As the USHL campaign nears its midway point, several teams have separated from the pack. Most notably the Fargo Force have been just that through 23 games, a force atop the Western Conference at 15-6-1-1 (32 points) featuring three of the league’s top four scorers - Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup (17 G, 13 A) at left wing, Griffin Loughran on the right (9 G, 12 A), and pivot Grant Hebert (8 G, 17 A).
Schmidt-Svejstrup is an interesting case. With the league’s most goals thus far, his role has changed quite a bit since last year’s 29-game stint with Dubuque, where his 81 penalty minutes far overshadowed his scoring – two goals and five assists on just 24 shots.
An undrafted University of Maine commit, the 19-year-old Danish power forward who did his best work last year in the NAHL (15 G, 12 A, 44 PIM in 26 Coulee Region Chill contests) checks in at 6-02, 200 pounds. He also competed for Denmark in the 2015-16 U-18 WJC’s landing two goals in seven games, and has been selected for the NHL-USHL Top Prospects Game in January.
St. Andrews, Ontario native Hebert ranks second in the USHL in scoring and leads the league with 17 assists, including seven in his last five games. At age 20 he’s not the youngest of USHL players, but he is making a name for himself as a distributor with an edge.
Hebert racked up 91 points (including 64 assists) in juniors with the Cumberland Grads of the CCHL last year as well as 73 penalty minutes. He’s added 34 PIM in this, his first USHL campaign as he’s not afraid to throw his 6-03, 190-pound frame around. He’ll be attending Robert Morris University next year.
Sitting just behind Vegas’ fifth round pick in the latest entry draft, Jack Dugan (13 G, 11 A in 17 games) of the Chicago Steel in the scoring race, Fargo’s Griffin Loughran weighs in at just 5-06, 145-pounds. Reaching his 19th birthday in November, he paces the Force and is tied for tenth in the league with 53 penalty minutes. This follows a 95-PIM campaign last year with the NAHL’s Corpus Christi Ice Rays.
Whatever the reason, Fargo has really clicked offensively this year with a USHL-best 85 goals as a team. Their defense isn’t bad either having allowed the seventh-fewest goals among the 17-squad league.
Fargo’s nearest competitor, the Tri-City Storm with 30 points in the standings, is just two points behind the Force despite playing in three fewer contests. At 15-5-0-0 Tri-City’s .750 win percentage is better than Fargo’s as well, which stands at .696.
The Storm’s strengths are defense and goaltending.
While they are tied for second-worst in scoring (52 goals) their 33 total goals-against works out to a minuscule 1.65 per game. At the heart of it all, Swedish goalie Filip Larsson leads the league among qualifiers in three main categories with a 1.45 GAA and .946 save percentage, and besting his closest competitors by four with 14 wins. With an amazing five shutouts he’s clearly outpaced the league thus far.
A sixth-round pick of the Red Wings in 2016, Larsson’s been named USHL Goaltender of the Week twice this year.
Look for Larsson on Team Sweden at the WJCs starting December 26th in Buffalo.
Follow me on Twitter @KWcrosscheck