Griffin Loughran needed someone to vouch for him last spring heading into the USHL draft for the second time.
The Orchard Park, N.Y., native’s first experience in the USHL was short-lived after being drafted by Youngstown in the seventh round of the 2016 USHL Phase 1 Draft. Loughran wasn’t able to carve out a role in the opening months of the season, and Youngstown loaned him to Corpus Christi of the NAHL for the remainder of the season.
Fargo Force GM and coach Cary Eades thought enough of Loughran heading into the 2017 USHL Phase II Draft that he decided to call around to NAHL coaches in Corpus Christi’s division to see if any opposing coaches would vouch for Loughran.
“A lot of people didn’t like him,” Eades said. “They liked him as a player, but they didn’t like playing against him. The way I would describe it is they didn’t like him, but they would like to have him on their team. He’s an agitator.”
Eades was OK with the idea of adding an agitator to his roster — particularly in the 14th round of the Phase 2 draft.
At 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds, Loughran has lived up to the billing. As he begins his second stint in the USHL this fall, the speedy forward has grown into a legitimate USHL role player — one who is playing regular shifts as well as on the power play and penalty kill.
Loughran exploded for seven points in two games for Fargo over the weekend of Oct. 27-28. He scored the opening goal of the game on Friday night as he helped the Force to a 3-1 victory in Waterloo. The next night, he scored a hat trick and dished out three assists in Fargo’s 6-5 victory in Des Moines on Saturday. Loughran was named a USHL Player of the Week for his efforts.
Loughran’s season with Corpus Christi in the NAHL appears to have served its purpose in preparing Loughran for the faster pace of hockey in the USHL and beyond. In 40 total games played with Corpus Christi, Loughran logged 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) and a plus-3 rating. More importantly, the former Buffalo Junior Sabres 18-U program prolific scorer (55 goals and 59 assists in 74 games in 2015-16) learned to embrace a role — not as a stat-sheet stuffer, but as an agitator.
“It’s the greatest move I’ve made in my hockey career so far,” Loughran said of his stint in the NAHL. “I really matured and developed as a player by coming to the rink and knowing I have to work harder than everyone else. Part of the learning experience was finding out I’m not always going to be the go-to guy. I had to learn to play other roles.”
Always blessed with speed, uncanny acceleration and a soft scoring touch, Loughran embraced the dirty work — camping out in front of the crease and trading butt-ends of the stick with the biggest defensemen on the ice.
“I’ve been leaned on to score goals and aggravate other players, get in other teams’ heads,” Loughran said. “My goal is to score goals and get other players to take major penalties so we can cash in on the power play.”
For Eades’ part, his faith in a 5-foot-6 forward is paying off. The Fargo coach can see why opposing teams dislike Loughran, but he loves having the undersized pest on his side.
“He’s a fearless guy,” Eades said. “He’s going to go to the hard areas in front of the net. He’ll hack and whack with 6-foot-6 guys and get punched in the head. That’s his personality. He’s a spark to our team and a distraction to other people’s game. As long as he stays out of the penalty box, which he does because he’s a smart kid, I love him on my team.”
Loughran recently committed to Northern Michigan for the fall of 2018. The 18-year-old started generating interest from college coaches at a camp for the Fargo Force in June. After putting together a strong preseason for Fargo, Loughran committed to Fargo in September.
“The USHL is a tough league to break into, and he’s a year older, more mature, faster — all of those things,” Eades said. “He’s a guy that’s key for us winning hockey games. He’s a winning player, and he’s inspirational to his teammates. He’s an overachiever who plays bigger than he is. Even when he’s not scoring, he provides us with a spark.”
That’s the part of the game Loughran needed to hone over the last year. Once a prolific scorer in western New York, he needed to learn to provide value to his team on all parts of the ice.
“I’ve always been a smaller guy on the ice,” Loughran said. “Everyone looks and says, ‘There’s no way this kid is going to do anything on the ice.’ I feed into that energy and prove them wrong every time. It doesn’t matter how big or small someone is; it’s how much they’re willing to work on the ice.”
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