The United States Hockey League and the North American Hockey League seasons are winding down. The USHL is in the final week of its regular season. In the NAHL, the North and South divisions started their divisional playoffs last weekend, while the Central and West divisions will start their divisional playoffs this weekend.
With the junior season as well as the college season coming down the home stretch, a lot has been happening with North Dakota’s three junior hockey teams: the USHL’s Fargo Force and the NAHL’s Bismarck Bobcats and Minot Minotauros.
With a 4-3 win in Sioux City last Saturday, the Force clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the USHL playoffs. Information about playoff ticket sales, game dates, and the first-round opponent has not been released yet.
North Dakota’s two NAHL teams begin their march toward the Robertson Cup this weekend. The Bobcats open their first-round best-of-five series against the Brookings Blizzard with 7:15 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday at the VFW Sports Center in Bismarck. The Minotauros open their series against the Central Division regular season champion Austin Bruins with 7:05 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday at the Riverside Arena in Austin, Minn. I will post a preview of these series later in the week.
Alumni in the Frozen Four
Six players who played juniors in North Dakota have made the Frozen Four.
Four Force alumni play for St. Cloud State University: Jonny Brodzinski, Nick Oliver, Jimmy Murray, and Joe Rehkamp. The Huskies take on top-ranked Quinnipiac on Thursday at 7 p.m. CT. Through two games in the NCAA tournament, Brodsinski has one goal, and Murray has one assist.
Joining the Force alumni on St. Cloud is former Bobcat goalie Ryan Faragher. Through two games, Faragher has a .949 SV% and 1.00 GAA. KXNews in Bismarck had an interesting segment on Faragher’s run to the Frozen Four last week.
St. Cloud’s opponent on Thursday also includes a former Bobcat. Alex Barron plays for the Bobcats—the Quinnipiac Bobcats, that is. Barron only played in the regional semifinal against Canisius and did not score.
The Minotauros have no alumni playing in the Frozen Four.
Other Force tidbits
- Three Force alumni have signed professional contracts so far this month: Nate Schmidt with the Washington Capitals, Luke Witkowski with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Andy Taranto with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces.
- The Fargo Force broke two team records last weekend. With Friday’s sellout crowd, the team broke its all-time single season attendance record. Saturday’s win in Sioux City gave the Force a franchise record for wins in a season with 38.
- The Force gave head coach John Marks a two-year contract extension.
- Devils Lake native Keaton Thompson, who played 13 games for the Force in 2010-11, has been selected to the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team.
- Alex Iafallo was named a co-recipient of the CCM Forward of the Week in the USHL for the 28th week of the season.
Bismarck’s Repensky receives NAHL award
The Bobcats’ Nate Repensky was named the North American Hockey League’s Defenseman of the Month for March. Repensky had four goals and 12 assists during the month and played a key role on the Bobcat power play.
Minotauros go from last to the playoffs
Though the Minotauros finished with a losing record (26-30-4), their sophomore season was a world apart from their inaugural season. Last season, Minot was the laughing stock of the NAHL, finishing 7-49-4, which was the worst record in the league. Minot won only three of 25 points in the season series against in-state rival Bismarck.
This season, the season series was far more competitive. Heading into the final weekend, the Minotauros actually had a chance to win the season series if they swept the two games, but instead the Bobcats swept to win the series 17-10. However, more important for Minot is that the team is making its first trip to the playoffs.