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Chris Murphy, Published September 27 2012

Force hope net turnover works in their favor

Fargo - With one slap shot, one redirection, one lucky bounce or one second of lost focus, a goalie can find themselves off the ice and on the bench.

The Fargo Force return 11 players to this season’s squad from last season, They open the season at home tonight against Sioux City at 7:35 p.m.

Between the pipes, a big pair of skates is missing with Zane Gothberg beginning his college career at the University of North Dakota. Gothberg was 26-16-4 with seven shutouts and set a Force record with a 2.22 goals-against average, earning United States Hockey League Co-Goaltender of the Year honors with Green Bay’s Ryan McKay last season.

Force coach John Marks has seen many players come and go in his coaching career, but watching the special ones leave doesn’t get any easier.

“It’s tough,” Marks said. “Are we going to replace a Zane Gothberg? Who knows? Maybe one of the guys we got here will be better.”

The size, speed and mental ability of athletes in their late teens is certainly not set in stone, which is why Marks prepares for new faces every season, even if he’s attached to players he’s already coached.

“With these players there’s certainly a physical and mental development in a short period of time,” Marks said. “What you see one year, you’re going to see somebody different the next year, even if it’s the same person because these kids are growing.

“I’m sure starting out five years ago Mike Lee was a pretty good goalie, but people probably didn’t realize he was going to be signing a pro contract four years later. People had doubts last year about Zane (Gothberg), but he came in and did a great job.”

The Force have had some shuffling at the goalie position this week, sending Tomas Scholl to Fresno and trading a conditional fourth-round draft pick with Green Bay for Cameron Johnson.

Johnson started camp with Fargo, but went to Green Bay, only to then have the Force trade for him after an impressive outing versus the Force at the Fall Classic.

“I feel good being here,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a better place for me to be and a better opportunity. I’m going to make the most of it.”

Johnson has an understanding that the goalie position comes with a partner ready to take your spot.

“The goalie is the hardest to have a set spot in sports,” Johnson said. “There’s always competition there, so I’ll always be pushing myself to get better and earn the starting position.”

Aaron Nelson has been with the Force throughout camp and knows what being the No. 2 goalie feels like.

“It’s hard, but you just need to keep moving,” Nelson said. “Last year (with the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League) my goalie partner took the starting spot and I just kept going to practice each day with the mentality that anything can happen. You just make sure to be the first one on the ice and the last one off. You got to be ready any time you step on the ice.”

Brendan Jensen joined the Force on Thursday, but will be inactive for the first weekend.

“We’re going to go with three goalies for a little bit,” Marks said. “We will decide who is starting and tell them (today).”

Athletes wouldn’t exist without competition. Marks knows this and demands effort from his players vying for the goaltender spot, as the Force go for their sixth straight Clark Cup playoff appearance.

“You’re not an athlete if you don’t compete,” Marks said. “That player that doesn’t compete won’t be around here long. I’m not going to have a guy who isn’t going to work or who isn’t going to compete when there are 100 goalies that would love to be in Fargo. If a guy doesn’t take on the task or fight for the net, I don’t want him.”

The goalie spot has big shoes to fill, but that comes with the territory.

“I can’t dwell on the past,” Marks said. “You can’t do that. The Indianapolis Colts have to replace Peyton Manning. Every team goes through change. At this age, you just hope they develop.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548