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Published April 23 2012

North Dakota players seek looks from next level

FARGO – Playing junior hockey and college hockey is tough. Being from North Dakota makes it tougher.

It is why area high school players such as West Fargo’s Andrea Klug and Fargo North’s Zach Kraft are always looking for opportunities.

An opportunity came last weekend by playing in the CCM Minnesota National Invitational Tournament.

“I think in North Dakota, it is hard to get exposure,” Klug said. “You are next to Minnesota, which has a lot of good players. Coaches are more likely to watch Minnesota kids than North Dakota.”

Reasons such as Klug’s are why the North Dakota Amateur Hockey Association fielded two teams in the tournament.

The NDAHA, the state’s governing body for hockey, sent a boys team and a girls team, where they competed against players from states such as Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The boys team finished third while the girls finished fourth.

“Playing in it helped because there are a lot of (college and junior coaches) there,” Kraft said. “There are a lot of players who went there and spoke with junior coaches.”

Junior hockey is thought to be the strongest route to play college hockey.

Some players who leave high school early to play juniors in leagues like the United States Hockey League, which the Fargo Force play in.

Then there are others like Kraft, who will graduate from North this year and is trying to play juniors after high school.

All of this is what people like Keith Holland, the southeast district director for the NDAHA, wants to hear.

“We let them know this is a high-level opportunity and you don’t know who might be there,” Holland said. “We tell them to take it really serious but to go out and have fun and play the game they love.”

Holland said the NDAHA is taking multiple steps to get high school players more notoriety by having them play in certain tournaments or preseason leagues.

But the NDAHA is also going after younger players, too.

Getting youth active in hockey early in life could help North Dakota become a stronger recruiting option for college and junior programs, Holland said.

Holland said the number of youth hockey players 8 years old and younger, grew by eight percent in the last year.

“With the younger kids, we are focusing on getting more of them,” Holland said. “We reduced registration fees to nothing just to make it easier for kids to get in. Once they are in, once they try it, they will make it a lifelong sport.”

The NDAHA, Holland said, oversees youth programs such as Fargo Youth Hockey and West Fargo Youth Hockey.

He said the two programs combine for 1,363 players and as a whole; there are 5,370 players in the state.

Force assistant and chief scout Jesse Davis said he’s liked how the state is building its numbers in youth hockey.

“If they are good enough,” Davis said. “They are going to be found no matter where they are.”

Davis said the Force have even taken a more active role. The Force have hosted summer camps and have worked with coaches to inform people about the junior hockey process.

The Force currently have no players from the Fargo area and only one player, Williston’s Jordan Nelson, from the state on their roster.

Kraft, who has talked with the Force, hopes someday he could make it with his hometown team or any junior team willing to give him a chance.

“I’ve sat down and I’ve thought about, ‘Is it worth it?’ ” Kraft said. “I know it is going to be worth it. I know it is. I want to play hockey, it is my passion and I want to take it to the next level.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found

at slightlychilled.areavoices.com