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F-M Jets in good hands

Fargo-Moorhead Jets general manager Randy Nielsen was surprised when coach Shawn Kurulak resigned about a month before the start of this year's North American Hockey League season.

FM Jets Hockey

Fargo-Moorhead Jets general manager Randy Nielsen was surprised when coach Shawn Kurulak resigned about a month before the start of this year's North American Hockey League season.

However, he was never nervous.

That's because Nielsen, also part owner of the Jets franchise, knew he had the perfect replacement already on the payroll in assistant Todd Knott.

"The kids respect him highly," Nielsen said of Knott. "We are very fortunate. Todd will be a good leader."

The Jets open the regular season at rival Bismarck at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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Knott, a former center at NCAA Division I Bemidji State, was named head coach when Kurulak took an assistant position at Army in late August.

The 25-year-old from Red Lake Falls, Minn., inherited a team that finished second in the NAHL West Division during their inaugural season with a 33-21-2 record.

The Jets inherited a coach with little experience: Knott's only previous head coaching job was for the Bemidji High School junior varsity.

But Knott does not lack impressive coaching mentors.

He was coached by Steve Johnson while with the United States Hockey League's Lincoln Stars in 1998-99.

Johnson has led the Stars to a pair of Clark Cup titles, three Anderson Cup crowns and a Tier I national championship.

Knott played for coaching legend Bob Peters during his first season at Bemidji State. Peters, the Beavers' coach from 1966-2001, won 728 games and 13 national titles.

Following Peters' retirement in 2001, Knott continued his playing career under Tom Serratore. Serratore has quickly built the Beavers into a CHA contender.

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"When I was playing, I was always interested in what the coaches were doing during the game," Knott said. "I always took mental notes on what the coaches did during certain situations. I took a lot from each of the coaches I played for."

Since his playing days, Knott said he has always believed that sound fundamentals -- not flashiness -- wins games.

It's a philosophy he is hoping the Jets buy into this season.

"As a coach, you have got to motivate kids," said Knott, who scored just 14 goals during three seasons at Bemidji State. "You need to pat them on the back when they do well and get after them when you need them to perform. Hockey is more than just X's and O's."

The Jets biggest strength this season should be veteran leadership in the defensive zone.

F-M returns five defensemen with more than 40 games of junior hockey experience.

"We expect a lot from them," Knott said. "We've told them that they have to play like veterans this year."

Knott also made an effort to bring in new players with size and strength to combat a late-season slide due to fatigue.

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The Jets stumbled late last season, losing eight of nine games in late January and early February.

The Jets rebounded with a 7-2 record during their final nine games to capture second in the West Division.

"I think we are going to be a well-balanced," Knott said. "We have a group of guys that who all have a chance to make an impact. It's just a matter of opportunity and what they do with that opportunity."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562

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