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Published April 19 2012

Force's Goff has his focus back on the ice

Fargo - Compared to a month ago, this is a spot Neal Goff would much rather be in.

The 18-year-old Fargo Force junior hockey player was the subject of a criminal investigation stemming from a racial epithet he used in a March game against a Des Moines Buccaneers player.

The investigation focused on Goff and his 79-year-old grandfather being assaulted in the stands by members of the Des Moines Buccaneers in retaliation for the remark.

Goff was suspended by the United States Hockey League for the epithet.

The suspension made Goff reconsider many items, including his place on the Force.

Goff, a defenseman, is now in a place most in the USHL doesn’t want to be in right now: Trying to stop Lincoln Stars forward and 104-point scorer, Kevin Roy.

He’ll get that chance tonight in Lincoln, where the Force begin a best-of-5 playoff series against the Stars.

“It was about turning my emotions and disappointment about the incident and turning it into positive energy on the ice,” Goff said. “Maybe some grit has come to my game because of it. I know I am grateful for the opportunity coach (John Marks) has given me.”

Goff is the latest to fill the defensive-forward hybrid role that Marks has used all year.

Imagine an inverted pyramid with forwards set up in the left and right corners of the rink and a forward at the apex.

Goff is the player in the apex. His role is to get shots on net, but it’s mainly to act as a third defenseman, giving his team more protection at the back.

“He’s been playing really well because his defensive style contributes to what we do,” said forward Jonny Brodinzski, who is Goff’s linemate. “Just from him getting the puck out of the zone he helps out a lot on the offensive and defensive zone.”

Goff shined in his new role in the Force’s two-game sweep over Sioux City in the first round.

His line didn’t give up a goal in either game. He did register a point, feeding a pass to Brodzinski, which later set up Nate Arentz for what was the game-winning goal in a 5-1 win.

“I think altogether,” Arentz said, “we work really well.”

Arentz and Brodzinski said the circumstances regarding the incident were tough on Goff. The toughest part, Brodzinski said, was Goff’s grandfather also being assaulted.

“He was not himself for two weeks,” Brodzinski said. “All of it really bothered him. The part with his grandfather bothered him most because of how much he’s done for Neal.”

Goff, who is from Stillwater, Minn., said his family and teammates helped him get through it.

They constantly reminded him that the incident was a “bump in the road” and things would eventually get better.

It appears they were right. Goff now finds himself as being one of the Force’s vital members and has the challenge of stopping Roy.

Roy, who is committed to Brown, led the USHL in several offensive categories, including goals, assists, points and shots.

Daunting as it sounds, Goff said he’s up to the challenge.

“Whether you want to or not, you cannot look past a player with 104 points,” Goff said of Roy. “You cannot look at it as you are playing Lincoln. You have to know who is out there. He isn’t a flashy player, but you have to know where he is at all times.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com

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