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Chris Murphy, Published January 17 2013

Force players embrace new home after trade

Fargo - Kenny Gillespie received a text message a little over a month ago from his Omaha assistant coach to come to the rink before his microeconomics class.

Gillespie figured out pretty quickly what was coming.

“Came in the office, sat down and my coach said, ‘This is not going to be a good talk,’” said Gillespie, now a forward with the Fargo Force. “I had four days to ship to Fargo. I told my coach I was just going to go home. I didn’t want to come.”

Two weeks earlier, defenseman Gavin Bayreuther found himself in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, trying to figure out where Fargo was after he was traded to the Force. Just like Gillespie, Bayreuther had that first feeling of expendability that an athlete feels when they are traded for the first time.

“I didn’t even know what state Fargo was in,” Bayreuther said. “I didn’t know what to think. I never thought I could be traded. I didn’t think it was real.”

Bayreuther and Gillespie picked a perfect time to come to Fargo, despite the weather. Since Dec. 7, when the Bayreuther trade was announced, the Force are 11-3 and have moved from the middle of the pack in the Western Conference to near the top of the United States Hockey League standings. Currently, they are third overall in the league and four points out of the conference lead behind Sioux Falls heading into back-to-back home games versus Tri-City today and Saturday.

“It’s been great,” Gillespie said. “I had always known that Fargo was a great second-half team. I don’t know what they do after December, but it’s amazing.”

Bayreuther and Gillespie share more than being traded for the first time to the same team to take over neighboring lockers. Other sports brought out their love of hockey.

Bayreuther was set to head to college to play lacrosse, but he followed the sport that started on his backyard ice rink when he was 2 years old.

“I thought I could be more successful playing college lacrosse, but last winter I realized hockey was my dream,” Bayreuther said. “I wanted to pursue it.”

It was soccer at 7 years old that brought Gillespie to hockey.

“I used to play indoor soccer and there was a roller rink next to it,” Gillespie said. “I remember watching it after soccer practice and telling my mom I could do it. Before you knew it, I was playing hockey.”

The Force are certainly happy they chose hockey. In 14 games, Bayreuther has a plus-11 plus/minus with two goals and seven assists and Gillespie has a plus-4 plus/minus with three goals and two assists in nine games with the Force.

“Kenny and I came together at a great time,” Bayreuther said. “It was right when the team was coming together.”

The duo does keep tabs on their old squads.

“Always seeing Fargo win and seeing Cedar Rapids lose is awesome,” Bayreuther said. “As harsh as it sounds, I love it.”

And a win feels a lot better with a chip on the shoulder.

“We got to play Omaha not too much later after I got traded, and we swept them in two games,” Gillespie said. “It’s not just good to win, but to win with a team that I know can go to the playoffs and make something happen is something.”

Bayreuther and Gillespie may have been just what the Force needed, but they understand they are just a piece to the winning puzzle.

“I’m one of just 20-something guys on the team,” Bayreuther said. “I’m one of many parts.”

As for being traded, it does have its positive side outside of coming to a team in the playoff hunt.

“After I found out I was being traded, I dropped my classes and that was it,” Gillespie said. “Good thing because I had a test in microeconomics and I didn’t study.”

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