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Experienced Force built to handle complicated season

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Fargo Force goalie Brennan Boynton returns to the team this year as a member of a veteran-heavy squad with 20 players with junior hockey experience. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — Fargo Force coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux said his team has to be prepared for anything.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues across the country, the 2020-21 United States Hockey League season will require maximum adaptability from its teams, players and coaches. Players will be forced in and out of practices and game lineups with little notice, and their replacements will be forced to step into new, potentially unfamiliar roles.

The Force already had their season shaken up before it started. The team was scheduled to open its season last weekend, but had to postpone its first two games to later dates. Instead, the Force kick off the season Friday at Scheels Arena against Sioux Falls with a Saturday road trip to play at the Stampede to follow.

“This year is different,” Lamoureux said. “Our day-to-day and week-to-week preparation are different. We’ve had to be extremely flexible as a coaching staff. We’ve had to prepare our group differently to make sure everybody is ready to go as much as possible. We don’t know if we’re going to have a healthy lineup from day to day. As a coaching staff, we spend a lot of time preparing for a lot of different variables that are coming at us.”

The coach thinks his experienced squad is built to handle it. The Force have 10 players returning to the team either from last year or from previous seasons. Additionally, they have three more players with USHL experience, 20 players total with juniors experience, and three with Division I hockey experience.

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Returning players from last season include forwards Tristan Broz, Kyle Smolen, Casey McDonald, Mason Salquist and Jake Dunlap, defensemen Nick Strom and Jack Peart, and goaltender Brennan Boynton. Jeremy Davidson played for the Force in the 2018-19 season and is back after playing for the University of Massachusetts last season.

The other two players with DI experience are defenseman Ryan Siedem and forward Austin Wong from Harvard. The Ivy League canceled winter sports on Thursday, and the two Crimson players are taking advantage of their remaining juniors eligibility with the status of their college season.

Forward Tyler Rollwagen and defenseman Michael Suda played for Cedar Rapids last season and defenseman Owen Gallatin played for USA Hockey.

“Our returning players for the most part were all impact players for us last year,” Lamoureux said. “That’s where we feel very confident in our veteran group. Those guys that are back played a significant role in our success last year. Those players returning are 1 year older, another year stronger. The game is a little bit slower for them which is good. It gives them a leg up and helps us build our team with being able to pass knowledge down to our new players.”

With college and high school seasons up in the air and the USHL among the only junior leagues active, the Force won’t be the only team featuring highly-experienced players. Lamoureux says he expects the level of competition across the league to be at an all-time high this season.

“We’re not the only team that is the beneficiary of having players back into the league,” he said. “There’s players around the league that would be playing college hockey this year. You’re going to see our league the most competitive it’s maybe ever been.

“This is the best the USHL is going to be. In terms of North America, we’re one of the only juniors leagues that’s playing. The exposure our players are going to get from the NHL and the NCAA is going to be immense.”

Despite the challenges his team is sure to face this season on and off the ice, the coach and his players are happy to be back in action. After last season was cut short in the early days of the pandemic, Lamoureux said he is happy to see his players back on the ice developing as players and advancing their careers.

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“There’s a lot at stake for these guys,” the coach said. “To put that much effort into preparing themselves for this year, they deserve to play and we’re excited to get the season started. I’m just excited for our players. They’ve dedicated their entire lives to playing hockey and earnings scholarships.”

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Fargo Force forward Tristan Broz returns this season as a member of a veteran-laden squad that features 20 players with junior hockey experience. David Samson / The Forum

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