FARGO — The Fargo Force’s 2019-20 junior hockey season officially ended Wednesday and it left the players and staff feeling deflated.
A full season’s worth of work had the Force in position to make a run at a Clark Cup championship. They were finally healthy and surging. But with the United State Hockey League announcing Wednesday it was canceling the remainder of the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic, they won’t find out how far they could have gotten.
“Empty is the feeling,” Force coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux said. “It sucks not being able to finish. I really like where our team was heading. We were on a roll there. Our group was coming together and finally got healthy. I felt great about this group in the locker room. I felt they had a chance to make a run at a championship. That’s just disappointing, this group not having the opportunity — at least having the opportunity to fail.”
Winners of seven of their previous eight games, Fargo was sitting in third place in the Western Conference — second based on winning percentage — and fourth in the league. There were 15 games left to play in the regular season.
“Lammy and his staff have done an outstanding job overcoming a lot of obstacles, especially through injuries,” Force general manager Cary Eades said. “To go 7-0-1 in our last eight games, that shows the team improved and was coming together and we had a real opportunity here. It’s the same for our players and fans. It’s disappointing, but you look at the high school championships that got called off. Everybody in the athletic world has taken a punch to the gut here.”
The league cancellation brings an abrupt end to Lamoureux’s first season as head coach. But it will give him more time to focus on another first-time experience — being a dad. He now has more time to spend at home with his newborn daughter, Lanni, born on Feb. 10.
“If there’s a silver lining, it’s that I get to be home more,” the coach said. “She was born right in the middle of back-to-back triple headers, so there wasn’t much sleep happening.”
The Force players all started making arrangements to return to their homes right away when the league was suspended last Thursday, and they have all either made it back home safely, or have travel plans arranged. All of the American and Canadian players have made it home, one player from the Czech Republic was traveling home Wednesday, and another player from the Czech Republic is traveling Friday. One player from Switzerland is staying in Fargo.
The Force roster features players from eight states and four Canadian provinces, as well as the two Czech players and the Swiss player.
“We met Thursday and were prepared to practice and got word that the suspension was happening,” Eades said. “All but three left Fargo on Friday.”
Having the season cut short means that the USHL players miss out on valuable opportunities to be seen by college and pro scouts. But all of the Force’s 20-year-old players whose juniors eligibility was exhausted either have Division I scholarships or are set up to play professionally next year. Moorhead native Carter Randklev is committed to Niagara University, Aaron Grounds of Jamestown, N.D., is committed to American International College, and Austin Crossley is going to play professionally next year.
“We have some other players that do not have scholarships and they have a lot of eligibility remaining,” Lamoureux said. “I’m not too worried about them, they’ll be OK. Those 20-year-olds were really the greatest concern. The timing of it was — I don’t want to say fitting — but they got those offers before the pandemic hit and had they not, it may not have been a good situation.”
For those players who have played their last game for the Force and for the ones that will return next year, Lamoureux said he was working on a letter to send to the team that lost its season to coronavirus.
“I just need some time to put into words the amount of appreciation I have for our players and our staff,” the coach said. “This group definitely defined what being a member of the Fargo Force is, and it’s too bad they didn’t get a chance to compete in front of our fans and compete for a championship.”