Falls in what was the team’s most domineering win all season given the large cushion. It was the largest margin of victory the Force have had all year. The victory was the team’s fourth in a row, which is the longest active winning streak in the USHL.

It was also a game where some records were set too.

-Zane Gothberg, goaltender, North Dakota: Getting the feeling he might be on to something special? Gothberg’s victory now gives him 39 career victories, the most by a goaltender in the team’s four-year history. He also now has seven shutouts too. In all, Gothberg owns the franchise records for: most shutouts in a season, most shutouts in a career, most wins in a career, lowest goals against average in a season, lowest goals against average in a career, best save percentage in a career and best save percentage in a season. If he gets two more wins, he owns the franchise records for most wins in a season. Oh, he made 30 saves in the victory too. So yeah, he’s done nothing at all this year.

-Bryn Chyzyk, forward, North Dakota: Chyzyk picked up a goal and an assist giving him three points in two games. He, to our knowledge, hasn’t set any franchise records but he is further cementing what’s been one of the better individual seasons in Force history this year. Chyzyk, as its been documented, came in as an unknown and will leave Fargo for North Dakota in a few months time. He has 46 points in 53 games this season. Once again, not a bad season.

-Dave Gust, forward: Gust had his second straight two-goal game in the win for four points in his last two games. His 13 goals and 15 assists in 39 games has given the Force another dimension down the stretch. Gust and the rest of High School Musical are also giving people a glimpse at what could be one of the more potent lines in the USHL for next season. Though if they have it their way, they could prove it during the playoffs too.

-Gabe Guertler, forward, Minnesota: Speaking of the Musical, its ring leader was back at it with his second straight, two-assist game. Guertler, like Gust, now has four points in his last two games. He now has 26 points in 52 games and as a rookie that isn’t too bad. Between the Gophers vying for a national title and the Miami Heat being title favorites, life’s good for the Force’s favorite Floridian.

-Justin Wade, defenseman, Notre Dame: Yep. We know now for sure the End of Days are around the corner. Wade scored again. Guy went 60-plus games without a goal yet he has scored two goals since Feb. 25. Wade went plus-2 giving him his third straight plus-2 performance. No one is complaining about his recent offensive production. But combine his shutdown ability with the fact he could pick up a helper here and there and he’s showing why this Force defense is deceptively good.

-Dominic Racobaldo, defenseman: The Roc knew his role and made others shut their mouths picking up two assists in the win. Roc, believe it or not, has 10 points in the 43 games he’s played with the Force. Looking back at the Racobaldo-Tanner Lane trade, it appears the Force might have gotten the better end of this deal given what Racobaldo has brought to the team. He brings a physical edge. He brings a shutdown capability yet more than anything, he’s another presence on the league’s second best defense.

-The defense: They are the second-best defense in the league. Seriously. That’s no joke people. They’ve given up the least amount of goals in the Western Conference and the second-least in the entire USHL. It might seem a bit improbable given the hideous start to the season where the team lost 13 of 15, but the defense has really helped turn things around this year. With Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and Taylor Richart, they have a nastiness. Between Racobaldo and Wade, they have two physical bodies who don’t mind delivering a punishing hit. Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) and Taylor Fleming also provide some offensive skill. And don’t forget David Mead and Neal Goff too. Mead’s game isn’t too flashy but he has been efficient. Same with Goff, who was really starting to progress prior to his suspension. These guys also have the third-best penalty kill in the entire USHL too. Face it Force fans. Your defensive corps is as good as it gets in the league.

El Burrito de Belén…

When Force forward Bryn Chyzyk said he was going to accept food, he wasn’t joking.

Chyzyk (North Dakota) drafted teammate Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan) on Tuesday for the team’s upcoming skills competition on Sunday. The draft was held after practice and the teams where chosen by Chyzyk and Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth).

Chyzyk chose Hargrove with his second pick and then shipped him to Farley’s team in exchange for Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) and a Qdoba burrito. Yep. You read that right. Hargrove was traded for a burrito.

“You know, me and Farley have some creative minds,” Chyzyk said about the trade. “We tossed it around in our heads and I decided to pull the trigger.”

Don’t worry. Chyzyk will not have to worry about trading a side order of nachos at a later date or anything like that.

He and Farley, who are close friends, actually know what one another order from Qdoba so Chyzyk knows what to expect.

Chyzyk, who was tongue-in-cheek during most of the interview, did joke about explaining to Hargrove why he did trade him.

“We shook his hand and told him we hope for the best,” Chyzyk said. “We told him there were no hard feelings. Now let’s see if he gives me the puck on Friday.”

Trading Hargrove, who is from Texas, for a burrito was only part of the story of the draft. Force spokeswoman Whitney Baumgartner said Corrin showed up to the draft wearing sweat paints but had a suit jacket on treating it as if this was an actual draft.

Baumgartner and Chyzyk both said Corrin showed up stating how he was going to be the No. 1 pick, or at least a first-rounder. Corrin was taken second by Farley before being traded for Hargrove and the burrito.

“Oh, he thought he was going first and that’s because he’s the oldest guy on the team,” Chyzyk said. “He’s starting to lose his hair and he needs a wheelchair. The old guy did look good today.”

He then joked about how he didn’t know if Corrin was worth a burrito but he’ll find out on Sunday.

The first overall pick of the draft belonged to Farley and he selected first-year forward Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth), who has scored 22 points this season and is fourth on the team in points while defenseman Taylor Richart was the draft’s second overall pick.

Chyzyk said he was pleased with how the draft went and said Nate Arentz, who he drafted, could be the skills challenge sleeper to watch.

“He’s an underrated guy on the team,” said Chyzyk, who actually took Arentz with his third pick. “I feel like he’s going to wipe up in the fastest skater competition just from looking at the things he’s done in practice.”

Though there is one thing to note about the draft.

Defensemen Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) and Justin Wade (Notre Dame) were the last two players taken in the draft.

Isn’t it kind of weird that the two guys who could get taken in this summer’s NHL Draft were chosen last?

“It is a little bit of a coincidence I would say,” Chyzyk said. “They are a couple of defensive-minded guys in an offensive game but I am glad we got Cooper in the last round. I think he could win the hardest shot competition.”

Below are a list of the teams:

Team Chyzyk: Chyzyk, Richart, Arentz, Reed Peters, Jonny Brodzinski (St. Cloud State), Taylor Fleming, Nick Stoskopf, David Mead, Pavel Zykov, Cooper.

Team Farley: Farley, Hargrove, Gabe Guertler (Minnesota), Zane Gothberg (North Dakota), Dave Gust, Neal Goff, Jordan Nelson, Dominic Racobaldo, Stanislav Dzakhov, Wade.