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Jul. 21—Players wearing black or white jerseys with green pants and helmets filed onto Ralph Engelstad Arena's Olympic Rink on Tuesday morning.
Yes, most of the UND hockey team is back in Grand Forks, beginning preparations for the 2021-22 season.
Perhaps the most notable participant was the guy wearing the No. 6 jersey. That is freshman defenseman Brent Johnson, who had shoulder surgery in April and was recently cleared to begin skating again.
Johnson, who is expected to get picked Saturday in the NHL Draft in Rounds 2 or 3, looked smooth and poised manning the blue line during the team's informal skate. With more than two months remaining until the season-opening exhibition game against the University of Manitoba, that's a good sign that Johnson will not only start on time, but will have plenty of practice time and preparation work under his belt by the time the Bisons come to Grand Forks.
That also has to be a relief to the Fighting Hawks coaching staff, who will likely count on Johnson right away.
UND lost three of its four right-handed shooting defensemen from last season — Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa Senators), Gabe Bast (KalPa, Finland) and Josh Rieger (University of Calgary).
The only returnee is Ethan Frisch, who will start the season as the top defender on the right side.
Johnson and RPI transfer Brady Ferner will be the other right-handed defensemen on the roster, while UND has five left-handers in Jake Sanderson, Tyler Kleven, Cooper Moore, Chris Jandric and Luke Bast.
Coaching change in Fargo
The Fargo Force just concluded their camp, but they're currently without a coach.
Pierre-Paul Lamoureux stepped down last week after leading the Force to the Clark Cup Final. In a release, Lamoureux said he will pursue other opportunities in and out of hockey, while also spending more time with his family.
During the Clark Cup Final, a subject of discussion around Scheels Arena was the disparity in coaching staff compensation between the finalists, the Chicago Steel and Fargo Force.
The Chicago Steel's coaching staff, which includes renowned skills coach Darryl Belfry, is believed to be among the highest paid (if not the highest paid) in the league. Lamoureux, on the other hand, was believed to be among the lowest-paid head coaches (if not the lowest) in the league.
Lamoureux did not mention salary in the news release about his resignation, but it's hard to believe it didn't play any role in his decision at all, especially after such a successful season.
Lamoureux isn't the only coach leaving the Force.
Former Grafton-Park River star Chad Demers, an assistant with Fargo, is leaving to be the director of operations at his alma mater, Air Force Academy. Demers has been more than a coach in Fargo, he's also been an inspiration as he fights brain cancer.
Who is next?
Lamoureux and Demers both helped with Fargo's camp, but soon, general manager Cary Eades will have to find a new head coach.
The first decision Eades will have to make is whether he goes back behind the bench.
Prior to the 2019-20 season, Eades held the dual role as general manager and head coach. He could do that again, even if he prefers the roles be split.
If Eades and ownership keep the current setup of separating the general manager and head coach into two jobs, there's no shortage of potential coach candidates.
Every head coach in Fargo's franchise history has had UND ties — Dean Blais, Steve Johnson, Jason Herter, John Marks, Eades and Lamoureux. Considering that, and the franchise's success, it wouldn't be a stretch to think Fargo will continue with that method.
If so, Colten St. Clair will be a strong candidate.
St. Clair has been an assistant coach with Omaha and has become widely respected around the league in a short time. He is connected to Eades, too. Eades was part of the staff that recruited St. Clair to UND. They spent one season together in Grand Forks as well.
St. Clair has very strong ties to the Force organization. He played three years in Fargo and currently ranks in the top five all-time in games played and goals scored.
Will Smaby, Herter be on the move?
Most hockey coaching jobs will soon fill up, but there are still other prominent ones out there, including Waterloo in the USHL.
There are a couple of former UND defensemen to keep in mind when these positions open up: Matt Smaby and Jason Herter.
Smaby is currently working with Grand Forks Youth Hockey, but was extremely close to landing UND's assistant job two years ago. It came down to Karl Goehring (who was hired), Smaby and Jason Ulmer. Smaby has fielded other coaching offers in the last two years.
Herter, meanwhile, stepped down at Minnesota Duluth last offseason. Considering his success with the Bulldogs, his name will continually re-appear in coaching discussions.
If it's not Eades or St. Clair in Fargo, Smaby and Herter could be possibilities, too.
Herter has already once served as Fargo's head coach, while Smaby served as a UND captain when Eades was an assistant.
Could MSU lose EGF's Blue?
Minnesota State-Mankato, fresh off of its first-ever trip to the NCAA Frozen Four, is worth keeping an eye on over the next month.
Sources indicate that assistant coach Darren Blue of East Grand Forks may have an opportunity outside of hockey.
If he leaves, that would be a major shakeup for the Mavericks, considering Blue has been a hallmark of the Maverick hockey program for more than two decades. As a player in the 1990s, Blue served as a team captain for two years during their Division-II days. He returned as an assistant in 2000 and has spent 21 years in that position.
Blue is the program's bridge between the Don Brose, Troy Jutting and Mike Hastings head coaching eras.
Minnesota State's coaching staff has been remarkably consistent as of late. The current trio of Hastings, Blue and Todd Knott has been together for the last nine seasons.
Ulmer joins Canucks organization
Former UND forward and 1997 NCAA national champion Jeff Ulmer has been named an assistant coach for the Abbotsford Canucks, the top minor-league affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.
Abbotsford's general manager is Ulmer's old UND teammate, Ryan Johnson.
Prior to joining Abbotsford, Ulmer worked with the Arizona Coyotes after his 19-year professional hockey career. In the pros, Ulmer played in the NHL for the New York Rangers. He also had pro stints in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Wales, Belarus, Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Scotland and Slovenia.