By Ryan S. Clark
Awake for barely half an hour, everything that happened was a bit too much for Brian Cooper to process.
He probably wasn’t the only one having a hard time figuring out the surprise Saturday during the second session of the NHL Draft. Cooper was one of three Fargo Force players to be taken in the draft, which tied a franchise record for most players taken in one draft.
Cooper was one of two players taken in the fifth round. Forward Dominic Toninato was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs, one pick before Cooper was taken by the Anaheim Ducks. Then in the seventh and final round, the Boston Bruins surprised many by taking promising forward Colton Hargrove.
The draft saw projected first-round prospects fall into the second round and second-round selections get taken in the first round. Cooper was projected to be as high as a third-round pick.
“Fifth round isn’t too bad,” Cooper said. “If I had gone any later, then you probably don’t want to be picked. You do not want to be a throw-away pick, and this gives me the opportunity to prove to them that I can make their team.”
Cooper, who will play next season at Nebraska-Omaha, received attention for this year’s draft even before it started.
He was highly rated given that he played 50-plus games in each of his three seasons with the Force and this year was the team’s captain. Cooper, who was also named the USHL’s Scholar Athlete of the Year, scored 24 points in 55 games. He was recently named to Team USA’s tryout camp for the IIHF U-20 Championships, one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world.
Going in the fifth was just the second surprise. The fact Cooper wasn’t even the first Force player off the board also came as a bit of a shock. The Maple Leafs drafted Toninato one pick before Cooper was chosen.
Toninato’s stock had been increasing prior to the draft. He said Friday he had been speaking to quite a few teams. He played most of the season for Minnesota high school power Duluth East. Toninato scored 61 points in 25 games as he led Duluth East to the Minnesota state hockey tournament before coming to the Force.
After his selection, Toninato got a close encounter with the animal that is the Toronto media, a 24-7, nonstop force that makes the Maple Leafs the No. 1 story on every television network and newspaper if life is good or bad for the club.
“We wanted to come out for the experience,” said Toninato, who was in Pittsburgh for the draft. “If we didn’t get picked, we saw it as no big deal because you can still make it.”
It appeared as if Toninato and Cooper would be it for the Force until the Bruins selected Hargrove with the 205th pick in the draft.
Force coach John Marks said the Bruins were inquiring about Hargrove a little more than a month ago.
Hargrove, who will play next season at Western Michigan, becomes the second player in franchise history to be taken by Boston. Goaltender and North Dakota freshman Zane Gothberg was taken in 2010.
“He’s got an NHL body,” Marks said of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hargrove, who scored 38 points in 54 games for the Force. “He’s got a pro body and he’s only going to get stronger. As soon as it sinks into his head that he is capable of playing at a high level all of the time, then he is going to be fine.”
There were points in the Force’s season where Hargrove’s play was enigmatic as he could have impactful and non-impactful games.
His performances in those impact games are why Marks and his staff told the Bruins that Hargrove might be worth taking.
With his size, Hargrove was able to push around nearly any player in the league and with his soft hands and offensive skill, could terrorize defenses to boot.
It is that blend of power and finesse which makes Hargrove such an attractive prospect.
“He’s a typical Boston Bruin guy in that he’s rough, tough and can defend himself,” Marks said. “He also has really soft hands. I think he is a steal.”
Sports | June 24, 2012 | Page D4