We've finally reached our last preview for the USHL season and it has been fun going through all the teams this year.
Going through rosters and seeing what teams have for the upcoming season has certainly made for an interesting feature for this blog and hopefully for fans as well.
The final focus for the blog is none other than the team I cover for a living, the Fargo Force and with that said, apologies if this one is a little bit longer than the rest of the previews. So for the last time, here's final preview:
Fargo Force (33-22-5; lost in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs)
Coach: John Marks
Who's Gone: Jimmy Mullin (Miami (Ohio)/drafted by Tampa Bay Lightning), forward; Chad Demers (Air Force), forward, Dan Weissenhofer (Air Force), defenseman; Ryan Massa (Nebraska-Omaha), goaltender; Tanner Kero (Michigan Tech), forward; Ian Young (Colorado College), defenseman; Oleg Yevenko (UMass), defenseman; Tyler Maugeri (Princeton), forward; Nick Oliver (St. Cloud State/drafted by the Nashville Predators), St. Cloud State, forward; Colten St. Clair (North Dakota), forward; Joe Rehkamp (traded to Waterloo), forward; Jimmy Murray (traded to Omaha), forward; Keaton Thompson (left for NTDP/committed to North Dakota), defenseman; Garrett Haar (Western Michigan/drafted by Washington Capitals), defenseman; Brandon Carlson (traded to Lincoln), defenseman.
Who's Back: Brian Cooper (committed to Nebraska-Omaha), defenseman; Zane Gothberg (committed to North Dakota/drafted by Boston Bruins), goaltender; Tanner Lane (committed to Nebraska-Omaha/drafted by Atlanta/Winnipeg), forward; Justin Wade (committed to Notre Dame), defenseman; Austin Farley (committed to Minnesota-Duluth), forward; Jonathan Brodzinski (committed to St. Cloud State), forward; Willie Corrin (committed to Minnesota-Duluth), defenseman; Colton Hargrove, forward; Nick Stoskopf, forward; Nate Arentz, forward.
Who's New: Gabe Guertler (played last season at Team Illinois/committed to Minnesota), forward; Brady Riesgraf (played last season at Holy Family (MN-HS)/committed to Bemidji State), defenseman; Jimmy McNulty (played last season at Flin Flon/committed to Army), defenseman; Blake Clarke (played last season at Shattuck-St. Mary's (MN-HS)), forward; AJ Reid (played last season at St. Thomas Academy (MN-HS)), forward; Taylor Fleming (played last season at St. Thomas Academy (MN-HS)), defenseman; Taylor Richart (played last season at Aberdeen), defenseman; Alex Iafallo (played last season at Buffalo Regals), forward; Neal Goff (played last season at Stillwater (MN-HS)), defenseman; Jordan Nelson (played last season at Alexandria), forward; Devin Loe (played last season at Rice Memorial Prep), forward; Reed Peters (played last season at Winkler), goaltender; Bryn Chyzyk (played last season at Dauphin), forward; Luke Sandler (played last season at Tri-City), forward.
What's Going On: It just can't be an offseason in Forceland without some drama. The team had their fair share of it this summer with so much going on. For the fourth straight summer, the Force had to hire a new coach when Jason Herter left to become an assistant at Minnesota-Duluth. It took the team less than a month to hire Marks, a former UND assistant who had also won two titles in the ECHL. During that time, Haar was drafted by the Washington Capitals, which wanted him to play college hockey next season. Haar said he was going to return to Fargo and then a week later tweeted without telling the franchise first that he would be playing at Western Michigan for the upcoming season. Haar was suppose to be one of four returning defensemen for the team. That same day the team said highly-touted defensive prospect, Charlie Pelnik, would be spending this season at Shattuck-St. Mary's to further his development. Pelnik, a No. 10 overall pick in the Futures Draft, is a UND commit.
Yet with all of that going on, the Force still have 10 returning players and Sandler, a former Force player, having USHL experience, it gives the team 11 seasoned players. Then there's the incoming group, which is expected to have an immediate impact and some of them did in the team's first game. Richart, Nelson and Guertler all recorded points in the team's 5-4 shootout win to open the season. Richart was even named the league's defensive player of the week for his performance.
There's going to be a lot to look at with the Force this season. How will the team do under a fourth head coach? Will second-year guys like Lane have a breakthrough season? Can the young players like Iafallo, Clarke and Guertler be serious contributors. Also, here's something else of note: Will this be a banner year for the Force in regards to the NHL Draft? Arentz, Cooper, Farley, Iafallo and Wade are all draft-eligible this year and were listed in NHL Central Scouting's Preseason Watch List of North American skaters.
As for the guys to watch, it's an interesting list. For the forwards, it's a toss up between Guertler and Lane. Guertler, the first Florida-born player to commit to Minnesota, was the team's top pick and No. 2 overall in the USHL Futures Draft. He's a guy that either this year or next year could realistically fill that void left by Mullin in regards to being that explosive playmaker. Then there's Lane, the former Minnesota High School scoring champ. He had 13 points in 57 games last year, which certainly surprised and truthfully disappointed many. Lane, in some ways, embodies the expectations of these second-year guys returning to the Force. He has the lesson plan, question is: Can he pass the test?
Defensively it is Cooper. Captains haven't been announced but he's the favorite to probably be named team captain because he's a third-year player and was an assistant captain last season. That and Cooper faces the biggest year of any player on the team. It is his draft year and its the year where he can really make his mark. He progressed last season taking a more active role on offense and became that player who could deliver at certain moments in a game. The Force will need that from him this season.
Pretty much this is a team that has everything needed to win games. It is just a matter of how this team will do because it has so many new players and experienced players looking to make a mark. In about 12 months, should things go right, this could be the best team in the USHL. But as for this season, this is a team that should make the playoffs. From there, it's anybody's guess as to how far they will go.
Hopefully everyone has enjoyed these previews. Thanks again for reading and enjoy the season.