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Force becoming stepping stone for coaches

Forum Communications Co. File Photo In this Oct. 28, 2008, photo Fargo Force hockey coach Dean Blais, left, and assistant coach Jason Herter chuckle as they take the ice during media day for the team at what is now Scheels Arena in Fargo. Herter was the head coach last season but is leaving the Force on Monday to become an assistant at Minnesota-Duluth. The United States Hockey League team Force is now left searching for their fourth coach in four years. Blais left the team in 2009 after its inaugural ...

FARGO -- With another coach leaving the Fargo Force junior hockey team, some might ask, "What gives?"

Those in the know say any coach the Force hires has what it takes.

With head coach Jason Herter leaving the Force on Monday to become an assistant at Minnesota-Duluth, the Force are left looking for their fourth coach in four years.

The Force have never enjoyed a stable offseason but have found success with three consecutive playoff appearances with three different coaches.

Postseason success, college-bound players and a coveted building make the Force one of the United States Hockey League's jewels.

But does it also make Fargo the fast track to coaches moving up?

"I think it's a credit to the Fargo organization," said Cedar Rapids Roughriders coach Mark Carlson. "They've done a tremendous job in all aspects from the hockey side of things and the business side of it."

Herter leaving to join a big-time college hockey program is exactly what his predecessors did.

The team's first coach, Dean Blais, left to coach Nebraska-Omaha while Steve Johnson went on to become an assistant at St. Cloud State.

Carlson, who is one of the longest-tenured USHL coaches, said college programs are interested in USHL coaches.

"As a coach you have to scout, evaluate talent, have to run a draft, put a team together, book your housing programs and do community service," Carlson said. "What better place would there be to look if you're a Division I school trying to find a head coach or an assistant?"

The USHL for years has touted itself as a stepping stone for players looking to play in college and, someday, the NHL.

Now, it appears the same can be said for a team's personnel whether it be coaches or anyone working in the front office, said league spokesman Brian Werger.

Werger said the league has a mixture of coaches ranging from veterans like Carlson -- who's been a coach since 1999 -- to newcomers like Herter, who was a head coach for a season before moving to a better opportunity.

"I am sure it may be difficult for some fans because they care about the hometown team and obviously follow them every day," Werger said. "It's tough to see coaches move on, but fans have to be proud that their organization is losing people to the next level. Though I am sure those fans in Fargo would like to see a guy stick around for longer."

Stability, however, is one of those things that doesn't occur for every junior team. There have been coaches like Carlson who have stayed but for years have had to work with always-changing rosters.

Change is something Force defenseman and UNO commit Brian Cooper has become accustomed to. Cooper, who's returning for his third and final season, was drafted by Blais while being coached by Johnson and Herter.

"It all comes down to how well we as players can adjust to a new coaching style," Cooper said. "You get a sample for each thing, and it is really change that's for the better."

Having a new coach doesn't change the fact that the team needs to win, Cooper said. In fact, he made the argument that no coach in the team's history has really won with their "own" team.

He pointed out that Johnson won with Blais' players and that Herter won with Johnson's players.

"No matter who our coach is, we win, and that's a big thing," Cooper said. "Just imagine what a coach could do if they had their own team."

Herter, who was an assistant under Blais, said the key element that's made the Force successful is the structure that's been put in place.

He credited owner Ace Brandt for putting a system in place that allows coaches to make the adjustments needs to garner success but build young men.

Whoever is hired, Herter said, will have to live up to that standard.

"It goes back to the coaches being on the same page, and that's something the Fargo Force need to maintain," Herter said. "They've done it now for three years with kids and character. That is the kind of infrastructure that can continue to maintain."

Clark is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.